Ask a cook

Published Mar 19, 2013 at 05:00AM

Q: Whenever I make chicken noodle soup, my noodles eventually break up and turn to mush. I have tried all kinds of noodles with no success and tried cooking the noodles first as opposed to just dumping them into the pot. Same result. I notice the noodles in canned soups maintain their firmness. What am I doing wrong?

A: You aren’t doing anything wrong, you are just fighting the same battle we all fight when making homemade chicken noodle soup. This is especially a problem because many of us like to make chicken noodle soup in large batches and put some in the freezer. But by the time the last quart is eaten, the noodles often are softer than we like.

The first thing you can try is using a thicker noodle, which won’t get mushy as quickly.

Another trick is to try what a lot of restaurants do: make the soup ahead of time, without any noodles, then freeze or refrigerate as you normally would. Then, when you want to eat it, cook the noodles in water separately and add them to the soup just before serving. This is a bit inconvenient to always have to cook noodles before you have your soup, but probably worth it for you to keep the mush at bay. This method also helps to keep broth clear, because the starch from the noodles ends up in the cooking water, not the soup.

I’m not sure I’d agree with you about canned soups, as I have had my share of slimy noodles out of a can. However, keep in mind that commercially canned products often contain a lot of preservatives that we don’t use in our home cooking, and those would help to keep noodles more firm.

Q: I watch a lot of TV cooking shows. I do not recall ever seeing a TV chef use a garlic press. They always mince it. Is there a reason for this?

A: When your question showed up in my email, I was sitting with a cooking school teacher and another newspaper food editor. So I threw the question out to the group. I should have known: We each had a different answer. So I’ll let you choose:

The cooking teacher said she never uses a garlic press because it releases oils that she thinks can impart a bitter taste.

While I have never noticed that bitterness, I said that a garlic press is fine, but it can be time-consuming to clean. And TV cooking shows move very quickly, so mincing quickly is the way to go.

The other food editor was more cynical: She thinks TV chefs prefer to use a knife because it’s flashier. All that rapping and chopping makes for better television.

Bottom line? Unless you’re on TV, it’s up to you.