Show: FRESH AIR
Date: NOVEMBER 20, 1998
Head: Successful Cooking
Sect: News; Domestic
TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
You're probably already thinking about your Thanksgiving dinner. On this archive edition, we have an interview with a culinary expert who can not only give you recipes for a great Thanksgiving dinner, she can explain the science and chemistry behind the techniques.
Shirley Corriher is
the cook many restaurant and test kitchen chefs call to explain why a recipe is failing and how to fix it. She's a former biochemist, turned cookbook author and cooking teacher.
I spoke with her last year, after the publication of her book "Cookwise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking."
I asked her to explain some of the principles that would help us make a better turkey.
SHIRLEY CORRIHER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "FINE COOKING" MAGAZINE; AUTHOR, "COOKWISE: THE HOWS AND WHYS OF SUCCESSFUL COOKING": Wel
l, my absolutely favorite thing to do with turkeys and with large roasting hens, and I've even done it with shrimp, is to soak them in brine. Now, this is a -- what I do, say, with the large hen, I would use like a full cup of salt.
Now, with the turkey, the smaller turkeys, I'd go with a cup and a half of salt and put them in a large container that I could cover it with ice water, and keep it in the refrigerator overnight. Then before you roast the turkey, you want to rinse it very well -- get all the surface
salt off. And it is astonishing how much juicier turkeys are prepared in this way.
And they weigh birds, you know, before and after brining, and they gain weight significantly and you can certainly see it in the incredibly juiciness.
GROSS: Now what principles determine how long to cook a turkey and what temperature to roast it at?
CORRIHER: Well, now, I think anybody you ask is going to have a different answer on this. And I'd certainly advise people if they have a system that has worked, stick with
it. Some things to remember: the leg and thigh meat has to be cooked to a higher temperature than the breast, and this is a real problem. Those legs and thighs actually taste metallic and slimy if they're not cooked over 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
And then the breast of a hen, which is the broad expanse that gets the most heat, usually, that starts drying out anywhere from 155 up. It's getting dryer and losing more moisture.
So, what I try to do is arrange it in the pan so that I can actually move the whole p
an and the bird over to one wall, so that that hot wall -- so that it's near the hot wall of the oven to get that leg and thigh cooked well. And then I divide time and then I push it over to the other wall so that other leg and thigh gets some extra heat on the cooking time.
I think everybody's oven varies dramatically and it's just impossible to, you know, give correct times, I believe, and temperatures. We can talk a little bit about temperatures. I like to start at very high temperature and then turn the ov
en down for slower cooking. I want to get the outside hot -- you know, get things really going -- and then turn it down so that it cooks more slowly to stay juicy and tender inside.
So I would say -- I would actually start a bird, maybe 450, 475. And if the bird's not too big, I start it breast down and then do these to both sides, and then flip it over.
GROSS: You are an advocate of a good thermometer. How do you use the thermometer when you're roasting a turkey?
CORRIHER: Well, you want to try to b
e careful not to touch bone. So, I like to insert either -- you -- by -- insert it once in the thigh and try to get into the fleshy area, and go down so that, you know, at least an inch or so of the thermometer shaft is in the bird. And now, this is with one of the little read -- some people -- and now, on the breast, I insert it there also. So I like to check both places -- check the temperature of the leg and thigh and check the temperature on the breast.
Now, the big fat-based thermometers go into the bird,
and I would say they would have to go into the breast portion of the bird and can remain in during the whole cooking time. The important thing to remember is that that temperature is going to increase after you take the bird out of the oven. So be sure to get the bird out before it reaches your maximum temperature.
GROSS: But wait -- why is the temperature going to increase after you take it out of the hot oven?
CORRIHER: Oh, because -- see the outside of that bird was super-hot, and that heat is still b
eing conducted from layer to layer to layer inward, and a big turkey could increase easily 10 degrees after it comes out of the oven. So, you want to be sure to get it out 10 degrees before you really want it.
GROSS: What temperature do you look for?
CORRIHER: Now -- we're -- we're -- the FDA absolutely insists on 180 degrees. So, this would mean get it out at 170. I think the breast is way too dry -- that -- and I'm willing to take my risk, personally, to go, you know, a little lower on that. I hate to
cook a turkey breast over 160.
GROSS: And you've never been sued by your guests.
CORRIHER: They've all survived, thank goodness, Terry.
GROSS: They've all survived.
OK. My guest is Shirley Corriher and she is a cook, a food writer, and an expert on the science of cooking. Her new book is called "Cookwise."
Now, for people who want to make, say, an interesting potato dish...
GROSS: ... for Thanksgiving. What would you recommend?
R: Well, my grandmother's old-fashioned grated sweet potato pudding is sensational. It's totally different from any of the modern sweet potato dishes. You grate the sweet potatoes raw and actually what you do, you can do it in a processor just with the chopping knife, and chop it with quick on-offs until the pieces are small like rice.
And you stir these raw chopped sweet potatoes with a cup of brown sugar and a cup of half-and-half or cream. My grandmother used, you know, her whole milk on the farm. And two
teaspoons of dry ginger and I think a little salt and, if my memory -- oh, a tablespoon of cornmeal and one egg. And stir this together and bake.
