Alton Brown FN Chat 2000-07-17

The following is the Transcript from Food Network's Alton Brown Chat

Alton Brown Chat Transcript

Date: Monday, July 17, 2000
Time: 9:30 p.m.- 10:30 p.m. ET

FoodTV: Welcome to FoodTV.Com's chat with chef Alton Brown, host of Food Network's "Good Eats," airing every Wednesday at 9:00 PM ET.

FoodTV: Want to learn how to scramble an egg to fluffy perfection? Can't figure out how to make your soufflés rise? Ask Alton for his sage advice! Send him your questions, and he'll solve your toughest culinary mysteries.

AltonBrown: Good evening, www! I'm pleased to be here for the next 60 minutes or so. What would you like to talk about?

Mizfit-guest: Hey, Alton! I'm 13 years old and I love to cook. I was wondering at what age did you start to cook and what was your signature dish?
AltonBrown: I don't remember a time when I didn't cook. I was raised in my mom's kitchen, and I think in those days my signature dish was dog food, because I couldn't reach the counter to do much else! After that I moved to cereal, and then to Popsicles :-) Now, I don't really have a signature dish, although my wife tells me I cook a wicked steak!

aubergine-guest: I love your sense of humor on the show! You have to tell me - what was the funniest thing that ever happened in the studio? Anything go majorly wrong? ;-)
AltonBrown: Sure, all the time! We were shooting in a chocolate factory in California, and we had a very small crew. We travel very light. In the middle of a setup, I went to move a light and I ran smack into a cargo door that was set just above my eye level. When I came to, I had a gash about 1 1/2 inches long over my left eye. The man who owned the chocolate factory was a retired doctor, and he closed the cut up with some duct tape, and we went ahead and shot the rest of the scene. He was very distracted, because during the scene I had to keep that side of my face away from the camera. On the show, you can look closely and see that his eyes are following the blood as it flows down the left side of my face!

BobnSue-guest: I live at over 4,000 feet above sea level. How do I adjust recipes?
AltonBrown: Great question! The problem is less sky. At 4,000 feet, you don't have as much atmosphere pressing down on you, and therefore on the food. This is why water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude. The biggest problem in cooking is dealing with baked goods. My general rule is to cut leavening - either baking soda or baking powder - by a quarter. I also reduce any sugar in a recipe by about 2 tablespoons per cup. Lastly, I add a tablespoon or two of liquid for each cup of liquid. This allows you to compensate for the reduced atmospheric pressure.

Stubby-guest: Where did you get your kosher salt container?
AltonBrown: LOL! The eternal question! We get this one a lot! My kosher salt container is actually a grated cheese container made in Italy and sold though Williams-Sonoma. I'm not sure if they still carry it in their stores, but I have heard that it's available on their website. Crate & Barrel sells something very close, but it's a lighter-gauge metal. I believe they call theirs a jelly-something. Nobody except me calls it a salt cellar, and if I had a dime for everyone who asks me that, I'd be jumping from yacht to yacht right now!

HeavenlySweet101: Every time I make chocolate chip cookies, they come out too chewy. I would like to know what I can do to make them crispy.
AltonBrown: One thing is you can stay tuned for our chocolate chip cookie show, coming up in the third season of "Good Eats." But if you don't want to wait, I can help. Think about adding an extra egg white. Also, make sure you're using all- purpose flour, as opposed to, say, bread flour. I'd suggest using at least some shortening, instead of just butter. That'll make a cakier cookie. If you want it crispier, think about replacing one of the eggs with two tablespoons of milk. Play around with those variations. Lastly, make sure they cool completely before you store them.

Patty: What are your recommendations for choosing pots and pans? Does price equal quality? Should I have a combination of reactive and non-reactive equipment?
AltonBrown: When we talk about reactive cookware, we're specifically talking about unfinished aluminum, copper, and that's about it in America. I do have personally only two pieces of reactive cookwear in my kitchen - I have a large aluminum pot for cooking pasta and for processing jams. It's very large, probably twelve quarts, and the reason it's aluminum is strictly for weight (or lack of!). I never cook anything acidic in it, which is really where you get into trouble with reactive cookwear. My other piece is a copper bowl that I only use for whipping egg whites and cream. As for the first part of the question, all I can say is no, price does not always equal quality. For instance, cast iron pots and pans, especially made by Lodge Manufacturing, are very inexpensive but also of very high quality. On the other side of the equation, you've got a manufacturer like All-Clad, which is really expensive and really, really worth it. My collection is a smattering of both. Personally, I believe in having the best tools that I can afford. They make the job easier and make my cooking more successful, and I keep them forever. If you buy good stuff once, you won't have to buy it again. The secret in this, especially if you are on a budget, is to start by buying the most versatile pieces. For instance, a 12-inch All-Clad sauté pan with a lid is probably $150-200 retail, and well worth it because you could live with that one pan for quite a while if you needed to. Avoid buying pieces that you will not use very often. Put those on your Christmas list and let others pay for them! Or get married and register for them. :-)

