Are we really cooking everything wrong?

No doubt you have seen this phrase, or a variation of it, in your social media news feed: "You've been cooking [insert food name] wrong the whole time!" When I type"you've been cooking" into the Google search bar, the first five items that pop up are all about being wrong - apparently you've been cooking pasta wrong, along with potatoes, rice, and bacon. 

Not only are you and I cooking things wrong, we are using our tools wrong too. The most recent "wrong" task in my news feed involved grating cheese. Although I was fairly certain that I have not been grating cheese wrong my entire life (after all, I didn't start grating until I was a teenager), I clicked on link to see if I could improve my grating game. 

grating cheese

According to the article, "If the grater is on its side, you can move the block of cheese horizontally. The shredded cheese then falls into body of the grater, allowing you to simply dump it in a bowl when you're done. This method avoids having to steady the upright cheese grater on a plate or in a bowl, giving you more control." It's allegedly less messy and supposedly safer, too, because your knuckles don't get as near the grating surface. 

I am still scratching my head trying to determine how holding a grater sideways gives you more control than resting it squarely upright on your counter or cutting board, or how a side-to-side motion is an improvement upon an up-and-down one.  Your fingers are just as close to the grating surface in either case. It's also not very difficult or even inconvenient to sweep whatever you've grated into a bowl.

You can use a piece of wax paper or a clean kitchen towel underneath the grater if you are really concerned about mess (and use the same to easily transport the grated material to its intended vessel). Since graters usually have a grating surface on both sides, using it on its side means you could damage the opposite side and/or your countertop as those surfaces rub against each other. Most of the "you're using this tool wrong" articles are cast in the same mold - trying to convince you that this new method is the cat's pajamas, when in fact it's rarely an improvement and often a more cumbersome way of accomplishing the same task.

The "you're cooking this food wrong" articles generally offer a bit more useful advice. One piece I found about how you are cooking rice wrong went into details about why rinsing and soaking rice depended on the type of rice and its use, and gave some tips about when to steam or boil it. It did not, however, explain how the way I did it was incorrect.

Most of the time the "wrong" way you've been cooking something just means a different technique that works just fine but may not be the most efficient method. This holds true for the "you've been cooking pasta wrong" article that touts advice from Harold McGee. He recommends using a frying pan and a cold water start, explaining the science behind his process. This method works, but so does throwing pasta into a large pot of salted, boiling water. That is not wrong, just different. 

The advice can also be contradictory. I also found an article that claimed I was cooking pasta wrong because my pot wasn't big enough - the opposite of what McGee promoted. I was also "cooking it wrong" if I only served pasta during cold weather (seriously, who writes this stuff?). 

Yes, I know, the "doing it wrong" headlines are clickbait, but the name "bait" is accurate because they can be difficult to resist. I think that all of us (especially women) have been programmed to doubt ourselves and our abilities, especially when advised by an (alleged) expert. These chastising titles work as we wonder, if only for a moment, if we've been mucking up the process this whole time. In most cases, we haven't. So the next time you see a "you're doing it wrong" article, relax, take a deep breath, and repeat after me: "I'm not cooking everything wrong, I'm not using my tools wrong, and doggone it, people like me!" Then click on the link, grab some popcorn, and settle in to read the comments. 

Photo of the not wrong method of How to grate cheese from indexed blog Great British Chefs

3 Comments

  • Teruska  on  11/9/2018 at 4:46 AM

    The shape of the standard box grater doesn't lend itself to grating on a grater on its side. Not only would you mar the surface it was on, it is tapered and wouldn't lie flat. Mine also has a rubber base that stabilizes the grater should I grate over enthusiastically. Pshaw!

  • averythingcooks  on  11/9/2018 at 7:19 PM

    Well...... this is yet another reason that I do not follow much of anything (translate "nothing") on social media! I read my books from authors who I respect and base my decisions / methods on them .........and yes - I know that statement makes me impossibly old school .

  • readingtragic  on  11/10/2018 at 2:00 AM

    A friend sent me a link to an article about how I was squeezing my lemons wrong - it tells you to squeeze the lemon in the squeezer as you would expect, consistent with the shape, and then to turn the lemon half upside down and squeeze again; lots more juice comes out. It’s a great trick - I was able to tell him so with glee, as I have been squeezing my lemons this way for years...

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