Our very clever, very clothed Never Cook Naked columnists, Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein, are at your disposal, able to troubleshoot everything from questionable table etiquette to tricky cooking techniques (and, natch, proper cooking attire). For those of you curious to read more solutions to culinary conundrums explained, perhaps you’d care to peruse previously asked questions, starting with the last column’s answers regarding “blonde” coffee, old eggs, and diplomatically declining undesired foods.
Storing Mayo Salads
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: Is there a way to save leftover chicken salad, coleslaw, or other mayonnaise-based salads? Won’t adding cream or something like that keep the mayonnaise from separating?–Dairy-Deprived
Dear Deprived: For this one time only, in the entire history of the universe, cream is not the answer.
Your mayo-drenched salad may weep, but you needn’t. By and large, the problem’s not the mayo. It’s everything else. The salt and other random acts of sodium in the salad pull moisture from the cabbage, carrots, celery, cukes, onions—even from the chicken and mayo, although that doesn’t account for much compared to the vegetable swamp.
That said, there’s an easy solution for coleslaw, albeit one that relies on preventative measures and not after-the-fact heroics. Before you make your slaw, just toss the shredded cabbage with 1 to 2 tablespoons salt and let it rest in a colander placed in the sink. Within minutes, you’ll see the cabbage start to exude moisture. After an hour, rinse the cabbage to get rid of the salt and squeeze it dry in handfuls before adding it to the dressing and other fixings.
But would that life was as easy as slaw! Other salads come more quickly to the crying game. If you anticipate having leftovers of a creamy, er, mayo-y salad, skip the water-sapping salt and let everyone sprinkle it on their individual portions. And bear in mind that low-fat or fat-free mayonnaise is made with far more water than the high-octane stuff. Use full-fat mayo for less soggy salads. Or make your own mayonnaise—which won’t have any water in the mix.
Still, you’re fighting a losing battle. So eat those creamy, full-fat leftovers sooner rather than later. You can save your weeping for later, when you step on the bathroom scale.
Pie Crusts That Don’t Shrink
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: How do you get fluted pie crusts and tarts to maintain their pert shape and not shrink during baking?–Shrinking Violet
Dear Shrinking Violet: We hear your pain. We, too, have witnessed shrinkage shrivel the best of intentions. A dip in the pool after dinner and the night’s ruined. Once we were at this jazzy little hotel when. . . .
Oh, wait, we’re talking about pie crust. Well, same thing. The problem is still water. Too much makes things shrink. Here’s how to fix it:
Add as little water to the dough as possible. Most pie crust recipes involve a rather inexact measurement of liquid–for example, between 3 and 5 tablespoons cold water. Start with the minimum of 3. Not even 3 1/2. See if the dough will cohere. If not, add more water in teaspoon increments until your dough holds together. Despite the fat and the water, good pie crusts are all about wheat gluten and its ability to build structure. But you don’t want glue. You want just enough moisture to loosen the gluten a bit so those proteins can line up properly for a good crust.
Remember that using butter in a pie crust is, essentially, also adding water to a pie crust. Butter is about 20 percent water, whereas vegetable shortening and–dare we say it?–lard contain no additional water. So be even more judicious when adding the water to all-butter crust since there’s already hidden moisture in the mix. Or use a combo of butter and lard (or shortening) to help keep shrinkage to a minimum.
Use cold water when making a pie crust. While we’re talking about fat, you also need to try to do everything you can to slow down the melting of the fat as you work the pie crust so the fat can do its flaky-layer-making thing as the crust sets in the oven.
As to that other problem with water, just book a room in a hotel without a pool. And don’t eat too much pie. That can kill the mood, too.
Savvily Sharing Steak
Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: My husband and I love a proper rib eye. He does the cooking; I do the plating. I tend to carve for myself the tender, pot-roast-y, ridiculously fatty fat fat outer portion, leaving him everything else. Is this behavior okay? He’s not a picky eater, whereas–let’s be honest–I am.–Ms. Jack Spratt
Dear Ms. Spratt: Is it okay?
Is it okay to offer the tender, succulent round eye of steak to your husband?
Is it okay to sit there and watch him slice his perfectly cooked, relatively lean, medium-rare steak while you eat the charred crust, the fat sticky and glistening on your lips?
But there’s a bigger, far more important question here: who gets to gnaw away in bliss on the juicy bone? That will tell just how okay the situation is—and how viable your relationship. Whatever the answer, we don’t think it’s going to pose a problem. We have a similar arrangement in our house—he who gets the fat also gets the bone—and we’ve lasted for 15 years of rib eyes.
Got more questions? Good. We do, too. That is, more questions AND answers. Take a peek at previous columns from our Never Cook Naked Guys for more cooking etiquette and enigmas explained. Anything pertaining to food or drink goes. Well, anything within reason. But first, those previously tended-to questions we promised…
Illustration © 2012 Eric Hanson. All rights reserved.