Porkchop-guest: What is the significant difference between kosher salt, regular salt, and sea salt? And does iodized sea salt make a difference?
AltonBrown: One of my favorite subjects of all time! Kosher salt is pure salt, and it is almost always (but not always) mined. It has no additives, no iodine. What I like about kosher salt is its shape - it comes in flakes which are easy to grasp between your fingers, and they cling to food. When you season a steak with kosher salt, it doesn't just dissolve. The reason that iodine was added to table salt in the first place was to prevent goiters which, as everyone knows, is a bloated thymus gland, which isn't very pretty. I've never actually seen a goiter, and that's probably because there's iodine in most table salt. Some people say they can taste the iodine. I for one cannot. Regular table salt, besides iodine, also contains anti-clumping agents which prevents it from turning into a rock in humid weather. Salt, like sugar, is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. Anti-clumping agents counteract this. Sea salt is always evaporated from, guess where! Although it contains no additives, it does contain other marine salts besides NaCl. When cooking with kosher salt, the only compensation you need to make in a recipe calling for regular salt you need to increase the volume by one quarter.

Jason_P-guest: Hiya, Alton! Great show! How do you boil an egg so that it's perfectly done and peels easily?
AltonBrown: I'll tell you how I do it. I put however many eggs I want to cook into a pot of cold water. I bring it to a boil, I cover the pan, I remove the pan from the heat, and I wait eight minutes. Peel immediately under cold running water. That will give you a slightly soft yolk. If you want a really hard yolk, go with twelve minutes.

Mikemenn-guest: In the mushroom episode, you mentioned that we didn't want to know what tacos were first made to hold. But I do want to know. What was it?
AltonBrown: Bugs. Larvae, to be exact. Live. Tacos made them easier to hold. I myself have not seen live larvae in a taco for some time, although there was one night....well, never mind. I'm sure the people in the drive-through didn't mean to do that. (My wife/producer is giving me "The Look"! I'd better stop....)

Lee: Do you have any plans for a cookbook or restaurant in the future?
AltonBrown: I intend to go to a restaurant in the near future. :-) I often go to restaurants! But I don't plan on possessing a restaurant - I'm too lazy. But I am working on a book. I don't call it a cookbook, but I'd call it a book for cooks.

Jack-guest: I watched your show with Chocolate Lava Muffins, and wondered why you add the eggs one at a time. What could happen if you add all 4 eggs at once?
AltonBrown: The same reason that you drizzle oil into a salad dressing - because the beginning mixture contains fat and water, and eggs contain fat and water. We're basically making a large emulsion. Emulsions have a much better chance of forming if the elements are brought together slowly. If you don't add them slowly, you'll end up with clunks of eggs over here, clunks of chocolate over there - you won't have a homogeneous mixture. This is really, really, REALLY important, not only in this recipe, but in any batter or dough in which eggs are integrated after wet and dry ingredients are brought together.

Shari-guest: How do I keep rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot?
AltonBrown: Heat control! Starting with the pot. Heavy pots don't stick. Cheap, thin pots stick. Also, I generally cook my rice in the oven, so I don't have to worry about too much heat concentrating on the bottom of the pot. Instead, it comes from all directions at the same time.

Ljalex: How do I keep the meringue from shrinking on top of my lemon meringue pie? Also, how do I keep it from weeping?
AltonBrown: Meringue is voodoo! I'm going to start with the weeping part first. A lot of people assume it's caused by humidity. It's not. It's from overcooking. The key is first to be very gentle with the meringue. It needs to be folded together very gently, with one-and-a-half tablespoons of sugar per egg white. I use my copper bowl to beat the egg whites, because I believe it adds extra stability. I also tend to sprinkle just a bit of cornstarch into the egg whites before I start to beat them. I try to make sure my filling and my meringue are at the same temperature before I put one on top of the other. I always use a filling that's also been stabilized with cornstarch. Then just be careful not to overbake. Overbaking causes the shrinkage and the weeping. If you're looking for color on top of the meringue, you can always hit it with a blowtorch after it comes out of the oven. But it's not a good idea to overbake the pie just to get the color.

Sean-guest895: I recently watched your show about barbecued ribs, and in your rub you ask for jalepeño seasoning and I can't find it anywhere in Chattanooga. What is it and where can I get it?
AltonBrown: You can get it down at the Publix by my house! LOL! A few people have emailed me on this one. It's pretty common in my neck of the woods, but maybe outside of large metropolitan areas, it isn't. Jalapeño seasoning is a spice mixture containing dried ground jalapeños, as well as other seasonings. It comes in a small cylinder, about the size of a Spike container. But that's not important. What's important about that recipe is that it was one of the six seasonings I chose for myself. As long as you build the rub in the right proportions, you can substitute anything you want for that. However, if you're going to go with just straight ground jalapeños or cayenne, cut the amount in half. But don't torture yourself trying to find it - it's easily replaceable.

