Thermometers make chefs (and mere mortals) better and safer cooks
Posted: June 18th, 2010 - 3:08pm
Food porn was on the menu last night as the new season of Top Chef kicked off. That’s me watching for about 30 seconds (right, not exactly as shown).
Earlier in the day I got a press release about the Grilled Australian Lamb Burger with Brie Cheese, Cranberry Compote and Roasted Jalapeno Aioli, “America’s new favorite upscale burger” created by Anthony Jacquet , executive chef of The Whisper Lounge in L.A. (left, exactly as shown).
The burger won the “Make Australian Lamb America’s New Favorite Burger” contest, sponsored by Plate Magazine and Meat & Livestock Australia.
The cooking constructions state:
To prepare burgers, place patties on hot grill. Cook for 2 minutes and then turn a quarter turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Flip burger and cook another 2 minutes. Turn a quarter turn and cook another 2 minutes. Add brie cheese and cover with a stainless steel mixing bowl for another minute. Pull burgers off of grill and let rest. They should be medium rare.
I don’t know what medium rare is. If Australia wants to increase consumption of lamb burgers, require clear cooking instructions, like using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer to ensure the burger reaches 160F so people won’t barf and consumption of lamb doesn’t plummet.
Susan Burton of Slate Magazine required almost 2,000 words yesterday to say she likes meat – well-done – and that she hates the food thermometer.
I honed in on the modern American history of doneness, in large part because it can be tracked precisely—thanks to the meat thermometer. This early-20th-century invention brought about a giant cultural shift: the reliance on a gadget—rather than instinct, or experience—to assess our meat. The thermometer was promoted to home cooks as a tool of scientific precision. It was also an instrument of relaxation, something that freed you from worrying about misjudging the meat: "A roast thermometer makes for carefree roasting," advised the 1959 edition of Fannie Farmer's famous tome. By midcentury, temperature measurements were a common feature of cookbooks.
Our standards for doneness changed rapidly when, thanks to Claiborne, Julia Child, and others, we discovered, and began to venerate, cooking methods that originated abroad. Once American palates adjusted to the European style of underdone meat, guidelines fell even further. (Child's leg of lamb: rare at 140 in 1961; 125 in 1979.) Times writer Florence Fabricant took note of this development in a 1982 article called "A Trend Toward 'Less Well Done.' " Fabricant called overcooking "a tradition in this country" and attributed the change to the influence of "Oriental" and "French nouvelle" cuisines. She also connected the trend to the then-new vogues for crisp-tender vegetables and for raw foods, like sushi. But eating rare meat wasn't simply a matter of evolving taste. It was a means of signaling something about yourself, an ethos. When Fabricant's article was published, serving your guests rare meat showed you were sophisticated.
These days, it shows you're cool. (Look no further than the title of Bourdain's forthcoming bad-ass memoir: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.)
Somehow, author Burton manages to simultaneously trash the precision of a meat thermometer and propagate food safety myths about so-called factory farming.
She’s so cool, she likes food well-done and doesn’t need a thermometer.
I’ll continue to stick it in.