Food chat: Increase the fat to soften your crumble

THE WASHINGTON POST – Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: I’m looking to make a fruit crisp/crumble, and I want the topping to have large soft clusters. It seems most crisp/crumble recipes tout their crispy toppings. But I truly prefer the clusters to be soft. Two questions: How can I best achieve large soft clusters? And, what would the difference in texture be between butter and oil?

A: Increasing the amount of fat proportional to the amount of sugar and flour will ensure a softer crumble topping, whether you use butter, coconut oil or another type of oil. In the event that you’re making a crumble with under-ripe fruit, or fruit that will take a while to cook, consider pre-cooking it in a skillet on the stove – simmer it with a bit of butter, pinch of sugar and lemon juice – to break it down so the crumble topping doesn’t spend too much time drying out in the oven. – Daniela Galarza

Q: I seared some bok choy and chicken in oil in my stainless steel skillet. The food made burn marks, and I am unable to remove them. I boiled water and baking soda in the pan, but that didn’t help. I boiled a mixture of water and vinegar, and that did remove most of the burn with vigorous scrubbing using a wood spatula and a scrubby, but some burn marks remain. Do you have any ideas as to how I can remove the last bits? I’ve never not been able to remove all of  the marks.

A: I would give Bar Keepers Friend a try. It really can make stuff look like new. – Becky Krystal


Q: Why do you publish so many recipes with weird ingredients that a lot of people don’t have and don’t have access to? I get that people like international food, but with money tight, buying some weird Asian spice to try one dish and maybe only once is a waste of money. By the way, I commented that your recipes to save for rent were too expensive. Having a newspaper subscription is my idea of a splurge.

A: Thanks for your thoughts, but I wish you would reexamine your concept of “weird”.

Frankly, I find it offensive to hear this way of thinking about cuisines that are certainly very familiar to plenty of people (because, you know, it’s their native cuisine!), even if they’re not as familiar to you.

Now, especially, is a good time for all of us to check our assumptions about what is “normal” or “standard” or any of the other code words for – let’s be honest – White!

Having said that, know that we are always also trying to provide recipes that are accessible, and to provide substitutions for ingredients we think many readers might not have. And we’ll continue to look into that. Also know that so, so many things are easy to get in this day and age, what with the Internet and all, and that we’ll try to remember to give you ideas for other ways to use things that we think are absolutely worth having. – Joe Yonan

Q: My CSA share delivered a few Asian pears last week. They are hard as a rock – how do I determine when they are ripe? (They’re not behaving like Bosc or Anjou in terms of softening up.)

A: Unlike those other varieties, Asian pears need to ripen on the tree, so they should be ready to eat now. They are by nature firm and crisp, though also juicy. – BK.