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Old 06-16-2010, 05:38 PM
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Default A history of well-done meat in America

Great read.

I'm not done with it yet, myself, but wanted to share with you all.

We'll meet back here to discuss once we've all read it.
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Old 06-16-2010, 06:11 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

I'll confess to using a meat thermometer when cooking large roasts and the like, the interior of the thing is just too mysterious to leave to time alone. However, for steaks, I rely on the poking method. If it feels like the cheek, fleshy part of the palm and tip of the nose then it's rare, medium and well-done, respectively.

The thing is, I grew up with under-done meat. Stir fry is probably the most well-known style of Chinese cooking and the meats there are done pretty well (what with them being such small pieces). However, the veggies are tender-crisp and not soggy.

But, in other types of dishes, meat is typically under-done, including whole chicken. Even if we weren't eating Chinese food at home, we prefer to have our meats closer to medium-rare.

So, I never really had well-done meat, unless it was by accident. I never developed a taste for it, either. It always seems dry and flavorless to me.
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Old 06-16-2010, 07:05 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Well, I have a real appreciation for and interest in peasant foods--like traditional foods that poor people have developed methods of cooking over hundreds or thousands of years as ways of making the most of what's available to them.

There's no huge trick to taking some choice cut of beef and turning it into a rare steak. You don't really have to do much. To take a cheap cut of the same cow and slow cook it in spices and wine and vegetables to make a perfect pot roast takes a lot more skill, knowledge, and effort. I do appreciate both individually, but I guess I have a lot more respect for people who can turn a tough, cheap cut of meat into something amazing than I do for people whose biggest cooking accomplishment is not fucking up flipping a steak.

I think there's too much emphasis on the One Right Way to do things. You can make a good rare steak. You can also make a good well done steak. They're different things, different results, and they appeal to different tastes, none of which are objectively correct. (Parenthetically (in case you couldn't tell from the parentheses) this is the root of much of the reason that Alton Brown sucks. He's very much about the 'one right way' to do things, which is all well and good if you take his pronouncements very narrowly, and with a grain of salt; but when you take that approach in a show geared toward cooking n00bz, all it accomplishes is creating a bunch of authoritarian idiots who run around claiming that Julia Child and James Beard didn't know what they were doing.)

As an example, the first time I heard the term umami (which I've grown to sort of despise of late) was in context of bringing out the different qualities of foods with different cooking methods. The main one I remember is green beans. At some point, it became common knowledge that the 'correct' way to cook green beans was lightly, bringing out the bright green color, playing up the sugar, and leaving a little crispness. And they're really good that way. But you know what else is good? Green beans cooked longer and slower, to a sort of grayish olive green, to play down the sweetness and play up the richer, umami flavor. Same beans, totally different results, both good in their own way.

Personally, I like lots of things. I like green beans both ways. I like raw vegetables and I frequently like the SAME VEGETABLES charred and roasted to bring out different qualities. I like rare steaks sometimes and really enjoy some types of raw beef dishes too. And I love raw fish all the time. I also love long, slow cooked barbacoas and pot roasts, and I see the appeal of well done steaks even though I usually don't get them on purpose.

IMO, if anyone is a phony or a philistine, it's the person who thinks there's only one correct way to cook food. SO THERE.
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  #4  
Old 06-16-2010, 07:10 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Very interesting article. I'm amazed at how the range of recommended temperatures have changed over the past century. Then again, if I ate meat that came from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, I'd boil the living fuck out of it too.

At restaurants I usually order medium. At home I use meat thermometers because I very rarely cook roasts so I have zero doneness instincts. To me it's an entirely practical thing, and if some asshole tried to curl a lip at me over it then I would gladly cockpunch him and go about my bidness.
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Old 06-16-2010, 07:41 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Quote:
Of course, there is shame. That's why Fearnley-Whittingstall has to say something about it. Though the meat thermometer once identified you as a thoroughly modern cook, it now suggests that you lack skill. More importantly, it betrays you as a cook who is guided by fear—someone who cares more about killing bacteria than about making meat taste good.
That's pretty much ass-backwards, I think. By using a thermometer, you care more about not having to worry about bacteria so you can concentrate on making the meat taste good. Then again, worrying about what some toffy-nosed git thinks about your cooking methods in the first place is even more removed from caring about how tasty your food turns out.
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Old 06-16-2010, 10:38 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

On a related note, the biologist/anthropologist Richard Wrangham argues that the habit of cooking our food has been a driving force behind human evolution. Homo erectus is the first species in our lineage that is known to have used fire, and was probably the first, therefore, to cook its food. Probably not coincidentally, a number of important evolutionary trends started with H. erectus -- body size increased rapidly and brain size increased dramatically; the size of the teeth, jaw and gut became relatively smaller, however. Wrangham argues that these anatomical changes were made possible by -- and selectively advantageous because of -- our habit of cooking our food.


