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They vow to change your life, but more often than not, kitchen hacks fall short. However, immeasurably worse than being underwhelmed by “healthy” one-ingredient banana ice cream, or realizing you wasted your time modifying an aluminum pop can into a slicer when you could have just as easily used a knife, is being maimed as a result of falling for false promises.
Bethany Rosser recently learned this the hard way when she attempted to make hard-boiled eggs in the microwave. After searching “endless websites and YouTube videos,” she operated under the assumption that it was doable, only to have two scalding eggs explode in her face.
“It felt horrible, I was in total agony. I could feel my skin burning for hours afterwards — even while it was being treated in hospital,” Rosser told the Daily Mirror. “It felt like my skin was being ripped off, it was so scary.”
Although the doctors told her the burns probably wouldn’t leave scars, they reportedly advised that discolouration was a possibility. Because her right eye was swollen shut, they have yet to determine whether or not her eyesight was permanently damaged.
As Rosser told Metro, she believed that adding salt to the water, as per Delish.com ’s directions, would prevent the eggs from erupting. “Add 1/2 tablespoon salt per egg,” the archived article reads (the original link now leads to stovetop instructions, which are presumably infinitely less volatile, but Eater tracked down the initial post via Wayback Machine). “This is a CRUCIAL step. Salt ensures that the egg won’t explode, and though it might sound harmless, exploding eggs ARE VERY BAD. We’re talking volcanic hot egg pieces and sharp bits of shell flying everywhere. Skip the salt at your own risk!”
Rosser added the supposedly all-important salt, and the eggs blew up: “As I looked into the jug to see if the eggs were done, they went bang in my face.” According to the American Egg Board, you should never use a microwave to cook an egg in its shell. Microwaves were designed to heat food rapidly, and as such, “steam builds up faster than an egg can ‘exhale’ through its pores and the steam bursts through the shell.” For the same reason, the organization also recommends piercing the yolk of an unbeaten egg when microwaving; the opening creates a safe exit for the steam.
Curiously, Delish.com instructs microwaving the eggs “on high for six to eight minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave.” In my experience, following the good advice of acclaimed French chef Michel Roux, six minutes at a simmer on the stovetop produces a perfectly set egg. Granted that time in the pot is followed by a 10-minute plunge in an ice-water bath before peeling. But given the temperature of a microwaved yolk can reach 100°C (that’s hot enough to boil water; as discovered in 2017 by San Francisco, Calif.-based acoustics consultancy Charles M. Salter Associates), even if it didn’t blow up, you’d have to wait for it to cool down before cracking into it.
Rosser’s accident represents an extreme case, but kitchen hacks aren’t just potentially dangerous and frequently ill-advised; they undermine home cooking and the very notion of craft. The more you cook, the better you get at it; no hack is going to make you a brilliant cook, if you aren’t already. Even worse, unsuccessful cooking hacks can act as a disincentive. Say you’re an inexperienced cook; you try a hack that’s supposedly destined to blow your mind, and it doesn’t work. Are you going to blame yourself or the video? Will it make you feel more or less competent in the kitchen? It’s this point that food scientist and dietitian Ann Reardon of How To Cook That illustrates so poignantly in a video exposing the shortcomings of how-to content farms like YouTube baking channel So Yummy .
With more than 7.5 million subscribers, So Yummy is undeniably successful in terms of viewership. But do its emphatically titled shortcuts — “10 Crazy Clever Sheet Cake Hacks!” and “Fork Yeah! Cooking Hacks with Everyday Utensils!” — actually work? Reardon takes a few of its most popular videos for a spin, including the “ultimate Neapolitan cake” (with its “too good to be true,” two-ingredient “Ice Cream Frosting!”), which at time of writing had nearly 65 million views. At best, the results of her tests raised significant questions about the validity of these videos; at worst, she proves their improbability.
For burgeoning or amateur cooks, these failed, unreliable or dangerous hacks come at the cost of ingredients, confidence and safety. Innovation and creativity are, of course, central to cooking — but generally speaking, viral hacks don’t represent trustworthy examples of either of these attributes. They tap into a base desire to cut corners, save time (usually at the expense of quality) and feel cleverer than the rest.
For pretty much any kitchen conundrum — from a better way to peel garlic to how to get chopped vegetables from your cutting board and into a bowl with minimum spillage — rest assured, there’s a hack for that. Just consider the source and proceed with caution.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019