Richard Cornish

Shallots and spring onions are confusing.
Shallots and spring onions can be confusing.

I am a recent arrival in Australia and am confused as to why so many food magazines refer to spring onions as shallots. It is my understanding that spring onions are sometimes referred to as green onions, salad onions or scallions, but surely they are not shallots? C. Griffith

Dear Mr Griffith, there are lot of odd things about the federated states of Australia that you'll have to get used to. Sydney: potato scallop; Melbourne: potato cake. Sydney: rockmelon; Melbourne: cantaloupe. Sydney: beachwear; Melbourne: black. Victorians only got standard gauge rail track in 1962 - before then, passengers from Sydney had to get off the platform at Albury to change carriages. According to the Onions Australia official website, spring onions (the green ones on the right hand side of the picture) are Allium fistulosum and are 40 centimetres of green leaf and a slightly enlarged bulb. The site reads, ''True shallots (Allium cepa, aggregatum) are grown for their bulbs only. Shallots marketed in NSW are similar to true spring onions and are harvested with about 40 centimetres of green leaves and a slightly enlarged bulb. They are marketed in bunches of about 20 plants with three bunches (per) kilogram. Shallots grown and marketed this way are also known as eschallots (Allium ascalonicum).'' Let the comments begin.

What is the difference between jerked meat and jerk chicken? A. Cousins

Thanks for this question, which is more like a feed line from a Carry On film. Nonetheless, I shall take it as a serious query. The word jerky comes from a Peruvian term ''charqui'', which means dried meat and is both a verb and an adjective. Meat is jerked by cutting it into very fine strips, sometimes salting it, and drying it in the sun or by a fire. The same word travelled to Jamaica but took on a different meaning, as African slaves had a massive impact on the cuisine. Around its shores, you'll find vibrant and aromatic spice mixes that blend the heat of the New World chillies with the aroma of Old World favourites such as allspice, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. In Jamaica, ''jerk'' refers to this spice mix, which is used as a dry or wet marinade for chicken, pork, other meats and seafood. Jerking in Jamaica describes the marination process.

Recently you mentioned a recipe with sodium nitrite. What is it and where can you get it? M. Bell

Sodium nitrite is a preservative used in the processing of meats. It inhibits bacterial growth and is particularly useful in combating Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that cause botulism and thrive in air-free environments, such as the inside of a salami. Sodium nitrite stops the haemoglobin changing from a pleasing red-pink to an unappealing grey. It also adds a particular flavour to meat. So what's the bad news? Overconsumption has been linked to cancer. Sodium nitrite is often called for in recipes for cured meat and can be bought online at

I made muffins, and they were tough and riddled with tubular holes. W. Lee

Many muffin recipes use phrases such as ''bring the ingredients together to make a rough dough''. Once the flour has come into contact with the wet ingredients, the proteins in the flour, such as gluten, start to come together to form long strands. This is necessary for structure. If you mix the dough or batter too much more, the gluten strands will become very strong and make the muffin tough. This is why an overmixed dough creates tough cakes and muffins. Another effect of this is that when gas is formed inside the muffin as it heats up, it tries to escape but is held back by the gluten. Eventually it ruptures and forms thin tubes inside the muffin, like vents of lava exploding from a volcano.

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