Studies with chimpanzees and other mammals consistently show that they prefer cooked food, especially meat, to raw food. If there's a grass fire, carnivores such as coyotes will often travel to the site and search for animals killed by the flames. It was commonly thought that they were simply looking for easy meat, but given that omnivores and carnivores consistently prefer cooked meat to raw meat, there may be more to it than merely a search for easily-obtained meat. Even herbivorous animals often seem to prefer their food cooked.


There are a number of reasons why it's advantageous to eat food that has been cooked. Meat that has been cooked is far less likely to harbor parasites and bacteria. Cooked meat is also more nutritious, because the heat of cooking partially breaks down proteins that can be difficult to digest.

Every plant cell is surrounded by a cell wall of cellulose, and no animal (not even termites) can digest cellulose. The heat of cooking helps rupture those cell walls. Accordingly, cooked vegetables are generally much more nutritious than are raw vegetables. (Assuming you don't boil them too long, leach out the nutrients, and then dispose of the stock.)


So, Wrangham's basic argument is that the habit of cooking our food essentially led to the evolution of modern humans. Because our ancestors cooked their food, they were less susceptible to food-bourne parasites and illnesses, and so could support larger populations. Because cooked food is more nutritious, they could support larger body sizes -- and especially larger brains. The human brain, for all its magnificence, is a huge energy hog, and it can develop properly only if you have a very nutritious and energy-rich diet.


So, according to Wrangham, a great many of our unusual anatomical features are the direct result of our habit of cooking our food. Compared to other apes of our approximate size, we have remarkably large, energy-demanding brains. This is possible only because we have very nutrient- and energy-rich diets.

We also have remarkably small teeth and jaws, likely an adaptation for dealing with relatively soft, cooked food. The decrease in size of the teeth and jaws has long been recognized as an important factor in human evolution, because it frees up space and resources for building a bigger brain.

We also have remarkably small guts for omnivores of our size, which frees up body musculature for more efficient walking, among other advantages. This is probably because of the fact that we don't need a long, voluminous gut for fermenting our food. [Animals can't digest cellulose, but many bacteria can. The way that plant-eating animals manage to extract nutrients from vegetable matter is by a.) crushing and grinding it thoroughly with their teeth and then b.) holding it for an extended period of time in their voluminous guts while bacteria ferment it.]


If you observe other large omnivores or especially herbivores, you'll notice that they spend almost literally every waking moment chewing their food. They must, because the more thoroughly they can grind it with their teeth, the better a job the bacteria living in their guts can do of breaking down those cell walls and releasing the nutrients that are otherwise unavailable.


Wrangham points out that because we -- unlike other omnivores our size -- don't have to spend almost literally every waking moment searching for food, chewing it, and then lying around while it digests in our voluminous guts, we've had the luxury of free time. Free time is something that many carnivores have in abundance (a lion sleeps, on average, about 20 hours a day), that is rare in omnivores, and that is all but unheard-of in herbivores. And of course, having all that free time on our hands has allowed us to do things like build civilizations.



Anyway, it's an interesting idea.


Cheers,

Michael
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  #7  
Old 06-17-2010, 04:22 AM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Oddly enough, tonight I am going to eat leftover chuck roast I cooked in the crock pot last weekend. Mmmm-mmm. And this is a guy who really likes a medium rare steak.
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Old 06-18-2010, 06:34 AM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Well, the one right way to cook steak for me is medium-rare.

Not too rare. I like it to be cooked enough to describe it as "cooked", but not much more than that.

I don't consider things like pot roast or barbacoa to be "well-done" tho. I guess what it is is that if it's not slow-cooked, then it shouldn't be well-done.

Well-done burgers, well-done steaks, etc. just don't taste as good to me. And they're harder to chew.

I also don't particularly care for charred meat (even if it's just charred on the outside). Some grill lines are fine, but I don't like having a strong taste of char in my food.

I heard that that stuff causes cancer too, so I just take that as an additional justification.
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Old 06-18-2010, 06:53 AM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

There is well-done and then there is overcooked. Sounds like to me you've mainly had overcooked steaks and burgers.
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Old 06-18-2010, 08:30 AM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Perhaps, but not only overcooked.

I enjoy my steaks and hamburgers more when I order them medium-rare. And when I get burgers at joints that don't grind their own meat (and thus aren't allowed to serve you medium-rare or less), they're not as good.

A well-done but not overcooked burger is fine, I can eat it, I will likely enjoy it overall. But I still prefer medium-rare - no well-done burger has ever made me go "Damn, this is a really good burger!"
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Old 06-18-2010, 08:33 AM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

I prefer medium-rare too, cooked but still bloody. However, I usually order medium because some people just can't get medium-rare right, it's either closer to rare or medium anyway, so I order medium because I'm not that keen on rare.
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Old 06-18-2010, 04:17 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Purists get mad at this, but the key to a good well-done burger is bread soaked in milk. I know, I know. All meat blah blah filler bad blah blah. Still, that bread goop disappears in the final product so you don't even know it's there. You just find yourself with a well-done burger so juicy your forearms get soaked at first bite.
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Old 06-20-2010, 09:21 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

I use a meat thermometer when I cook at home, and I have no shame about that fact. If these people want to sniff at me for that, then they are free to have their E. coli-riffic underdone meat patties without me.

