Status: Urban Legend
I know a lot of people who swear by the notion that you have to sear meat "to seal in its juices." But I've always thought the idea was a bit far-fetched (though I agree that meat is best cooked hot and fast), so it pleased me to read, in a review of Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food
, that most food experts agree that it is indeed an urban legend that searing meat will seal in its juices. About.com's barbeque expert agrees
By definition, searing is to cook something hot and fast to brown the surface and to seal in the juices. Yet many of the leading cooking experts agree that searing does not seal in juices. Frankly the idea that you can somehow melt the surface of the meat into a material that holds in all the juices seems a little strange to me. But whether you believe searing seals in juices or not, a great cut of meat needs hot, dry heat to caramelize or brown the surface to give it that great flavor.
The same review of Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food
lists a number of other food myths. For instance:
MSG Causes Headaches (aka Chinese Restaurant Syndrome):
"Jeffery Steingarten, food editor of the Vogue in New York, debunked this myth pretty comprehensively. Given the widespread use of MSG in China, he asked why weren’t there a billion Chinese people with headaches? He then went around relentlessly researching the theory in his characteristically thorough way, and came to the conclusion that MSG, taken in normal quantities, was perfectly safe." (I know many people who swear they get headaches after eating MSG, so I'm reluctant to accept this as an urban legend. But some quick research reveals that a controlled study at Harvard University
also concluded that MSG in food doesn't cause headaches.)
Croissants were invented during the 1529 Siege of Vienna, when a baker who foiled a Turkish plan to breach the city's walls was rewarded by being given a royal licence to produce crescent-shaped pastries:
"Davidson debunks this romantic legend and informs us that in fact, the first reference to croissants did not appear until 1891, more than two centuries after the siege of Vienna."
In the Middle Ages spices were used to mask the flavor of spoiled meat:
"Davison cites Gillian Riley to rubbish the notion... Indeed, in pre-refrigeration days, we had assumed that the role of spices and heavy sauces was to conceal the fact that meat had spoiled. Riley makes the valid point that in those days, spices were far too expensive to be used for this purpose."
Chop Suey was invented by a Chinese restaurant in California which threw together odds and ends ('chop suey' in Chinese) as a meal for drunken miners:
"according to Anderson, quoted by Davidson, chop suey is a local dish from Toisan, a rural district south of Canton. In Cantonese, its name is tsap seui, meaning 'miscellaneous scraps'."