Beckie-guest: With all the talk of corn tonight, nothing was mentioned about freezing. It's very inexpensive at this time of year. What's the best way to freeze it?
AltonBrown: I was very sad to have to leave that out of the show, but I decided to do an entire show about freezing produce for a later show. But it's a great question, easily answered. Here it is - all farm-fresh produce that you intend to freeze should be blanched in boiling water before it is frozen. Blanching deactivates certain enzymes inside the plant, which will result in problems when you thaw later on if they're still around. But if you kill them right up-front, they won't give you any trouble. This blanching period can be relatively brief, say a minute, in things like corn, peas, small foods. The one exception is lima beans. Fresh lima beans, uncooked, contain a substance which can basically produce cyanide gas. This doesn't mean you should stop eating them, it means you should thoroughly cook them. So either cook the lima beans before or after you thaw them. By the way, there is no need to thaw blanched produce before cooking. Just drop it into the boiling water, as you would with commercially frozen foods.

guest-Rachel-2: Every time I try to make a pie crust it cracks to pieces on me. What am I doing wrong?
AltonBrown: A few different factors may be at work here. Recipe writers are fond of blaming it on the cook. They like to say we're being rough, being cruel and overbearing with the dough. This is not necessarily the case! In order to be pliable, pie dough needs to be thoroughly hydrated. That requires a resting period in the fridge between the time the dough is made and when it is rolled out. That will allow the relatively small amount of liquid added to pie dough to thoroughly soak into the flour. This step is NOT optional! And it makes the single biggest difference that I've ever seen in a pie crust. Also, don't use quite as much fat as you might be used to using, especially if you prefer using butter, because it sets up so hard in the refrigerator that it can literally tear the crust apart while you're working it. Anyone who saw our crust show may remember that we worked the fat in two stages. We worked about a third of the fat in with a food processor, very thoroughly, so it disappeared into the flour. Then we added some big chunks of butter so we could have some flakiness when it baked. What was important about that first dose of butter was that we made that butter's water content almost 18 percent of its weight available to the flour. That meant a more hydrated crust. So, try giving your dough a rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before you roll it out. And work on the coldest surface you can.

Kaytee-guest: Any good non-alcoholic substitutes for white or red wine?
AltonBrown: This is a tough one, and I run up against it a lot. When my wife was pregnant last year she wanted to be very careful not to consume any alcohol. Most of us who are formally trained in the culinary field learn that alcohol cooks off in the cooking process. This is not necessarily true! You do cook off some of it, but you can never get rid of all of it. Unfortunately, there is no ingredient that really replaces wine. So, before you start looking for substitutes, examine your motivations. In most cases, if you are cooking with the wine you're not talking about that much alcohol. But if you staunchly want to avoid alcohol, look at why the wine was there in the first place. In most cases, we're looking for some sort of balance - some fruitiness, acidity, and of course, moisture. I've had some luck, especially in soup recipes, concocting mixtures of fruit juices with vinegar or lemon juice to try to get those high points that I was looking for. So, take whatever recipe you're looking for, hopefully not one with wine as a main component like zabaglione, but look at what you're trying to get from the wine, whether it's fruitiness, acidity, or moisture. You won't find just one ingredient that will cover the whole gamut. A recent example was a gentleman who questioned me on the "Good Eats" forum about the wine in our ribs recipe. I suggested that he replace it with ginger ale, laced with a little lemon juice or vinegar. I was guessing at the time! But apparently it worked out, because he emailed back that he was a happy camper.

jan-guest: I love homemade French fries with malt vinegar. But the fries come out too greasy. I want more of a crisp-on- the-outside, soft-and-potatoey-on-the-inside texture. Any tips?
AltonBrown: There are two ways to make French fries. On our recent show "Fry Hard," we advocated first blanching the fries in 325 degree oil, then removing them, letting them drain, and then finishing them in hotter oil. The point was to cook the fry just until it became limp and floppy, but not greasy. Finishing it in the much hotter oil serves two purposes - besides providing enough heat to brown the potatoes, it was hot enough to make the water inside the potato boil. That water then turned to steam, and pushed out from the inside of the potato, preventing the oil from entering. The result - crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, not greasy. There is another way. If you start your French fries in medium-hot oil - around 300- 325 degrees - and remove them when they just become barely floppy, you can drain them, let them cool, and then finish cooking them in a 500-degree oven on a baking sheet, preferably with a draining rack. There will be just enough oil left on the fries from the first cooking to brown up the fries. The worst thing you can do for French fries is cook them in oil that's not hot enough. The moisture in the fry can't convert to steam, and the fry will become oil saturated. That's just not right.

