Extracting flavour ... maceration has become a menu staple. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
Richard Cornish answers your vexing culinary questions.
I see the word ''macerate'' on menus and wonder where it comes from and what it means. D. Hensley
Don't worry, macerate is a perfectly acceptable word and can be used in front of growing children and the local vicar. It comes from Latin macerare, meaning to steep and generally refers to fruit that has been cut and left to steep in its own juice. Maceration is a practice used in the wine industry where colour and flavour are extracted from grape skins and stems as the process takes place. The term recently became popular on menus to describe dishes, generally desserts, in which soft-skinned fruits are cut and left to steep. The addition of a little sugar draws the juice from the cells through osmosis. It's a great little technique to use in your own kitchen to enjoy fresh fruit as a dessert as the cutting and steeping, with the addition of just a little sugar, really intensifies the flavour of berries and soft-skinned fruits.
How much is an American ''stick of butter'' in grams? G. Cohen-Shapira
Complexity and subtlety have their place in American life – except when it comes to Two and a Half Men and weighing ingredients when baking. Instead of using reliable and accurate (but slightly more difficult to operate) scales, Americans prefer to use cups of flour and sugar, and sticks of butter. A stick of good old American butter weighs four ounces or 113grams. A small block of dinkum Aussie butter weighs 250grams. If you enjoy baking, may I suggest you invest, if you don't already have them, in a set of digital scales – it makes the whole process more accurate and the results so much better.
I don't like the taste that bicarbonate of soda gives to baked goods. Can it be left out or substituted? J. Hunt
Bicarbonate of soda, baking soda and sodium bicarbonate are all the same compound. It is alkaline and reacts with acid to create gas. This gas is trapped by the batter or dough and gives baked goods their lift. The acid may come from another ingredient in the recipe such as honey, fruit juice, buttermilk and brown sugar. If too much baking soda is used in proportion to the amount of acid available, there could be residual baking soda left in the final product, which will give you that unpleasant soapy taste. Try making the recipe again using less baking soda. Sometimes baking soda is not incorporated well into the mixture, leaving little pockets that don't neutralise the acid, so make sure the dry goods are well mixed by placing them together in a bowl and whisking them well. Do not leave baking soda out of a recipe or you will end up with a cake falling as flat as a joke at the Logies. Sometimes it is possible to substitute baking powder, which undergoes a chemical reaction when heated, but the success will depend on the original recipe.
How do I cook osso bucco without it falling off the bone and looking a mess? L. Lockhart
To understand slow cooking meat, you have to understand a bit about the animal the meat came from. Take osso bucco. For a moment pretend to be a cow and get on all fours – don't worry, respected Australian actors do it every day on Play School. Osso bucco would be a cross cut of your forearm. Now imagine all the different forearms of people you know. Some are muscular, some less so. Some cattle do more walking foraging for grass, some are older, some stand around eating in a feedlot all day like teenagers in a shopping mall. With that in mind, consider what Mark Beattie, executive sous chef of Pendolino restaurant in George Street, Sydney, has to say. He used to work in at Cecconi's in London and made a lot of osso bucco. "The trick is to cook the meat very gently over a slow heat," he says. "Check the meat as it cooks as some meat cooks faster than others. When the meat is very soft, but not falling apart, remove the pot from the heat to allow the meat to relax and soak up the cooking liquids. Then the meat can be removed with a spatula or something that will support it, the sauce reduced, and the meat gently reheated in the sauce."