Never Cook Naked: Pesky Pin Bones, Rude Roomies, Soapy Challah

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 (as well as, natch, proper cooking attire). Curious to read more solutions to culinary conundrums? You may wish to peruse previously asked questions, starting with the last column’s answers regarding the secret to nonstick grilling, what “reusable disposable” means, and the recurring question of how long you can safely leave meat at room temperature.


Pesky Pin Bones

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: What exactly are those tiny pin bones in my salmon fillet? Why are they there? And how do I remove them out without making it look like the garbage disposal spat out the fish?—Pinhead

Dear Pinhead: When you fillet a fish, you can easily see its backbone and the attached rib bones, which readily lift away from the supple cooked fillet. But a larger fish such as salmon also has smaller intramuscular pin bones that give the fish more stability, allowing it to swim faster and harder. (You try jumping up a waterfall after swimming hundreds of miles upstream and you see if you don’t need pin bones.) Therein lies the beauty of evolution.

By and large, pin bones are soft and edible, unlike those bigger choking hazards that are attached to the backbone. In some cultures—we’re looking at you, Japan—fish bones are considered a delicacy. To the rest of us, even the most petite of pin bones aren’t exactly considered aesthetically pleasing. We think of them as ouch-inducing.

Back to your salmon. You want to get rid of the pin bones. Some suggest pliers. We think not. Ours have sat in a dank basement for years, waiting for a straight man to come over and fix the plumbing. Try tweezers on those pesky pin bones instead—unless you’ve done some manscaping lately. Better yet, buy a pair of tweezers just for the kitchen and keep the other pair in the bathroom. Even better yet, make sure your kitchen tweezers have blunt edges so they don’t split or splinter the pin bones as you grasp and extract them.

That all said, how do you find the offending pin bones? They’re easy to spot when you’re choking but not so simple to see when you stare at a naked fillet on your cutting board. In fact, you can find the pin bones with the sense of touch, not sight. Run your fingers gently along the flesh in both directions. Don’t feel them? Your fishmonger may have already taken them out for you. (Not certain? Check your receipt. If that salmon was pricier than you’d like, chances are the pin bones have been removed.)

And for goodness sake, pull the pin bones out in the same direction and plane that they’re in, as yanking the thing out any other way will tear the delicate flesh. Feel free to follow this advice with your other tweezers as well.


Rude Roomies

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: When it comes to absentminded roommates, who’s worse—the roommate who routinely uses half an onion and lets the other half hang out on the counter until it rots and needs to be thrown out, or the roommate who always makes too much food and leaves the leftovers in sealed containers that quietly make their way to the back of the fridge and literally stay there for months?—Cranky In A Small Apartment

Dear Cranky: Since you asked, in our esteemed opinion it’s the half-an-onion-on-the-counter roommate. The rotting vegetable has been abandoned in public space. It’s now stinking up the kitchen. And it’s in everyone’s way. Yuck.

Why not the other roommate? Assuming he’s used his own container to store his food in the fridge, so be it. If the container’s sealed properly, it’s not going to do anything for a good while—other than get botulismic. But what he does in the privacy of his own containers is his own business.

If this sort of matter bothers you, forget about marriage. It’s this exact stuff squared. Maybe cubed. Plus forever. And with IRAs.


Soapy Challah

Dear Never Cook Naked Guys: We once made the most beautiful challah, but it tasted like soap. Turns out we’d proofed the dough in a bowl that had been washed but not adequately rinsed. How could something that still looked so yummy taste like a punishment from childhood?—Kibbutz Dropout

Dear Dropout: Have you ever been on a date with a gorgeous guy who turns out to be an idiot? We have. Repeatedly. So we learned pretty quickly that the way something looks is no guarantee of its quality. Else how would divorce attorneys find work?

Cooking is like romance. It’s all about what happens behind the scenes. In affairs of the heart, it’s really not about his house, his clothes, or his car. It’s about his grooming regimen, his showering habits.

Accordingly, with affairs of the stomach, it’s all about the behind-the-scenes prep. An otherwise lovely soup is ruined by chunks of vegetables too big to fit on a spoon. Cakes are destroyed by improper measuring. And you might as well mix shrimp paste into challah if the bowl is shmutsik.

Nothing’s for sure in this life. The best we can do is to cross our “t’s,” dot our “i’s,” see if he’s got ring around the collar, and rinse our mixing bowls thoroughly.

Got more questions? Good. We do, too. That is, more questions AND answers. In case you missed the mention above, for more cooking etiquette and enigmas explained, you can take a peek at previous columns from our Never Cook Naked Guys. 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

Mayo Salads, Shared Steak, Pie Crust

Host(ess) Gifts, New Mexican Chiles, Wax (?) Paper

Nonstick Grilling, “Reusable” Bamboo, Meat Safety



  1. One great tip for finding pin bones: take your fillet of salmon and drape it skin side down over a largish bowl—one that is wide with gently sloping sides. The fillet will curve over the bowl and the pin bones will poke out a little, making them easy to find and grab.

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