Continuing (from last week) the second part of our "Kitchen-ary" -- an alphabetical review of the culinary questions we're most often asked:
N -- What is Nam Pla? A salty fermented fish sauce much used in Thai cooking. It has a pungent aroma but not a particularly fishy taste. It is used to add depth of flavor to sauces and can be found in large supermarkets or Asian stores.
O -- How to keep from tearing up when peeling onions? One esoteric method is to clutch an unburned kitchen match between your teeth, unburned tip facing out. Personally I like to peel onions under running cold water. Works about 75 percent of the time.
P -- Best way to toast pine nuts? Or any nut, for that matter. In a skillet over medium heat, no need to add oil. Stir occasionally and watch very carefully.
Q -- What do you do with quinces? Old fashioned fruits that ripen in the autumn, quinces taste halfway between apple and a pear. They taste better cooked than raw and are excellent in jam or sauce.
R -- Must you use arborio rice to make risotto? Arborio is the name of a variety of rice rather than a brand and it's recommended for risotto because it has a short grain with a lot of starch, making for a creamy product. Some substitutions: Carmaroli or Valencia rice. You can even use pearl barley in a pinch.
S -- Is there any difference between the many types of salt? The big thing is the size of the grain. Many cooks use regular fine table salt in the salt shaker but use the more granular kosher or sea salts for cooking.
Here's an approximate substitution table that you needn't take literally: One teaspoon regular table salt equals 1 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt. As always, when adding salt taste the finished dish.
T -- Do you have to truss a roast chicken or turkey? (Trussing is closing the the body cavity with skewers, pins or string so that the bird retains a compact shape while it roasts.)
In most cases it's not necessary, though it doesn't hurt to informally tie the legs together for appearance sake. Many turkeys have a band of skin that can contain the legs without string.
U -- Must you use unsalted butter if the recipe calls for it? Purists say yes because you can regulate the flavor of your recipe. Others will insist that the better quality butter is made without salt which is not necessarily true in the United States. Substitute salted butter if necessary but then don't add any more salt.
V -- How do you make vinaigrette? First of all, pronounce it right. Three syllables not four. "Vin-a-GRETTE." Just combine 3 or 4 parts oil to 1 part vinegar plus salt and pepper and dress your salad. Use the best oil you can find.
W -- Don't have a wok? Use a skillet, a large one so you can keep the foods in motion as they cook. A wok has sloping sides so the food that's already cooked can be pushed away from the heat. As for electric woks, they were very popular at one time, but they never get hot enough.
X -- What is the difference between "XXX" and "XXXX" confectioners' sugar? The number of X's refers to the fineness of confectioners' sugar and can be found on the package. The three X is not quite as fine as the four.
Y -- Does yeast spoil? It can lose effectiveness. Compressed yeast cakes are extremely perishable and should be used by the date stamped on the package. Store in fridge. You can freeze them but you must use them as soon as they defrost. Dried yeast lasts longer.
Z -- What is zest? The word refers to the colored part of a lemon, lime, grapefruit or orange peel. Take off as much of the white fibrous underside as you can because it's bitter. Use a very sharp paring knife or a special utensil to help.