The temperature and the timesOctober 25, 2009
As you will have deduced, I am quite the fan of a big lump of roasted red meat, a deep and abiding love that I regret persists despite the fact of its ethical and environmental indefensibility. I know not how it will end, except it’s clear this affair cannot last forever if I’m to live with myself …
But until the break-up, let’s talk about roasting. If you are a meatlover like me, but have been frustrated by uneven results in the roasting department – is it cooked through? is it wobblingly raw? is it charred on the outside but inedibly cold and raw in the middle? – I have two words to say to you, Kimmie: meat thermometer.
I was first introduced to the joys of the thermometer by chefbro Hamish, who, being a restaurant guy, is all about consistently perfect results in the kitchen. He gave me a nifty little digital thermometer, needle-thin, which you stick into the meat at intervals through the cooking. I loved and used this little red rocket of a thing until it fell to bits. I then bought a fancy Zyliss digital thingummy with a silicone thread and a metal probe, which involved the magnetic digital dial and timer bizzo sticking to the outside of the oven while the probe stayed in the meat and the silicone cord went, umbilically, from one to the other. Then I lost the instructions and have never been able to figure it out since. It just lights up and beeps and makes me crazy.
All of which led me to my trusty, daggy, oldfangled Acu-Rite thermometer, pictured here. I love it to pieces. I believe it came from a kitchenware shop but I’m sure I’ve seen them in any old daggy supermarket. Cheap – and how cheerful. You simply shove it into the thickest part of the meat before cooking, and leave in for the whole time. If you position it right, often you don’t even need to remove the pan from the oven to check the temp, but just peer through the open door or even the glass with the light on.
As everyone’s definition of ‘medium’ and ‘rare’ seems to differ (there’s no problem really with ‘well done’ – just ruin the meat by cooking it to buggery and you’re sorted), it might take a little time to work out your own preferred temp.
But as I like my meat red-to-pink, generally with a sizable piece of meat (e.g. leg of lamb or whole rump /Scotch fillet of beef, enough to feed six or more) I take it to around 60-65°C for both lamb & beef. This is generally medium-rare in the centre, while allowing any well-done eaters some cooked-through bits on the ends.
The beauty of the thermometer is that it takes into account the coldness of the meat before you begin. I try to get meat to room temperature first, but most of the time that’s near impossible, by the time it comes from the butcher’s cool room, and so on.
I haven’t paid too much attention to the recommended cooking temps on Acu-Rite’s dial here (cute name, huh), although they roughly correspond to what I do. But my advice comes from Stephanie Alexander, every Australian gal’s kitchen matriarch, who provides cooking temperatures in The Cook’s Companion sections on beef (rare = 60°C, medium = 70°C, well done = 75°C), lamb (rare = 60°C, medium = 65°C, well done = 80°C) and pork (“…one does not have to cook pork until it is dry and splintery as a precaution. The safe internal temperature for pork is in fact 76°C. At this temperature the meat is both safe and juicy.”)
One thing to remember is that the internal temperature keeps rising after you remove the meat from the oven – I believe Hamish told me it “rests up” 5°C; Stephanie A says it rests up 2-3 degrees, so the message is you need to take it out a little before you reach the desired temperature. (I find this whole thing puzzling – how does this happen? – but it’s true.)
And, as always, the final secret to tender, juicy roasted meat is to rest it for as long as you can before carving. Keep the roasting pan on top of the stove or in another warm place, very loosely covered with a double layer of foil, for up to an hour.
If you do all this – and so long as you’ve bought decent quality meat in the first place – I guarantee it will be good, and stress-free, every time.