Asian Recipes

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The Unrivaled Practical Guide for Asian Cooking

How to tell whether a smoked cut of meat has been cooked?

Knowing for sure whether a smoke cut of meat has been fully cooked by the processor is important because if you guess the answer, you may be wrong. Assume that because you mistakenly thought the meat was fully cooked, you did not cook it completely; you and your dinner guest would risk consuming pathogenic microorganisms, your meat would lack proper flavor and texture too. Now consider the opposite situation. The meat was fully cooked, but because you thought it wasn't, or because you wanted to play it safe, you decided to cook it for a length of time that raw meat requires. In that case, your smoked meat would become dry and tough.

Should neither the butcher nor the label provide you with the information, examine a visible bone. If it protrudes from the flesh, the meat has been cooked to at least some degree. The more the bone stands out in relief, the more the meat has been cooked. This criterion is reliable because, as a cut of meat cooks, its flesh shrinks but not its bone.

When making this observation, be sure you are looking at a bone that was exposed during the smoking process. If a smoked and fully cooked whole ham is cut in half, for instance, the newly exposed cross-section of the leg bone will not reveal the desired information because it will lie flush with the surrounding flesh.

16:06:47 on 03/24/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why should a roast be allowed to rest for 15 to 25 minutes prior to carving?

At the moment when a roast is removed from the oven, the meat near the surface contains fewer juices than the meat at the core. This disparity occurs because many of the juices that were originally in the outer meat either evaporated or were forced towards the center.

If you carve a roast immediately after cooking, when its juices are unevenly distributed, the edges of your slices will be unnecessarily dry. In addition, many of the meat's juices will seep out because the saturated muscle tissue in the interiror cannot absorb and hold all the excess liquid that has collected there during cooking.

A 15 to 25 minutes respite (depending on the roast's thickness) gives much of the liquid a chance to redistribute and settle throughout the meat. This brief rest also allows the meat to become a little firmer, making it easier to carve thin slices.

21:04:44 on 03/22/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

When using a thermometer, why should we test the thickest part of the meat and avoid letting the thermometer's point touch a bone or pocket of fat?

Since the center of the meat's thickest section is farthest away from the oven's heat source, it is the last part to cook. Even if the thermometer gives the desired temperature for a thinner part of the meat, the thickest segment may not be done. Bone is a better conductor of heat than meat. If we take the temperature reading next to a bone in the center of the meat, the temperature reading will be higher than it would be for center flesh farther from the bone.

Fat is not as good a heat conductor as meat. Placing the thermometer point in a pocket of fat, therefore, gives a lower reading than it would for the adjacent flesh.

11:35:48 on 03/21/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What are the tiny, dark red spots that we sometimes see on fish fillets?

Typically, they are bruise marks and indicate that the fish was handled roughly. This could happen if, for example, the fisheman hurled the fish into the boat's storage bin or the fishmonger filleted the fish in a hasty, slipshod manner. The fillet could also have become battered if the fish-store person flung, rather than gently returned, it to the display case after showing it to a customer. The bruises do more than ruin the fillet's aesthetic appeal. These defects can also affect the flavor of the fish, especially if they are numerous or if they were created more than several hours earlier, as they could accelerate the deterioration of the surrounding flesh.

20:50:24 on 03/20/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Can we tell whether a raw egg is fresh without breaking it?

Yes, just place the egg in at least several inches of water in a bowl or pot. If your egg sinks and lies on its side, you have a fresh egg. If it sinks but stands partially or fully erect on its tapered end, your egg is already over the hill, though technically still edible. If it floats, you are looking at a rotten egg, more suitable for a garbage bin than a stomach. An egg acquires buoyancy as it ages because, while its yolk and albumen (egg white) are gradually losing moisture to the outside world through the porous shell, the size of its air pocket is increasing.

16:10:52 on 03/17/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Is the difference between a fat and lean fish important to non-dieters as well?

