Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them: And 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking . . . Plus 25 Recipes to Get It Right Every Time is the latest in a series of culinary books (19 to be exact) by authors Weinstein and Scarbrough. The authors set out to debunk 101 culinary myths, which, they confess, are “almost all [are] based on a half-stated fact or a small misunderstanding that got larded up over the years” (1x).
The 101 myths are conveniently organized by myth category—for example, myths about alcohol, myths born of nutrition fads, and myths from the fevered brains of culinary snobs. In a style that is informative, entertaining, sarcastic, and witty, Weinstein and Scarbrough first present then debunk each myth, carefully explaining the scientific and logical rationale, which is followed by corrective action, and sometimes, a recipe.
Like me, you’re sure to recognize many of the myths that shaped your own cooking practices. I’m guilty of one such practice: “Never Refreeze Meat”. From a culinary standpoint, the authors claim that it’s perfectly acceptable to refreeze meat as long as the meat was thawed in a 40°F refrigerator and maintained there for a day or two at 40°F or lower. I thaw meat in the refrigerator, and if I don’t use it within a day, I throw it out. I will, for sure, rethink this practice.
My favorite myth, of course, is “Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them”. I believe all kids think this is true, but surprisingly, so do many adults (I know someone who won’t steam a lobster for fear of the death screams.) Weinstein and Scarbrough politely point out that “to scream, something must have vocal cords” and “lobsters don’t have vocal cords”, so “lobsters can’t scream”. What we hear is “superheated vapors whistling out from the joints in the shell” (27). They suggest that the “whole lobsters-scream projection is a result of our own complex issues swirling around this very real dread called death—as well as its connecting to eating” (31). Deep thinking for sure.
On occasion, Weinstein and Scarbrough’s explanations vindicated some of my cooking practices. “You must soak dried beans before cooking them” is just one of many. I know the directions on the bag of beans instruct you to wash, sort, and soak the beans overnight before cooking. I almost never do. I like to defy the rules of the test kitchens by putting beans on to cook an hour or two before I intend to serve them. I’ve never had a disaster.
In the end, Weinstein and Scarbrough ask that we all try to be a little more nuanced when it comes to cooking and to life in general—that we all need to take time and learn to laugh. I, for one, will.
Whether you’re an ardent cook or a dedicated food lover or just an avid reader, Lobsters Scream When You Boil Them: And 100 Other Myths About Food and Cooking . . . Plus 25 Recipes to Get It Right Every Time is a worthwhile, enjoyable read.