Billabong56-guest: How would you properly season a pan?
AltonBrown: I'm going to guess that you mean seasoning a cast-iron pan. I use Crisco shortening. It is very highly refined, and I drop a small spoonful of it into said skillet. I stick it in a 350-degree oven until the shortening melts. I then extract said vessel, and implement a paper towel to smear the fat all over the pan, handle and everything. I then pick up the pan and return it to the 350-degree oven for an hour. Do not drop it at any point during this process! Turn the oven off, let the pan cool down, wipe off the excess oil, and put it away.

jan-guest99: If your chocolate seizes, what is the ratio of liquid to add to the pot? I meant to write it down after the chocolate show but OOPS - forgot!
AltonBrown: To be safe, I go with a tablespoon per cup of chocolate. But really, you can just start adding liquid until you see the chocolate return to its rightful state. It doesn't take much, but different chocolates will require different amounts of moisture.

WIZ-guest: Who primarily cooks in your home, you or your wife?
AltonBrown: LOL! This is embarrassing! There was a time when my wife didn't have to set foot in the kitchen, because she couldn't get me out of it. But between writing and producing television shows, the truth is that my wife does a good deal of the cooking these days. And she's turned into a pretty good cook, (under my tutelage!) Her spaghetti sauce I can't touch. But I still do my share - the grill is my domain, and in the summertime we probably grill three times per week.

guest-2: Do you have any tips for making ice cream without an ice cream maker?
AltonBrown: Yes. Get in your car, drive to the market, and buy your ice cream. Unfortunately, part of what makes ice cream ice cream is the agitation of the mixture. Besides controlling the size of the ice crystals that are formed, this process also aerates the mixture. As far as I know, this cannot be imitated. Although I have heard about boat engines being used, I do not advocate that :-) However, ice cream machines are cheap now. Mine cost about forty bucks. And it's easy.

rip-guest: Would you recommend a book that I could get to better understand the chemistry of baking and cooking?
AltonBrown: I have two books that never leave my desk. One is strictly a scientific book, the other is recipes with a lot of science in it. The first is called "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee; the second is called "Cookwise" by my good friend Shirley Corriher. Start with these two and after that, get a chemistry degree.

bluegrass: I am having a dinner party for 40 people. Pasta is the main dish. Is there a good way to pre-cook it, then re-heat it - and have it still be al dente at serving time? Thank you very much for your time.
AltonBrown: No. Well, maybe. The troubling word here is 'al dente'. Most restaurants that serve pasta do parcook the noodles, toss them in oil, and then reheat them in boiling water to order. However, if you're only serving 40 people, I'd get two or three big pots going and try to do it all at once. You'll be happier with the results, and in the long run it will be easier. That's easy for me to say though; I'm not about to make dinner for 40 people.

Elora: I'd love to cook fish for my family, but buying seafood not in a can terrifies me. Please help!
AltonBrown: I've never seen seafood in a can! LOL! Where do you get seafood in a can? The biggest piece of advice I can give to novice fish cookers doesn't have to do with the kitchen; it's got to do with your market. The people there that cut fish probably do it because they like it. Talk to them. Find a fishmonger you can trust, ask for their opinions. They will appreciate your questions, and will help you. You want as fresh a product as possible, so go to the market, look the fishmonger in the eye, and ask, "What would YOU take home tonight?" Then ask what they would do to it if they did take it home. Fishmongers are the best fish cookers I know. Their advice is free. Take advantage of it.

BOB-guest: What else are you going to cover in your third season?
AltonBrown: Well, let me grab the list here.... A pressure cooker show. A show about honey. A show about tea. A show called "Ham I Am". A show called "Puff, the Magic Pastry". A show called "Squash Court". A show called "Where There's Smoke". And one called "Let them Eat Cake". I'll let you figure out what they mean! Oh, and one called "Cast Iron Chef," where we will conquer fried chicken. No, I will NOT wear satin!

FoodNetwork: Thanks Alton, this has been really "Good Chat!". Do you have any final words for us before we have to say good night?

AltonBrown: Yes - it's only food. What I mean by that is that it's not anything to be afraid of. The more you understand what you can do with it, the more you will be able to do with it. Don't be afraid to play with it, and don't be afraid to fail. Every good cook I know screws something up! Taste your food, feel your food, think about your food, and then go cook.

FoodTV: Thank you for chatting with Food Network's Alton Brown. If you'd like to see Alton's wacky wisdom at work, tune in to "Good Eats" Wednesdays at 1:00PM, 9:00PM, and 12AM; Saturdays at 9:00PM and 12AM; and Sundays at 6:30PM. All times ET.

FoodTV: For more information on Alton or his show, visit Thanks again, and check out FoodTV.Com for announcements about upcoming chats!

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010