Before I decided to take my work home with me, I used my judgement about whether food was cooked, and looked at the colour and consistency. My kids gnawed their way through tough chicken as a result of over cooking. Eating a meal at our house was like a gym workout for the mouth.
Many foods need to be cooked thoroughly to kill bacteria which may be hidden in the raw materials: eggs, chicken, duck, beef burgers, pork and rolled joints – and of course your Christmas turkey. No-one was going to get food poisoning on my watch!
But what does thorough cooking actually mean in practice? How can you tell if something is cooked, and can you judge from colour, texture or whether the “juices run clear”? The simple answer is no, you can’t tell. What you are actually trying to achieve is pasteurisation, which is where food is cooked to an appropriate temperature for a certain time which will kill bacteria to provide a safe food. The lower the temperature, the longer the time needed, so mostly we aim for 75 °C for about 18 seconds (or basically as long as it takes to register on the thermometer).
Anyway, my family are probably grateful that many years ago I introduced a probe thermometer into my home, and things have changed – we now all cook to temperature. Even the teenagers!
It’s a funny thing, so many chefs complain if I ask them to cook to 75 °C but in fact this can easily give a moist, succulent cooked food. Indeed, we have experimented with the RSPH on how to make chicken liver parfait, and have produced a lovely pink moist product at 75 °C.
Furthermore, I have cooked rare duck and more recently, scrambled eggs, producing a tasty runny scrambled egg that is yes, you guessed it, above 75 °C.
So don’t leave it to chance, don’t worry about whether your food is cooked enough, and above all, enjoy tasty food that is cooked to temperature not to colour – take out the worry, insert a clean probe (put it in boiling water to sanitize) and take the reading in the thickest part of the food. Simple.