Q. What can one do with a package of slimy Genoa salami? I love the stuff, it's expensive, and I don't want to discard it if I don't have to. What causes the slime?
A. There are a number of spoilage (but not food-poisoning) bacteria that cause sliminess. Genoa (hard) salami has a pH of about 4.6, a condition quite unfavorable to the growth of food-poisoning bacteria.
However, the big class of acid-producers, the so-called lactic acid bacteria, can grow at this pH. And the cell walls of some members of this group are composed of dextrans, a polysaccharide (starch, cellulose, and gums are polysaccharides, long chains of simple sugars such as glucose or fructose bonded together) noted for its sliminess.
Sliminess becomes noticeable when the surface bacterial population is in the range of 60-to-600 million cells per square inch. The normal population of just-sold hard salami is, on the other hand, between tens and hundreds of thousands of cells per square inch.
Because food-poisoning bacteria cannot compete at this pH with the slime-formers, it is unlikely that using slimy salami will lead to any harm. To remove the slime and sterilize the salami, cut the slices into strips, place them in a strainer and plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Slice an onion and cook it slowly in olive oil until almost soft -- about 5 minutes. Add the salami slices and a pinch of rosemary, thyme or sage and continue to fry until the onion has fully softened. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. This makes an excellent flavoring for spaghetti and linguine. Just add and toss together.
Q. I know that rice should be made with a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part rice. This works in larger amounts, but not when I'm preparing it for myself alone. It either burns or never cooks fully. Why?
A. In small batches, which have more surface exposed to the pan and the air relative to their volumes, there is a much greater rate of evaporation. The burner setting, on the other hand, is usually about the same.
To lessen evaporation, bring the rice to a boil over high heat, reduce the burner to medium-low and cover. After 20 minutes, stir the rice briefly and reduce the burner to its lowest setting. Let the rice steam for another 10 minutes.
While rice is cooking, there is no need to peek under the lid to check on its health. This only increases evaporation. If the rice runs out of water, you'll hear a crackling sound. You then have 60 seconds before it self-destructs.
Q. I made a clam sauce from fresh clams, clam juice, white wine, freshly ground black pepper and chopped parsley. Although I added no salt, the result was as brackish as the Dead Sea. How long need one reduce the juice of the fresh clams? How long does the clam meat need to cook? A Once you've shucked the clams (use cherrystones, by the way, not quahogs, or chowder clams, which are too tough for this), pour the juice you have religiously saved into a saucepan. Add fish stock or clam juice and reduce in volume to about one-third original. Do not reduce any more than that: the salt concentrates excessively. Here are a few other tips for clam sauce:
*White wine does not contribute a lot to this dish. You're just throwing good wine away. The clam flavor is not complemented and needs no amelioration.
*Add the clams, whole or diced, to the reduced juice three minutes before serving. Such a short heating time cooks the proteins but does not cause toughening.
*Stir in the chopped parsley just before serving; parsley's aroma quickly evaporates and this pungent herb loses character as well as turns army-green.
*Stir a little softened butter into the reduced clam juice. Milkfat reduces saltiness and increases the sauce's viscosity slightly.
*Add a little freshly ground black pepper at the end of cooking. Pepper, like parsley, contains volatile flavor compounds which are quickly lost.