Yes, generally the more fatty the fish, the more flavorful the fish. Vitamins and other nutrients in the flesh also tend to increase in step with a fish's fat content. The darker the flesh color of a particular species (or a given anatomical area of a particular fish), the higher the fat content is likely to be. If you want your fish flesh to be as lean as possible, white fishes are usually your best bet.

Fat content usually decreases in relation to the depth of a fish's living environment. At a given latitude, the bottom-dwelling fishes like sole and cod are usually leaner than those, such as tuna and herring, that dwell near the surface. And any given fish will be leaner after it has spawned or experienced a food shortage.

11:22:33 on 03/16/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What is the difference between farmed fishes and wild fishes?

Unlike wide fishes, which mature in the freedom of oceans, rivers, and lakes, farmed fishes do little exercise as they pass their time in man-controlled environments like tanks and pools. As a result, farmed fishes develop flabby muscles, which have little texture and flavor. If you were to hatch two generically identical trout eggs, one in the natural environment of a stream and the other in a fish farm, the difference in the firmness and taste of the cooked trout would be striking.

Farmed fishes also have relatively little flavor because they have been selectively bred to be bland to please the lowest common denominator of mass-market taste preferences.

Farmed fishes are not without their advantages to the industry and the world's food supply. As each year passes, fish farming becomes more and more profitable and productive. Nowadays, some farmers can generate more protein per acre, and at a lower feed cost, by raising fish than by rearing cows, sheep, pigs, or poultry.

From a restaurant's viewpoint, farmed fish helps ensure a steady, reliable supply. If the eatery has striped bass on its menu, the chef needs to replenish the stock regularly. Most dining establishments cannot afford to trust the luck of the local fishermen.

13:48:38 on 03/12/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

If meat from an older animal is tougher, why is it usually the most desirable selection for braising and stewing?

Slow moist-heat cooking methods like braising and stewing tenderize even a somewhat tough meat by breaking down most of its connective tissue. Thus, the original toughness of the raw meat is not a major factor when using such methods. The difference is the flavor of meat from an older animal, however, can be decisive. Since it is generally more flavorful, it should normally be the first choice for moist-heat cooking.

11:18:19 on 03/11/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why does the color of cooked beef indicate its degree of doneness?

The red pigment in rare meat, myoglobin, undergoes chemical changes as its temperature rises. When the meat's degree of doneness is rare (an internal temperature of approximately 130F), the myoglobin in the interior still retains most of its red color. When the meat is medium-rare (approximately 135 to 140F), the myoglobin is pink. At medium (approximately 145 to 150F), just a trace of the pink remains. By the time the steak is well done (160F), all myoglobin in the meat has turned drab brown. (Note: These descriptions apply after the meat has rested, not when it has just been removed from the oven at these temperatures.)

08:30:21 on 03/10/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

If oxygen intensifies the red color of a raw meat's exposed surfaces, then why does the meat eventually turn brown?

Curiously, too much oxygen has the same effect on meat as too little oxygen - both conditions can give it a brownish tinge. When myoglobin overoxidizes, it is transformed into a brown pigment called metmyoglobin. Therefore, a raw, red meat will turn brown if it is exposed long enough to the air. This color change can occur even if meat is wrapped in plastic or paper, because both allow air to pass through. However, refrigeration does slow the browning process.

00:50:24 on 03/09/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why is a fresh cut of raw meat red on its surface and brown inside?

Contrary to what some shoppers suspect, the outside of the meat is not redder than the inside because the butcher treated it with a chemical spray. Mother Nature, not the meat monger, is responsible. When an animal dies, its heart stops pumping oxygen-rich blood to the various muscles. Denied that oxygen, the myoglobin protein in the muscles loses its bright red pigmentation and acquires a purplish, and then brownish, tinge.

