Many of us have inherited these pieces of kitchen wisdom, but are they actually true?

By David McCann
February 17, 2021

As a child, one of the unbreakable rules was "no swimming for 30 minutes after eating." This was gospel, and not to be questioned. Turns out, there was actually nothing true about this "truism." But for many years, children sat around, unhappily, awaiting the end of the 30-minute purgatory.

I only bring this up because there are a few kitchen truisms that I thought we might investigate, just for fun.

Adding Oil to Pasta Water

One of the notions that seems to passionately divide cooks is adding oil to pasta cooking water. The reasons are twofold. It interrupts the foaming of the boiling water, thus preventing the dreaded boil over. (And if you've ever had to clean your stovetop after such a boil over…), and it keeps the pasta from sticking together. The anti-oil in the water crowd maintains that the oil coats the pasta, thus preventing the sauce from clinging to the noodles. The truth lies somewhere in between. 

Yes, the oil helps to prevent the water from boiling over — but so does enough water in a large pot (leaving space at the top). And a sufficient amount of water, combined with occasional stirring, prevents the pasta from clumping together. As for the notion that oily pasta prevents the sauce from clinging, both camps are right as far as that goes. The oil does make the pasta a bit slicker, but not ruinously so. Not enough oil remains after draining to make that much difference. 

My advice: Use whatever method makes you comfortable. I don't add oil to the water. I prefer to add a bit of fresh oil on top of the finished dish.

"Cooking Off" the Alcohol

A second divisive notion is the idea that simmering/boiling alcohol for a few moments will "cook off all of the alcohol." This is not true. What will happen is that the raw, unpleasant alcohol taste will disappear. However, only a small percentage of the alcohol itself goes away. In order to rid your dish of a large percentage of the alcohol, you'll need to simmer your dish for  well over an hour… closer to two. But, unless alcohol is prohibited or dangerous for you, the small amounts called for in most recipes should not be a problem.

Credit: Getty / Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg, Styling by Lisa Cherkasky, The Washington Post

Searing Meat to "Lock In" Moisture

Now, the granddaddy of all kitchen myths: Searing your meat will seal in all of the juices. Again, this is not true. Searing your meat will give it a beautiful color, and a wonderful flavor coming from the caramelization of the meat. That said, all of the studies I've read (and boy have I read a lot of them!) agree that the moisture inside the meat will be either the same or even a little less in a seared piece of meat when compared to a non-seared piece. So, enjoy the glorious color and flavor of your seared steak, but know that the only way to preserve the juiciness is simply NOT to overcook it. And be sure to give it an adequate resting period once it leaves the pan. 

I don't think it ever hurts to question "rules." Even if you end up agreeing with said rules, you'll be a better cook because you examined the reasons behind them.

This story originally appeared on