Question: Lately there have been many recipes that call for unsalted butter. I would like to know the reason why it makes a difference whether it is salted or unsalted.
Answer: Many authorities on pastry making would think of using nothing but unsalted butter for their pastries, particularly the French types. They claim that using unsalted butter allows the butter's natural delicate flavor to come through and that the salt in salted butter masks this flavor or any off-taste in rancid butter. However, this is really a matter of personal choice. If handled correctly and if additional salt is reduced in the recipe, the salted butter may be substituted.
The more important consideration is to use good-quality fresh butter in baking and cooking. To judge the quality of butter, let it soften at room temperature to 50 degrees. At this temperature you would be able to assess the taste better--check for any sourness or rancidity. The texture should be creamy smooth, not crumbly, when you cut it with a knife. Also, if it sweats water, the butter is of inferior quality. To judge this excess water further, cream the butter by hand by smearing a little bit with the heel of your hand. The excess water will show up as droplets on the surfaces of the counter and the butter.
When buying unsalted butter, which spoils more easily than the salted type, use within a week or two or freeze for longer storage.
Q: Can you please provide some differentiation between bone china and porcelain dinnerware?
A: Porcelain china is made from a combination of china stone, crystalline minerals and kaolin (a fine white clay used in ceramics as a filler or extender). Bone china has the same basic component as porcelain with the addition of the bone ash (white porous residue of mainly tribasic calcium phosphate calcined from animal bone).
Both materials are fired twice--the second time under very high temperature--which accounts for their hard, fine-grained and non-porous characteristics. Compared to earthenware, which is made of slightly porous opaque clay fired at low heat, porcelain and bone china are non-porous, and are more resistant to crazing and chipping.
Both are translucent and whitish, but bone china has a pink-white cast, whereas fine porcelain has a slightly bluish or gray cast. Dinnerware made of these materials can be identified by the ringing sound produced when they are lightly tapped with a spoon (as with crystal glasses).
Q: Are there additives used in fresh meats?
A: By law, no additives are permitted that change tenderness or extend the shelf life of fresh meat, unless they are listed on the label. Even color fixatives in fresh meats are considered illegal.
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.