If you had ever taken an invertebrate zoology course taught by a parasitologist, you'd be making sure your meat reaches an internal temperature of 145° F too.
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Old 06-20-2010, 09:25 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Heh. That's one reason why I won't touch sushi. Or any meat that isn't thoroughly cooked. I know far too much about what lives in uncooked meat to be comfortable with the notion.


Quote:
Originally Posted by livius drusus
Purists get mad at this, but the key to a good well-done burger is bread soaked in milk. I know, I know. All meat blah blah filler bad blah blah. Still, that bread goop disappears in the final product so you don't even know it's there. You just find yourself with a well-done burger so juicy your forearms get soaked at first bite.
That sounds rather good, actually. Do you have a recipe, per chance?


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Old 06-20-2010, 10:12 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Why yes. Yes I do. :biggrin:

Delicious, Thick and Juicy Well-Done Hamburgers

1 large slice high-quality sandwich bread (I've used whole wheat, multigrain and white and they all work, although white is the classic), crusts removed and discarded, bread chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 medium clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons steak sauce
1 1/2 pounds 80 percent lean ground chuck
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
sliced cheese (only if you want to make cheeseburgers, obviously)
4 hamburger buns or rolls

Put the chopped bread in a large bowl, add the milk and let it soak in for 5 minutes or so. Once it's nice and soggy, mash it together with a fork until it's homogeneous. Stir in the salt, pepper, garlic, and steak sauce.

Break up the ground beef into small pieces over the bread mixture, then mix it all together thoroughly with your hands until it's one big cohesive mass. Divide it into four equal parts and gently form a loose ball from each quarter. Flatten each ball into a patty about 3/4" thick. It should be 4-5" in diameter. Press into the middle lightly with your fingertips to make a shallow dent. This will keep the burger from puffing up into a football when you cook it.

If you're using a grill, put vegetable oil on a paper towel and wipe the rack with it so the burgers won't stick. If you're doing it stovetop, heat a couple of teaspoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat almost to the smoking point. Add the patties dent side up.

(Toast the buns on the grill or in the oven while the burgers are cooking.)

Cook for 5 minutes until the bottom is nicely browned, then flip and cook for another 5. If you're making cheeseburgers, add the cheese 3 minutes into the cooking of the second side, then cover the skillet or grill for 2 minutes to help the cheese melt.

Apply patties to buns, deploy all necessary condiments, don your rubber gloves and go to town.
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Old 06-20-2010, 11:25 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

I didn't mind the taste of sushi the one time I've tried it, but the texture was like chewing rubber. I'll take my meat cooked through, thanks, fish included.
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Old 06-21-2010, 08:20 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

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Originally Posted by Nullifidian View Post
If these people want to sniff at me for that, then they are free to have their E. coli-riffic underdone meat panties without me.
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Old 06-21-2010, 09:02 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

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Originally Posted by livius drusus View Post
Purists get mad at this, but the key to a good well-done burger is bread soaked in milk. I know, I know. All meat blah blah filler bad blah blah.
The Cooking Channel airs reruns of "Molto Mario" (with my favorite celeb chef Mario Batali) on a daily basis now.

On the episode I watched a few days ago, he says that one of the reasons why meatballs made by Americans are so dry is because they use so much meat. With our affluence, we don't feel we should rely on using milk-soaked bread (or ricotta cheese) as filler, although it is those very ingredients that add so much flavor and moisture to the meatballs.

He then went on to make meatless meatballs with milk-soaked bread AND ricotta, and they looked loverly. :yum:
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Old 06-21-2010, 09:16 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

I'd love to watch some old Marios. I don't think I get the Cooking Channel yet. :crossed:

Yes, milk-soaked bread, aka panade, is a classic Mediterranean solution to add moisture and fluffiness to any clump of meat. In the States even meatballs and meatloaf are made with bread crumbs instead, but dry crumbs really don't provide the same service. It's shocking how much moisture that soggy bread lends to a meat clump without in any way retaining a soggy bread texture or flavor.
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Old 06-27-2010, 09:32 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

I tried livius's hamburger recipe today. The results were quite good, I'm happy to report. I'm not usually a big fan of either garlic or pepper, but the garlic, pepper and steak sauce really add a lot of flavor to the burgers. And they are indeed nice and juicy!


Cheers,

Michael
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  #21  
Old 06-27-2010, 09:57 PM
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Default Re: A history of well-done meat in America

Bravo! My mother always says you make the recipe as told the first time around, then you can change it however you wish. The next time you make the panade burger, you can make a garlic and pepperless version, although I agree that they add a lot of depth to the flavor. Perhaps you could add in some herbs or aromatics that are more to your liking. :)
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