It's a deep brown and a very unusual texture, but it's a truly old, old dish. I know some of my students make it every year for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and one took a big plate over to a nearby nursing home. And she said one of the little ladies who was in her 90s, when she started eating it, the tears rolled down her cheek. She said: "you know, I haven't had t
his dish since I was a little girl."
So it is a truly old, but traditional holiday preparation.
GROSS: My guest is Shirley Corriher, author of the new book "Cookwise." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
My guest is Shirley Corriher. She's an expert on the science and techniques of cooking.
Let's get to baking -- a lot of baking happening for the holidays. You write in your new book that you made terrible cakes until you understood the principles behind how cakes rise with baking
powder and soda. What were you doing wrong and what's the right way to do it?
CORRIHER: Well, I didn't realize this, but baking powder and baking soda -- they don't make a single new bubble. All they do is enlarge bubbles that are already in the batter. And this makes that creaming step -- where you cream the butter and the sugar together -- this makes that step vitally important because you're beating all the air bubbles in your cake in right there.
And see, I had never paid any attention to that step.
I just barely mixed the butter and the sugar and threw the eggs and the rest of the ingredients on, and zip, zip, zip and my cakes were flat as a flitter. I did notice when I worked in a restaurant that the pastry chef there would put the butter and sugar on and leave it on the mixer for what seemed liked ages while she ran around doing other things.
And then she would finally come back and add the eggs and the other ingredients. And her cakes were a mile high. But it's these bubbles in the fat that are reall
y crucial for good volume.
GROSS: Well, I'm going to stop you first. So another words, the baking powder or the baking soda expands the bubbles that are already there.
CORRIHER: That's correct.
GROSS: So they'll -- the baking powder, baking soda is only going to do its job if it has bubbles to work with.
CORRIHER: That's right. And that's why those bubbles in the fat are so important.
GROSS: Mm-hmm. OK. Well, I interrupted you. Go ahead.
CORRIHER: Another big problem is the amount o
f baking powder or baking soda.
CORRIHER: One teaspoon of baking powder almost perfectly leavens a cup of flower; or one-fourth teaspoon of baking soda leavens a cup of flower. And there are many recipes out there that simply have too much leavener in them. And what happens, the bubbles get big, big, big and huge, and then pop -- and there goes your leavening. So, your muffins or your cakes fall.
And this is just the opposite of what you would think. You know, something has fallen, yo
u think, eh, maybe I needed more baking powder. But this is not the case, so you might check your recipes. You know, there -- you can allow some air. You can go up to 1 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, but there's some recipes out there that 1 1/2 cup little muffin recipe has a teaspoon of baking powder. That's fine. But then a teaspoon of soda, and that's enough for four cups of flour.
So, you've got enough for five cups of flower there and those muffins are going to fall and be practically unleavened.
OSS: An interesting cooking paradox. To help us understand how dough behaves, and how breads and cakes behave, tell us something about gluten and how it works.
CORRIHER: Yes, whenever you add water to flour and stir, there are two little proteins -- glutanen (ph) and goliaten (ph) and they grab water and each other and form these springy, bubble-gum like elastic sheets of gluten. And sometimes, you want this gluten and sometimes you don't.
Whenever you're doing something that you need strength, like a str
udel, you want these strong elastic sheets. Whenever you're doing yeast products, yeast oozes out a little liquid and the minute it hits a bubble in the dough, it releases carbon dioxide gas, which blows up so these bubble gum sheets of gluten are perfect to be inflated. You know, it blows...
SOUNDBITE OF BLOWING
On the other hand, if you want something tender -- you know, you want a tender pie crust or tender muffins or tender cakes -- you don't want this gluten. And there are several ways that you can pr
event it. You know, the traditional way of making a pie crust, you take fat and put it directly on the flour. This is no water present. And what you're doing, you grease these little proteins so that when you do add the water, they're so greasy they can't grab water and each other and hook together.
GROSS: What about sugar? That plays a part, too, doesn't it?
CORRIHER: Oh, yes. Now, sugar has a major role. Sugar actually will combine with each one of these little proteins and you get a sugar protein c
ompound and another sugar protein compound and you don't get any gluten formed. So with yeast doughs, you may have noticed that there are not any really, really, really sweet doughs. Most of them have sweet, gooey fillings, but the dough itself is limited. You can only put a tablespoon of sugar per cup of flour in a yeast dough or you start losing volume dramatically.
On the other hand, sugar in pie crust, muffins, and cakes serves as as tenderizer. It helps prevent the strong elastic sheets of gluten from fo
GROSS: Do you have a favorite apple pie recipe that would be simple enough to describe on the radio?
