Kitchen & Pantry

How to survive kitchen disasters

Don’t think that just because you can cook, you’re immune from kitchen disasters. I’ve been cooking since the fourth grade and I still make mistakes. Sometimes, the mistake isn’t even exactly my fault. For instance? We use a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) powered Elba oven. On the average, a tank of LPG lasts five weeks in our house. But there were times when we did more baking than usual and the consumption was higher. The thing with LPG tanks is that you can’t see how much you’ve used and how much is left. There were times when, after putting a cake pan in the oven, the LPG supply ran out, I never noticed until the baking time was up and then realized that the cake batter was still cake batter. Constant and accurate temperature are essential in baking and temperature fluctuations, especially prolonged ones, can ruin the cake. Normally, I’d transfer the cake pan to the electric oven or to the turbo broiler. The cake won’t be as perfect but still edible.

What about mistakes that are attributable to carelessness, bad judgment or, worse, cluelessness?

Three cardinal rules for fixing kitchen disasters

1. DON’T PANIC. When kitchen disaster strikes, stay cool. Don’t stare at the not-so-perfect looking food and cry. Stop thinking you failed. You didn’t. You just haven’t succeeded YET. And you still can.

2. RESIST THE INSTINCT TO DUMP THE FOOD INTO THE TRASH CAN. Most disasters can be fixed and the food doesn’t have to go to waste.

3. REMEMBER SOLUTIONS THAT HAVE WORKED IN THE PAST. Once you find a solution to fix a particular disaster, remember why you had to use it in the first place. That way, you won’t repeat the mistake that prompted you to use that solution in the first place.

Undercooked chicken

We’re told that it isn’t safe to eat undercooked chicken. Salmonella. While it is easy to judge whether meat of cut-up chicken is done, with a whole chicken, things get a little tricky. It’s possible that the chicken is done outside but, inside, the meat can still be raw. I’m not a kitchen thermometer person. When testing a whole chicken for doneness, I take a skewer and drive it into the innermost part of the meat thigh. I take out the skewer and, if the juice that oozes out is clear, the chicken is done. If the juice has traces of dark pink or red, the meat still needs additional cooking.

The skewer trick is easy to use when the chicken is not submerged in cooking liquid. But when it is, how do you see clearly whether the juice that oozes out is clear or not? A thermometer is helpful.

I’ve cooked Hainanese chicken many times. During those times when I used a thermometer, I’ve always gone by the 180C 180F mark but I’ve always felt that the chicken was a bit overdone. In Chinese restaurants, when they cut through the bones of Hainanese chicken, the thicker bones would still be bright pink inside but the meat would be thoroughly cooked. The bones of my Hainanese chicken never had that bright pink color.

One time, I was browsing food blogs and there was this Hainanese chicken recipe that said the internal temperature of the chicken should be 170C 170F. I wondered if a 170C 170F internal temperature would yield that bright pink bone center and thoroughly cooked meat. I decided to try.

Result? Disaster. The leg and thigh meat were raw. Oozing with pink juices. And the worst part was that the chicken was already on the dining table and everyone was hungry. I couldn’t put the chicken back into the broth which had already cooled a bit. It would take too long to reheat it and then cook the chicken for another ten minutes.

Solution? Five minutes on HIGH in the microwave oven. Granted that the texture of the Hainanese chicken wouldn’t be perfect but, still, that is preferable over making everyone wait.

There is a reason why corn dogs have hotdogs inside

One time, Speedy and I were talking about possible fillings for corn dogs. We were wondering how many variations we could do by using ground meat instead. We could make a filling with Mexican spices, Asian flavors, Greek seasonings… the possibilities were endless and we were excited.

I prepared a ground pork filling, chilled it well for easier handling then I formed the mixture into small logs around bamboo skewers. I dipped the meat in cornmeal batter and fried them they way I do corn dogs. The meat came out raw. If the batter coated meat were fried longer until the meat was done, the corn bread coating would be black and burnt. So what was I going to do with the meat and the cornmeal batter?

I added chopped chilis to the cornmeal batter like I was making cornbread.

Then, I lightly oiled a baking pan and poured half of the cornmeal batter into it. I arranged the meat logs on top of the batter then poured the remaining half of the batter over the meat. Into a preheated 375F oven went the pan where it stayed for 30 minutes. By the time the cornbread was done, so was the meat. Nothing went to waste.

So, remember, when a dish doesn’t turn out the way you expected, keep your cool and don’t feel defeated. The moment you feel defeated, you already are. Think fast and hard — there is a solution somewhere. Find it, use it and happy eating.

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