Another color change starts to occur when the meat is butchered into retail cuts and wrapped in porous plastic film, giving the meat's newly exposed surfaces access to the oxygen in the air. As the meat sits in the refrigerated display case, oxidation finishes turning the myoglobin on the meat's exposed surfaces bright red. (Butchers refer to this color development as "bloom.") So, though the outside of the meat is the shade of red that consumers are taught to look for, the inside remains brown simply because the unexposed myoglobin lacks enough oxygen. If you cut open the meat and give it time to aerate, the new surfaces should become bright red.

08:48:52 on 03/08/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why is veal paler than beef?

A strictly milk-fed calf has a pink-tinged creamy white flesh because milk almost totally lacks certain minerals (particularly iron) that are necessary building blocks for the body's production of the red myoglobin.

As soon as the calf starts to eat foods like grass and grain, which contain iron, its flesh tone starts to redden. By the time the weaned calf is a few months old, the flesh is pinkish red. Before it reaches the half-year mark, the color is rosy red. At baby beefhood (between six and twelve months old), the meat is cherry red. At the animal's maturity, the color is dark red, and it continues to deepen with time and exercise.

23:39:43 on 03/07/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why is a chicken's breast "white meat" and its drumstick "dark meat"?

A chicken is a ground-dwelling bird, not a flying one. It uses its leg muscles for unhurried, long-duration movements such as roaming around the barnyard searching for insects and other food. In contrast, a chicken hardly uses its wings except for balance. When it flaps them energetically, it's usually to make a quick escape from a threat. Because the muscle requirements of the chicken leg and breast are different, the two sets of muscles evolve differently. The legs consist predominantly of slow-contraction muscle fibers, while the breast is composed chiefly of fast-contraction muscle fibers to help flap the wings.

The slow-contraction muscle fiber is for the long-duration jobs and the fast-contraction muscle fiber for the quick-energy spurts. The fuel for the slow-contraction muscle fiber is fat and requires oxygen, which is stored in the iron-rich, red-pigmented myoglobin. Consequently, the more slow-contraction fibers in a muscle, the redder the muscle will likely be. Fast-contraction muscle fibers don't require oxygen that much and therefore myoglobin because they use glycogen (a carbohydrate) for fuel. In the absence of myoglobin, the muscles are "white".

Actually, both the chicken leg and breast contain a combination of fast- and slow-contraction muscle fibers. The leg is "dark meat" because the slow-contraction muscle fibers predominate. The opposite is true for the breast.

01:41:30 on 03/07/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why is a "bloody red steak" not really bloody?

This colorful and popular expression is a misnomer. Blood contributes little to the redness of a steak because most of it is bled out of the meat at the slaughterhouse or butcher shop. The confusion is easy to understand because myoglobin (the principal pigment in raw meat) shares certain characteristics, including color, with hemoglobin (the red pigment in blood). However, myoglobin is distinct from blood: It is found in muscles, not arteries.

00:11:38 on 03/06/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why does overcooking toughen meat?

Protein molecules are the primary solid matter in muscle fiber. In their natural state, protein molecules are typically coil-shaped. They exist as independent units because their spiraled structure hinders their binding with each other. When cooked, however, the protein molecules uncoil and become denatured, allowing them to bind easily with each other and form a mass of joined protein molecules. Overcooking toughens meat because the compacting-joined proteins squeeze out water and shrink muscle fibers. The more the meat is cooked, the tighter the meat mass becomes.

With dry-heat cooking methods (including roasting and grilling), shrinkage and water loss are minimal at the rare state (130F), noticeable at medium-rare (135 to 140F), very noticeable at medium (145 to 150F), pronounced at medium-well-done (155F), and devastating at well-done (160F).

Braising and other moist-heat methods are more forgiving because the cooking liquid and steam are trapped in the pan. Still, boiling and even simmering will eventually shrink and toughen meat. It is best to braise meat in a sub-simmering liquid. The gain in tenderness and succulence more than outweighs the extra cooking time.

09:19:30 on 03/05/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Which is best for cooking meat, moist or dry heat?

As a rule, use moist-heat cooking when the meat is not naturally tender, and dry-heat cooking when it is.

