One could say Chris Kimball knows his way around a kitchen. The host of "America’s Test Kitchen" and publisher and editor of Cook’s Illustrated, Kimball has, for more than 30 years, prided himself on finding and sharing the secrets to foolproof cooking at home.
In fact, the kitchen in which "America’s Test Kitchen" is shot hosts over 30 chefs working under Kimball’s guidance to test and retest recipes up to 50 times, ensuring each recipe works each and every time it’s tried.
Over the years, Kimball has learned some useful shortcuts, which he generously shares here:
Better Popped Corn
Just in time for the Oscars, here’s how to make perfect popcorn:
“That way you get all the kernels heated at the same time, said Kimball “If you don’t like imperfection in your popcorn, that’s the way to go.”
How To Quickly Thaw Meat
“If you plan ahead -- and I never do -- you can leave (meat) in the refrigerator for a long period of time and it’s at a safe temperature,” said Kimball.
Or, he adds, one can thaw thinner cuts directly on a cast-iron or steel pan at room temperature, which will take about an hour.
But, the best method of all, said Kimball, is a new method they came up with. Seal the chops, chicken breasts or fillets inside a Ziploc bag and dunk it into a bowl of 140-degree water, which one can get right out of the tap. That will thaw at between 8 to 12 minutes.
What about using the microwave?
“It’s gross and wrong, “said Kimball. “The problem with the microwave is that you won’t get even thawing.”
So, rather try overnighting it in the fridge or the warm-water method.
Poking Meat While Cooking
While on the subject of meat, is it true that poking meat with a fork or thermometer during cooking will allow precious juices to escape?
To put this theory to the test, Kimball’s team cooked two sets of five steaks to medium rare and jabbed only one set with a fork.
The result? Both sets of steaks lost exactly the same amount of moisture -- 19.6 percent of their weight.
Why? Meat is like a wet sponge. The moisture is held tightly by the meat fibers and poking a steak will not open up a river of juices just like poking a sponge with a sharp knife will not release a stream of water, he said.
Coconut Whipped Cream
To make dairy-free whipped cream out of coconut milk, Kimball’s team developed this method:
Refrigerate a 10-ounce can of coconut milk for a few hours.
Skim off the top layer—about 3/4s of a cup—and place in the chilled bowl of a standing mixer.
Beat with 1 ½ teaspoons sugar, a half teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt on low for 30 seconds. Increase to high and beat until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.
How To Make Great Lemonade
Many a bartender will say that lemon and lime juices that are several hours old after juicing taste better than fresh-squeezed.
In "America’s Test Kitchen," cooks found that aged juices produced more mellow and complex flavors in lemon — and limeade -- than fresh juices did.
According to Kimball, this is due to aromatic compounds called terpenes that oxidize as the fresh-squeezed juice rests. This oxidation is a good thing up to about 6 hours when the juice will start to lose its fresh flavor and citrus bite.
By the way, this is not true of oranges which tend to turn bitter after juicing.
Decanting Red Wine
Conventional wisdom holds that wine needs to breathe before it’s imbibed. How true is that?
Kimball did a blind tasting of wine that was properly oxidized vs. wine that was just opened.
“It’s twice as good, literally ... It’s night and day,” he said, referring to the properly oxidized wine.
Kimball and his team have tried many oxidization methods, including some unconventional ones.
“We put a bottle of red wine into a blender and nailed it for about 30 seconds, and it was quite good!,” he laughs.
But, the better thing to do is to take two glass decanters or pitchers and pour the wine back and forth twelve times. “It’s not a small difference,” he said, “it’s the difference between enjoying your wine or not.”