How Not to Peel an Egg: Kitchen Myths Debunked by Science

The "Food Lab" author runs through several examples of kitchen conventional wisdom that aren't really steeped in wisdom.

J. Kenji López-Alt: Kitchen information is passed down from chef to cook or from grandmother to daughter or from father to son. And a lot of times those kitchen things go untested. When you start to test them, you find out that a lot of excepted wisdom actually isn't really true. One of the big ones is cooking pasta. I was always told to cook pasta in a huge volume of water about a gallon per pound of pasta. You actually want to use much less water than that. So the reason people say to use a lot of water is because they'll say that a larger volume of water, when you add the pasta to it, the temperature drops less and therefore it comes to a boil faster and you want your pasta to cook at a rolling boil. If you actually test it side by side, cook the same amount of pasta in a gallon of boiling water versus a quart of boiling water, both of the same heat, add to the pot at the same time, you'll find that the smaller pot actually returns to a boil faster than the large pot does. And that's because no matter the starting volume, the amount of energy that you need to add to a pot once you've added the pasta to it is the amount of energy that it takes to take that pasta from room temperature to 212 degrees. That's when the water is going to return back to a boil. And no matter what the size of the pot that's the same amount of energy. The big pot has the disadvantage of having a much larger surface area so it actually loses energy faster to the outside environment than a small pot does. So a small pot will come to a boil faster; you'll use less water, which is good. And then finally the water in the small pot, once you're done cooking the pasta, will be a little bit starchier; it will have a higher concentration of washed-off starches from the pasta. And that's a good thing because when you then take that water, when you're tossing your pasta with the sauce, you take a little bit of that water, add it to the sauce. It helps thicken it a little bit and it helps it really blind to the pasta much better. So you end up with using less energy, less time, and a better tasting end result. So less water for your pasta is number one.

Another big one is that searing meat will seal in juices. And this has been disapproved many, many times, but you here still hear it said. You still see people say start your meat over very high heat because you want to seal in the juices so that they can't escape. It doesn't actually seal in juices. And if you've ever cooked like a relatively thin steak on a grill, it's very easy to see this. You grill it one side down, develop a nice crust, flip it over, and then as it cooks, you're going to see juices bubbling up through that surface that you just seared. So it very obviously doesn't seal in the juices. And in fact if you do this side by side, you'll find that, for instance, a prime rib. If you cook one by searing it at the beginning in a high-heat oven and then gently cooking it the rest of the way through versus the opposite way — starting it in a very gentle oven and then searing it at the very end, you'll find that the one that you do with the reverse method, the gentle heat first, sear the end will actually lose less moisture than the one that you do the traditional way. You'll end up with more evenly cooked meat; it will be juicier; and it will be more tender. And it really works side by side.

Finally, let's see. Well, there's a lot of myths about peeling eggs, boiled eggs. And this is a big question that people have. Like one of the most commonly submitted questions is what makes my eggs stick to the shell? There are many theories out there. Some people say like poke a hole in the egg; some people say cook it in water with vinegar. I did a ton of testing on this. I cooked hundreds of eggs and had a third party come in and peel them blind. They didn't know how the eggs were cooked; they didn't know how I treated them. And then afterwards I counted the number of eggs that were perfectly peeled versus the number of, like, pockmarked eggs to really see what made a difference. What I found was the only two things that really make a difference when you're peeling eggs are one, the age of the egg. You want to use older eggs. Older eggs are going to peel more easily. And then by far the most important overriding factor is the temperature of the water that you start the eggs in. So if you put eggs in cold water and bring it to a boil, the egg whites will fuse to the shell. They become very, very difficult to peel. If, on the other hand you start with a pot with already boiling water and gently lower your eggs into that they peel much more easily and it's like a night-and-day difference.

J. Kenji López-Alt is a restaurant-trained chef and former Editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine, as well as the author of The New York Times best-selling cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. In this video, he runs through several examples of kitchen conventional wisdom that aren't really steeped in wisdom. What's the best way to peel a boiled egg? How much water should you boil your pasta in? Does searing meat really seal in juices? The answers might not be what you expect.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.