Remember that food will continue
cooking after it has been removed from the heat. This phenomenon, known
as carryover cooking, will raise the temperature of the item five to
ten degrees depending on its size and density. The following temperature
guidelines take carry over cooking into account and are approximations.
Beef and lamb are rare at 125 degrees,
medium rare at 130, medium at 135 to 145 and medium-well beyond 145.
Aim for 165 for well done. Fowl is usually cooked to 165. Cuts of fish
are usually too thin for the services of a thermometer. But for a large
piece, 130-135 degrees will put you in the zone. And that brings us
A generation ago people were advised
to cook their pork well done, usually in excess of 170 degrees. This
was to prevent trichinosis, the disease that resulted from an infestation
of trichinae, a parasitic roundworm. The first problem with that advice
is that trichinae die at 137 degrees. Moreover, modern methods of raising
swine have almost eliminated this problem. For example, in 1998 there
were only 19 cases of trichinosis reported in the US. So where does
that leave us?
For starters, I would allow for
a few degrees of inaccuracy on your thermometer and cook pork to at
least 140 degrees. Carry over cooking will raise it further. However,
some claim that cooking it to 155-160 will develop the best flavor.
But now we are confronted with a catch 22. The higher the temperature
of any meat, the drier it will become. Increasing temperature causes
the protein strands in the flesh to tighten, progressively releasing
their moisture. Due to increased health concerns, lower trichinae infestation
is not the only change in modern porcine production. Specialized breeding
eventuates in pigs far leaner, significantly less fatty, and hence less
juicy than their forefathers. Ergo, temperatures approaching the 160
mark may accent certain flavor components, but with some loss of succulence.
You will have to decide for yourself where your loyalty lies.
A final issue remains with instant
read thermometers. Your roast has been cooking for a half hour. You
open the oven door, insert your thermometer, and arrive at 105 degrees.
You promptly remove the thermometer and usher the uncooked food back
into the oven. You wait a while and check again. 120 degrees. Youre
aiming for 130 and no more. When should you check again? You give it
ten minutes and poke the poor thing again. 140. You curse as you realize
that the rib roast will not be medium rare like your dad likes it. And
it was his birthday dinner too.
Every time you open that oven door
you drop the temperature and extend cooking time. Worse yet, each time
you impale the food with the thermometer you create a little canal that
will leak juice and make your finished product drier. If you wish to
leave no room for error, and be unshackled from the guesswork of checking
your food, a programmable thermometer is the ticket. It consists of
a main unit upon which you preset the desired temperature. A wire extends
from this unit into a probe. Insert the probe into the center of your
food, close the oven door, and get this: an alarm will sound when you
have reached the target temperature. To make this device even handier,
the increasing temperature is constantly displayed on the unit. Now
you can more accurately judge when to start the side dishes so they
can be done simultaneously. Hmmmm, the rack of lamb is ten degrees from
being done. Better start sautéing the asparagus!
Pay attention to temperature, and
your days of overcooking your roasts will be as long gone as the succulent
pigs of yore.