It has been many, many years since I sat in a class room. There were certain subjects that just did not enthrall me and Chemistry was one of them! But boy do I wish I had been more into that subject and applied myself a lot more diligently! I thought I would never use that stuff. I have proved myself wrong as it is so important in cooking!
Just recently I read about a chemical within the brain of a shrimp which causes the flesh to begin decaying after they are caught. So if you want really firm and sweet shrimp, buy the ones that had the heads removed as soon as they were caught. I tested it and yep, it is true, the ones with the heads on had softer flesh and was not as sweet, the ones without the heads were much firmer, with a nicer texture and taste.
So what else in our kitchens has to do with chemistry? Seems a lot! I have been putting either vinegar or lemon juice in my pie crust for years to make it an easier to roll and much flakier crust. I never thought about why, I just did it because my grandmother did and she taught me how to make a great pie crust.
It seems that most wheat flours have a protein strand that will form “gluten” when a liquid is added to the flour. These protein strands will lengthen when you “work” the flour, so if you are making yeast bread this is a good thing as it provides the elasticity to the yeast dough. But when you are making a pie crust, you do not want that elasticity and you use a much higher ratio of shortening, lard, butter, etc. When you add an acid like vinegar or lemon juice the acid affects the protein strands and causes them to not extend so you do not have to work the dough as much and it is easier to roll into a circle resulting in a flakier pie crust.
If you use gluten free “flour” mixes try adding per cup of mix at least a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to whatever you are making. The acid reacts with the baking powder and makes any cake, waffle, etc. much lighter.
My German grandmother soaked her chicken pieces in buttermilk overnight before she cooked them the next day. Her chicken was always so moist, tender, and the outside so crisp and spicy. I have since learned that the enzymes in the butter milk act like a meat tenderizer….breaking down some of the fiber in the chicken so it is tender. The milk also penetrates into the chicken and adds some moisture. She would remove the chicken from the milk, discard the milk, pat the chicken dry, dredge it in a seasoned flour mix, dip into an egg wash, and then dredge it back in the seasoned flour mix. She always used a big ole black cast iron skillet with oil and she would add a big lump of butter. The oil was hot and the chicken would “sizzle” as she placed a few piece into the oil. She cooked if for a few minutes on one side then turned it and cooked on the other side. She never crowded the pieces and always cooked it over a medium high heat!
I can still close my eyes and smell that chicken and remember how wonderful it was. You must know this was way before our food was subjected to growth hormones and antibiotics. Sometimes that chicken was just an old hen that stopped laying eggs and wound up on the Sunday dinner table.
Chemistry in the kitchen is not limited to cooking…it is just as effective in some cleaning tips. The easiest way to clean your copper pots and pans is with a good scouring pad, place some coarse salt on it, squirt on some bottled lemon juice, and rub the surfaces of the pot. Presto, instant clean and pink copper.
Want the cleanest windows in the neighborhood? Save your old newspaper, not colored ink but the black/white text. Mix about 1 cup of good white vinegar into a gallon of warm water. Scrub the window with a scouring pad dipped into the vinegar/water mix and then polish the glass with the crumpled newspaper. The ink has chemicals in it that react with the vinegar and cause water to “sheet” so you do not get rain spots on the glass.
White distilled vinegar has a high acidity level therefore it is very effective for killing most mold, bacteria, and germs. Substituting vinegar for your household cleansers is such an environmentally friendly procedure and very economical! And, a lot less expensive than all those things we buy.
If your white clothes just don’t seem to be very white and bright, add a full cup of white vinegar to the rinse water in your washer. It may take a second time if they are very dingy, but it works great! You can make your own scouring cleanser by mixing ¼ cup baking soda with 1 tablespoon liquid detergent and just enough vinegar to make a thick but creamy cleanser. This works great on chrome, stainless steel, and other surfaces. To clean your microwave mix equal parts of vinegar and water (or lemon and water) in a glass container and put inside your microwave. Bring to a rolling boil, let stand a few minutes and then any baked-on food will be very easy to remove and all the odors will be gone.
Don’t forget to clean the inside of the dishwasher at least once a month. Pour a cup of white distilled vinegar into the empty dishwasher and run it through a whole cycle. This will remove soap buildup and odors.
White vinegar will remove stains from cloth, glass, and just about anything else. If you live in an area with hard water, use white vinegar and baking soda to clean off hard water buildup. If you need to “scrub” add rice to act as a scrubbing mechanism inside narrow-necked bottles, etc.
One thing to remember, NEVER use white vinegar on marble! The acidity level is too high and it will etch the marble surface.
To learn more, google ‘white vinegar for cleaning’ and you’ll be amazed at what is returned. If we could get our friends and neighbors to use this instead of cleaning chemicals it would have a positive impact on our environment! Good for our life, good for our kids, good for our planet!
Until next time,