Friday, November 28, 2008

Christmas Ideas for the Cook - Thermometers

Using a cooking thermometer will improve the consistency of your cooking greatly. It will also teach you the look and touch method of determining doneness as you can use those techniques along with a thermometer to know at exactly what temperature a certain look or touch is achieved.

The items pictured are a waterproof instant read, and a remote oven or BBQ thermometer.

The instant read needs to be waterproof (most are not, so look for this feature) as one of the things you need to measure is liquids and for stupid reasons I really don't get most of the instant reads on the market are not sealed properly and thus are ruined within a few uses if used in measuring liquids or if you wash them. The instant read is helpful mostly for uses outside the oven or BBQ and is fast, accurate, easy to carry in your pocket or apron and generally all around useful. I use it for measuring the temperature of rising bread dough, or water for yeast where temperature is the difference between success and failure. I also use it to check internal temperature of meats on the stovetop, simmering water, you name it. Knowing the temperature of items you are processing is essential to good cooking.

The remote thermometer is useful in the oven or BBQ because you stick it in and can close the door or lid over the wire without compromising the seal. You can then monitor the temperature of the cooking item at it's thickest part without opening the door. Every time you open the door or lid of a hot oven or BBQ you are totally screwing up the air heat by up to 100 degrees which is a disaster. I don't cook by time I cook by internal temperature. Bread, for instance is ready when it hits an internal temp of above 200 degrees (depends on what kind of bread between 200 and 210). Custards like quiche are done at 165 degrees. Meats depend upon the item - figure it out based on what it is and how rare you like it. Note that most dense items will continue to heat up after the item is removed from heat so if you want to serve a roast with an internal maximum temp of 140 degrees you need to take it off heat at around 130 degrees.

It is very educational to watch the speed of temperature rise increase as food nears its "done" point. It will impress you with how easy it is to overcook or undercook an item and convince you to use a thermometer instead of the "time" in the recipe. Note that where you place the probe is critical to getting a proper level of doneness. Bread near the surface of at the edges will be 30 degrees hotter than at the center - that is the nature of oven cooking. So, you must place the probe in the "coldest", usually the dead center of the thickest part, part of the item to be measured. Not a bad idea to check in several places before you conclude you have things right. My Thanksgiving Turkey was not adequately done in some parts (had to go back in oven) even though the temp in what I thought was the right part said 165. It was really only 145 n some spots.

The variance in temperature in various parts of the item being cooked also explains why you MUST allow items to "rest" after coming off heat. What happens is that physics of heat causes an evening out of temperature through out the item to get an even doneness. In meats it allows juices that have rushed to the cooler inner parts of the meat to evenly distribute throughout. In baked items it allows evening out of internal steam. If you don't allow items to rest before cutting them open you are really ruining the item.

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