There is nothing like the smell of walking into a place where there has been something roasting in an oven low and slow. The tidal wave of aroma that hits you is one that everyone enjoys. For many of us these smells remind us of Christmas or Thanksgiving. We can easily be transported back to a time and place. Boom! Just like that we’re back at that place (it’s like Quantum Leap over here on Ask-A-Chef). But what’s our mission why are we here? Then we overhear our dear Aunt Beatrice exclaim, “I got up at 2:47am to put the roast in”! We look at our watch to see what time it is…. 2:47….PM! Our eyes dart around looking for the oven to see what temperature it is set to, the dreaded 350°F! Fast forward to 5 pm dinner time as we’re forced to choke down this once beautiful roast with a smile. Snap out of it, It’s a scary thought. For so many years we have heard the old wives’ tale, “You must cook must cook this 20 lb roast for 15-20 minutes per pound at 350°F”. Well there is a better way and it comes with understanding. For years eating meat was built on fear, that if meat is raw you get sick no questions asked. But really it’s much simpler than that and also much less frightening. So in this article I look to answer the question,
“How long should I cook this for?”
This question is all wrong, it needs to be changed to simply “how do I cook this”. Time only plays a factor because it’s easy for us to understand. We put time on all of our recipes but it’s not a deciding factor on whether the recipe is complete or not. You should never finish a recipe in 10 minutes and stare at it for 5 more minutes because the recipe said 15 minutes. The biggest factor is how the heat is applied to the food. This is called heat transfer and there are many ways we do this direct, indirect, convection, radiation, induction. When the food hits the surface of a hot pan or is placed into an oven it will immediately cool the pan or oven off. This is known as ΔT (Delta T), and the easiest way to explain this is the equalizing of temperatures. Think of it this way, place one ice cube into a large glass of room temperature water, the water will be cooler but it won’t be Ice cold and vice versa. So we should always account for ΔT by slightly increasing the temperature of the cooking vessel before adding the food to it. A good rule of thumb I like to use is increasing the temperature of the oven by 30°F and readjusting once the food has been added to the oven. Now once the type of meat enters the cooking vessel it must go through a certain process. The outside moisture must be evaporated off before heat will start to penetrate the meat. This is where most of the energy will go from compensating for ΔT. Depending on the tempurature the exterior of the meat will then begin to brown this is called the maillard reaction. Maillard reactions are commonly referred to as caramelization and this is not fully correct. Caramelization happens when sugars break down, in this case lets use table sugar or sucrose as an example. When sucrose is heated it is broken down into its two main elements glucose and fructose. As more heat is applied the sugars molecules split and break down even further. As this happens the color changes and changes the flavor of the sugar. When the Maillard reaction happens the natural glucose and amino acids act begin to break down and cause browning of the food. This provides the savory flavors and earthy notes found in roasted foods. As the browning begins heat starts to penetrate the food. What we are doing is heating the water within the food so that it breaks down fats and cooks the proteins. Fun fact: the fattier a piece of meat is, the faster it will heat up as it takes less energy to heat fats than moisture. At this point I strongly suggest using an instant read thermometer. Unless you have cooked this particular recipe dozens of times in the same oven under all the same conditions. Let’s assume this is not the case and it’s the first time you are cooking a certain recipe you found online. You will never know the exact calibration of the oven used to test this recipe. On the other hand the oven you are using could be off by 10°F. So make sure to cook food to the proper cooking temperature listed below. Once the food has hit the perfect temperature make note of how long it took for future reference. Finally the most important part, rest the meat for 5 minutes to half an hour depending on the size. The outside of that meat has been bombarded with heat and stripped of its moisture. The inside may be the correct temperature but if it is cut now it will purge a great deal of its liquid. So give it time, let the juices redistribute! Below I have included a link to a “Cook My Steak” web app developed by the students at MIT. This app allows you to input the time and temperature of a seared piece of meat. It’s a fun tool to play around with to see how the meat is affected during the cooking process
Here is a list of proper cooking temperatures for certain doneness:
Medium rare: 130°F
Medium well: 145°F
Well: 150° – 165°F
Give our Shoyu Koji Roasted Pork Belly recipe a try! Low and slow is the way to go with this roasted pork belly recipe. The addition of a koji marinade provides an unparalleled succulence and depth of flavor. Pair with our Fabulous Fried Kimchi to leave your guests craving a return visit.
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