Never Cook Naked: Mayo Salads, Shared Steak, Pie Crust

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.

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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…

“Blonde” Coffee, Old Eggs, Diplomatic Diners, Flat Cookies

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Comments

  1. Shrinking pie crust? This is weird, but it works—substitute vodka for 1/2 the water. It doesn’t add any taste, but the vodka evaporates quickly and contributes to a nice, flaky texture.

    1. Lisa, I came to the vodka trick last summer, and I swear by it for so many reasons. Mostly because it turns out the most tender and flakey crust I’ve had that isn’t all lard. (I prefer to use part butter, part lard for my crusts.) And it also makes the dough very workable for those who aren’t really accustomed to—or afraid of—making pie crust because you can add a little more moisture than you may normally and the result isn’t tough or gummy. Thanks for the swell reminder.

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