Moist-heat cooking methods include boiling, simmering, poaching, stewing, steaming, braising, and pressure-cooking. It is the best choice when a meat contains a large quantity of connective tissue.

Dry-heat cooking methods include roasting, baking, broiling, grilling, microwave cooking, pan-frying, and deep-frying. Generally, you use dry-heat cooking methods for naturally tender meats such as young chicken and sirloin steaks.

Borderline meat cases can be tipped in favor of dry-heat cooking if the meat is well marbled or its exterior is protected with fat by basting, barding (wrapping solid fat around the meat), or larding (inserting solid fat into the meat).

19:56:42 on 03/04/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What do you think of smoke hoods?

Two basic types of smoke hoods exist, both equipped with exhaust fans. One sucks the polluted air out of the kitchen into the great outdoors, as a fireplace chimney does. The other a less efficient device simply filters and recycles the adulterated air in your kitchen. Both reduce grime buildup in your kitchen, minimizing the need for elbow grease and redecoration.

According to the results of a study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, there seems to be an even stronger reason for having a smoke hood, at least in restaurants where a clutch of ovens bake or roast continually. The researchers found that oven exhaust can contain excess levels of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide (both can create respiratory disorders), vinyl chloride (a cancer-causing agent), and carbon monoxide (capable of producing headaches, nausea, and death).

Most homes have a smoke alarm in or near the kitchen, but few have a carbon monoxide detector to sound an alarm when it reaches a precarious level. Unlike smoke, carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless.

07:13:15 on 03/03/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Can a wok be used on an electric range?

Unfortunately, the highly functional configuration of an authentic wok is incompatible with the heating surface of an electric stove-top or cook-top. The area of contact between this rounded vessel and a flat surface is small, and therefore heat is severely limited. Yet, a genuine wok must have a rounded bottom as a matter of practicality. Stir-frying is best executed with a small amount of cooking oil concentrated in the hottest zone, the heart of the wok, and a concave pan accomplishes this goal. In addition, the combination of the height and slope of the sides facilitates tossing, an essential stir-frying procedure.

Electric ranges (and electric woks, too) are ill suited for stir-frying for yet another reason. Many a stir-fry recipe calls for a quick lowering or raising of the temperature in the middle of the cooking period. Electric heating units generally respond slowly to temperature adjustments.

Do not buy one of those "woks" that has been designed with a flat bottom specifically for use on an electric unit. You cannot properly stir-fry in one of these vessels, which are essentially high-walled skillets. The rounded bottom is required for true Chinese stir-frying.

04:29:59 on 03/02/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why home wok-cooked dishes are sometimes not as good as those in the Chinese restaurant?

Even assuming that your cooking talents and ingredients match those of a professional Chinese chef, your stir-fried food can't have the same intense color, elegant flavor, and crisp texture. A difference in the heat power available to you explains the disparity. A typical home stove-top gas burner generates fewer than 10,000 British thermal units. (A BTU defines the quantity of heat required to raise 2 cups (1 pound) of air-free, 60F water by 1F at normal atmospheric pressure.)

The BTU output for a gas range in a first-rate Chinese restaurant is at least twice as high because of the stove's special design features. It has much more gas to burn because the gas line that supplies the fuel to the burner is much larger in diameter. Moreover, the heating unit itself consists of many concentric burner rings; the normal home gas burner has but one. Finally, the restaurant burner apparatus is normally several times wider.

The higher heat more effectively seals in the juices of the ingredients and therefore helps lock in flavor and nutrients. Just as important, since fewer of the internal juices in the cooking food emerge, the pan sauce better clings to the food, making the dish more appetizing. A crisper texture results because the higher heat firms the surface of the food before the interior becomes over-cooked. In addition, the higher heat more effectively triggers the chemical reactions that heighten the color of the vegetables as they start to cook. And because the cooking period is very brief, the vivid colors developed do not have a chance to fade.

03:38:11 on 03/01/07 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -