There are many culinary myths: some inexplicable, some daft. Where, for example, does the name of the dish "chop suey"—unknown in China—come from?by Alex Renton / November 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
How to roast a leg of lamb
A friend was getting a leg of lamb ready for the oven when his wife asked him why he always cuts an inch or so from either end of it. Because that’s how you do it, he said. I don’t, she said. Well, my mother does, he replied, and she cooks some of the best roast lamb in the home counties.
Mocked, my friend rang his mother: she said she trimmed the lamb that way because that’s what her mother, another celebrated lamb roaster, did. He sounded out his older relations until he found a great aunt who told him that although her sisters and their daughters had always trimmed the ends of a leg of lamb, she had never bothered. She knew that their mother only did it because she had been brought up in a house with a particularly small oven.
There are many culinary myths: some inexplicable, some daft. There are cooking dicta that, although their origins are ancient and unaccountable, clearly deserve to be challenged. Why must polenta be stirred anticlockwise? (Was there once a great polenta chef with an arthritic wrist?) Does boiling an octopus with a wine cork tenderise it? Is a boiled soup really a spoiled soup? It shouldn’t be too hard to find out. And you might also ask: in the average professional kitchen, as the number of cooks increases, at what stage does the quality of the broth begin to deteriorate? Could we see the curve?
Of course, some kitchen fables should not be investigated, for fear of harming them. Did Garibaldi liberate Italy on a diet of the squashed fly biscuits that now bear his name? I hope so. Some deserve to be spread, like Roald Dahl’s contention to his children that breakfast cereal is made from “all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners.” When you get to the origins of food names, things get very murky. Was carpaccio—now a catch-all term for any raw food sliced thinly—really thus named because the red of a filmy strip of raw beef resembles the rich scarlets deployed by the 16th-century painter? If so, Gordon Ramsay might do better to name his carpaccio of pineapple for a master of yellows—hockney of pineapple, say.
These fables spread and mutate like viruses. It is not true—as I was recently told—that mayonnaise was…