There are a lot of myths going on about food and how you prepare it. They say that it takes about three minutes to pass on a myth, and about 3 years to convince people that it wasn't true anyway.
So here's my little contribution to kill a few of the myths. And maybe save a few minutes
One of the harder to kill myths is:
Close the pores on the steak
This is a myth that's almost impossible to get rid of. People still think that they get a juicier steak by frying it at high temperatures (‘sealing’ it), because it "closes the pores" on the steak, and keeps the meat juices in. Ha.
The myth was started by the German chemist Justus von Liebig, (who incidentally also invented the stock cube. Now that
was useful!) He started the whole ‘sealing the meat’ myth in 1847 when he wrote it up in his book: "Chemische Untersuchungen über das Fleisch and seine Zubereitung zum Nahrungsmittel". You remember that one, right?
In fact, the master chef, Auguste Escoffier also accepted the idea and wrote a lot about this theory in 1902. He was one of the most influential chefs in modern French cuisine, so his opinion mattered to people, and affected the way the nation cooked.
But - as you can probably guess by now, the theory is all wrong.
In the 1930s, the American food industry sponsored tests that showed the effect was quite the opposite: If you fry your steaks at moderate heat, they will end up a lot juicier than the steaks that are just fried at very high temperatures. Some of the juices will come out of the steak no matter how high temperature you fry it at. It's the end temperature combined with the length of cooking time that determines how juicy the steak turns out.
This doesn't mean that you ought to stop frying your steaks at high temperatures, though. There's quite a lot of fairly complex physical and chemical changes involved as the meat cooks, and higher temperatures do change the taste and texture of the steak surface - that's called the "Maillard (or ‘browning’) reaction", and the ‘crust’ formed when you cook like this is more intensely flavoured. So, along with its added cooking aromas, this helps determine how a good steak tastes, but it doesn't affect the juiciness. Steak is not waterproof! In fact, the sizzling that you hear when steaks (or sausages etc.) are cooking is the sound of the meat's moisture escaping and vaporizing on the pan's hot surface. So just don't sear the meat to "close the pores", because that's nonsense! You do it to make that tasty outer crust – then you cook it to the doneness that you like. And this was figured out in the 30s – yet the myth of sealing the juices in persists!
Another myth is about Pork:
Pork should always be "well done"
Lots of us like our steaks to be red, and sometimes even bloody - yours truly included.
But there are lots of people who think that it's dangerous to do the same with a pork chop.
And it can be - in principle. Pork (and horse meat - Eww!) can contain parasitic worms called Trichinella, that can make people quite sick. But fact is that there hasn't been found Trichinella in Danish pork since 1929. And we do take 20 million tests for it every year! And most cases around the world now come from less usual game meats, such as bear, boar and walrus. (Walrus? No, no, no - I ordered the cheeseburger & fries!!)
It does actually happen that Danes sometimes get the parasite when they travel to other countries though, mostly in eastern Europe and Asia (see above for likely menu choices). And in the USA people get it too, but fewer than 10 per year. In fact, cooking your pork to a temperature of 137 degrees F (58 degrees C) – i.e. 'medium' doneness - will destroy this little pest, as will freezing the meat for 3 weeks (well, 20 days, to be precise. But personally – I'd go for the full 21). So now you know
Salmonella is a bacteria often found in pork (and a lot
of raw meats and food products). But the salmonella is on the surface of the pig, not in the muscle! That means that if you (like me) prefer your pork chops medium - you should definitely eat them like that without being afraid of salmonella. The same is not
true for minced ('ground') meat though – the fact that the meat is finely chopped and mixed together means that any infected surfaces on the meat are spread thoroughly throughout the mince, and unless you're completely confident that it was safe (and prepared on a safe surface, with safe utensils) at the start, the minced meat should be thoroughly cooked before you eat it.
Medium rare burgers do taste better, but – you know... if you're having lunch in a café (like we do) and order your burger medium-rare, then it's a risk you take. This applies equally to any bacteria of course – the other popular culprit being E.Coli.
Here's another myth: Never put salt on a steak before you fry it!
Lots of chefs have been taught this. The explanation should be that the salt would simply suck the meat juices out of the meat. So if you want a juicy steak, you'd want to put salt on it after you've fried it.
Problem is, that it's not true. Scientists from Danish Meat Research Institute have tested it in several blind tastings with trained tasters. Results show that a steak or a chop doesn't get less juicy if it gets salted before being fried. The fact is quite the opposite. The salt is only able to draw very little juices out of the meat. And if you put salt on your chops and steak 15 minutes before frying it instead, it'll be even more tender and juicy. FlaRin always
puts salt quite generously on the surfaces of the raw steaks before he fries them, and they always taste pretty good.
A fourth myth:
A roast needs to rest to gather the juices!
It sounds right, doesn't it? But it isn't.
If you prefer to wrap the roast in foil and let it rest because it fits the way you cook, then do it by all means. But remember that the temperature in the middle of the roast stays higher because the wrapping allows the roast to keep keep cooking on the inside. So the ‘resting’ period is actually to allow the meat to finish cooking (wrapped or not), and then to allow it to cool down. In fact many chefs apparently allow the same ‘resting’ time as the time the meat took to cook in the first place. Not me though – I want to eat it asap! A rest is good, but hey – where's my dinner?
Just know that resting it doesn't make the roast any more juicy than it already is when you remove it from the oven.
Steak tastes better if you leave the rim of fat on when you fry it!
Not true. The trimmed meat tastes exactly the same. It's the cooked fat that tastes good! *wipes shiny face with paws and licks them clean*
Incidentally, if you're interested in the actual science of cooking, as well as how to cook, FlaRin highly recommends this book: Harold McGee's 'On Food and Cooking
' – this actually looks pretty good, and as it's already on our bookshelf, even I might take a quick tour through some of the more interesting chapters.