CORRIHER: My -- I'm afraid my apple pie recipe is complicated. But let me just give a simplified. And see, with a double-crusted pie, what happens -- the apples are full of water, so they are leaking water like crazy so that's going to make the bottom crust soggy. And then with all this liquid in the hot oven, you've got lots of steam. That makes the top crust soggy. And the apples shrink dramati
So, you've got this huge hole between the apples and the crust. So what I do to solve the problem is just bake the bottom crust empty. And I think that Thanksgiving, you should consider that maybe you need a little help. If time is short, use a store-bought crust. But bake that bottom crust crisp and dry, and then you can put a dough circle on a slight domed top, and I do a -- turn a -- a large stainless steel bowl upside down, and spray it with nonstick spray and put a dough circle on. And you can cu
t it with simple slits or you can decorate it with vines and leaves -- you know, whatever you're up to -- and bake that.
So the top is totally crisp and dry. And then I make the filling in a big pot on the stove. And I make a lot of filling. You know, I'll use 10 big apples and maybe 14 little apples. We're talking about a lot of filling. Then I can pile this filling up really, really high in the crisp crust and put the little -- put the dome on top, just add it later.
So you can -- there are all sorts o
f variations and you can do it, actually, with bought crust so that you don't have to totally kill yourself.
GROSS: This sounds very good. I just have one question for you.
GROSS: When you're doing the dome top...
GROSS: ... and you're baking that separately, how do you get the size right? 'Cause isn't the size going to change a little bit as it bakes or not?
CORRIHER: Well, the -- I go with a 12-inch dough circle and it doesn't seem to matter if I go wi
th at least a 10-inch bowl and -- but -- you -- anywhere from a nine- to ten-inch stainless steel bowl, measuring across the top. That will give you a really nice domed top.
And the great thing, it cuts like a dream because, see, you don't have that big gap between the apples and the top. Because you pile those apples high, really high, so they fill up the dome. And so you're sitting that dome down, squishing it right against the apples.
GROSS: And then the top and the bottom crust bake together? They...
CORRIHER: They -- no, you don't bake it again. You simply...
GROSS: Oh, right.
CORRIHER: ... assemble it.
GROSS: How did you get into the more scientific, analytical end of cooking?
CORRIHER: Well, I started out as a research biochemist for the Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee. And I worked in biochemistry also at the U.S. Vitamin Company. But my former husband and I started a boys private school. So, I had 140 teenage boys that I fed three meals a day for 11 years.
o, I got an awful lot of heavy-duty cooking experience. And friends -- and I used to go to cooking classes whenever I could -- and if something was wrong during the class, after class, I'd explain to the teacher what had happened because frequently from my science background, I knew exactly what to do to prevent that disaster.
So soon, people all over the Southeast were calling me with their cooking problems. And I didn't always know the answer, but as a good researcher I knew how to get the answer. So I would
go to the literature, you know, locate someone who was an expert in the field, and call them. And I think these experts are always willing to share their knowledge if you're polite and don't take up much of their time -- have a very specific question.
So through the years, I have received calls from, you know, oh hundreds and hundreds of people in the food business. I answer calls for test kitchens, for home cooks, for magazine editors, book editors, food writers. And I always learn, many times I can answer t
heir question instantly, but many times there's that, you know, one that's maybe fascinating. But I always learn so much myself from investigating the questions that I don't know.
GROSS: So what are you going to be doing this Thanksgiving? Are you cooking or are you guesting?
CORRIHER: I'm probably going to be guesting. Christmas, I know, I'll be cooking and I'll have to have the sweet potatoes because my children don't consider it a holiday without that. Another great family tip I'd love t
o pass on...
GROSS: Please, yeah.
CORRIHER: My mother made the best gravy imaginable.
GROSS: Yes, I should ask you about gravy. Go ahead.
CORRIHER: Well, I thought -- I watched her and I thought I knew exactly how she did it. But what I missed all these years was that she would take out one or two cups of the raw dressing mix, you know, before when she mixed it up and put it in the pan. She would save one or two cups and add that to the gravy to thicken it. And it was marvelous. You know, it
-- you don't realize it's there, but the gravy has then all the wonderful flavors and the -- you know, sage and herbs and onions and celery that you had in the dressing, you know are in there.
And it's just a wonderful touch.
GROSS: So when you said that your mother added dressing to the gravy, she would add some of the stuffing to the gravy?
CORRIHER: Yes, the raw stuffing before it's baked...
GROSS: The raw stuffing. OK.
CORRIHER: ... the raw stuffing, which you know, is composed of the bre
ad crumbs and herbs and onion and celery. So she would put that raw stuffing into the drippings and -- or the gravy -- and it would thicken so much nicer than just cornstarch or flour alone.
GROSS: Well, I want to wish you a very happen Thanksgiving.
CORRIHER: Well, thank you and I certainly wish everyone good luck with their turkey and cakes and pies.
GROSS: Shirley Corriher, recorded last year, after the publication of her book "Cookwise." She's now working on her book "Bakewise," on the science of
baking. It's scheduled to be published in the spring of 2002.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.
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Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Shirley Corriher
High: Culinary expert Shirley Corriher, author of "Cookwise," a practical guide to culinary mysteries and the science of cooking. Corriher is a food writer and a contributing editor to "F
ine Cooking" magazine.
Spec: Food and Beverages; "Cookwise"; Shirley Corriher; Media; "Fine Cooking"
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part wit
hout prior written permission.
End-Story: Successful Cooking
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.