advice from a fake consultant

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On Cooking That Turkey, Or, What To Do After The Sarah Palin Press Conference November 26, 2008

So it’s more or less 30 hours until Americans enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re asking yourself the annual question: “Isn’t there a simple way to cook a turkey?”

Well, America, there is…and it does not involve bags, or injections, or even stuffing. No fancy preparations and no fancy equipment are required (with the exception of a large flat pan with metal handles, a carving fork or large tongs, and a food thermometer).

Here’s the cool part: this method for cooking turkeys isn’t just a method for cooking turkeys…and if you follow the directions, you’ll soon discover that not only have you learned a new way to cook a turkey, you’ve learned a new way to cook almost anything that can walk or fly.

We only have 30 hours, so we better get right to it…

Now before we go any farther, let’s relieve some of the Thanksgiving cooking stress with a video that is as topical as it gets.

Some of you may not know about the most unfortunate aftermath of Sarah Palin’s recent effort to pardon a Thanksgiving turkey…and I won’t spoil the fun if you have not yet seen it…but I will tell you that what is attached to the next link may the single funniest—and most disturbing—piece of political video I have ever seen; and somehow Palin remains blithely unaware of the events occurring just over her shoulder the entire time.

Take three minutes, watch the video, have a sip of the first glass of wine of the day…and when that’s done, we’ll get back to work.

So, are you laughing now?
OK then, let’s have some fun.

You may recall my telling you that what we are about to do can be used to cook any number of things; and to make for a better explanation I’m actually going to discuss cooking a boneless chicken breast first, and then we’ll move up to turkeys, using essentially the same technique.

So here’s what we do: turn the oven to 375 F. (190 C.), and turn the stove to either medium high (electric stoves) or nearly as big a flame as the burner will make, if you’re using a gas stove.

Grab the pan and toss it in the oven to heat.

Now what we are going to do is brown the chicken breast on top of the stove, flip it, and then cook it the rest of the way in the oven. The reason we are going to do this is because when you cook on top of the stove, you cook from bottom to top, creating a breast that’s “done” at the bottom but still “rare” at the top (you compensate for this by flipping the breast in the pan, but I have a better plan).

Cooking in the oven exposes the chicken to heat from all sides, creating an item that’s cooked on the outside and into the middle evenly (for a steak: done on the outside, perfectly pink in the middle…yummm).

So now that the pan’s hot, let’s try it: pull out the pan, put it on the hot burner, pour in just a bit of oil…and lay the breast in the pan by putting it in the part of the pan that’s closest to you first, then letting it fall away from you. (This prevents the hot oil from spattering on you…which is always a good thing.)

After a minute or so, you should see the breast browning, and that’s when we flip it over and then just put the pan right in the oven, then shut off the stove.

If you are a fancy high-falutin’ cook, you can tell when it’s done because it will feel like a well-done steak—and if you are a cooking mortal, it’s done when the thermometer tells you the temperature at the thickest part of the breast is 165 F. (75 C.).

The reward for your experimental effort should be an especially juicy breast that is not dried-out and tough. Pretty cool, eh?

“My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor”

Phyllis Diller

So how do we scale this process up to a turkey?

It’s actually really simple.

We need a substantially larger pan (I have a 14” restaurant-style sauté pan that I use for this application), and any metal pan with a reasonably thick bottom, relatively shallow sides (no saucepans or kettles), and heat-resistant handle(s) should do just nicely.

We also need to make a temperature adjustment.

As we move into larger items, we lower the oven’s temperature. We do this because we don’t want to overcook the outside before the inside is done. Instead of 375 F. (which is great for chicken breasts and steaks), we would lower the oven to 350 F. (175 C.) for something like a boneless pork loin or a small roast of beef or a whole chicken, and we would go down to 325 F. (165 C.) for something as large as our turkey.

For food safety reasons, we don’t want to use lower temperatures.

It is imperative that you raise the internal temperature of anything you cook from 40 F. (4 C.) to 140 F. (60 C.) in under two hours to avoid foodborne illness…and cooking turkeys at 275 F. (135 C.), as some suggest, is just a bit too risky for my taste.

Now a few words about measuring temperature in a bird.

Unlike “walking” meats, birds have hollow bones that do not transmit heat well. Therefore you do not want the tip of your thermometer touching—or very close to—bone when checking your turkey. (Beef, and the other “walking” animals, are the exact opposite. Their heavier bones transmit heat quite well, and the meat closest to the bone will often be the first meat below the surface to be fully cooked on a large roast of beef.)

Instead, use a location deep into the breast, away from bones…and as with all birds, a 165 F. (75 C.) internal temperature is the goal. And as with all birds, that temperature will give you a juicy, not-dried-out, result.

We are not going to stuff our bird.

This is also for food safety reasons.
The stuffing makes it take even longer to raise that turkey’s internal temperature (not to mention the stuffing’s)…and that’s a bad thing.

Bake the stuffing in its own pan…do not cook it in the bird.
Trust me on this.

There is no need to “prepare” the turkey—no rubs, no flouring the skin, nothing.
As an experiment I did a sea salt “rub” about 10 days ago on a turkey breast…and to be honest, all it did was make the skin salty.

OK, so our big pan is in the oven, getting hot…and the stove is on that same setting we used for the chicken breast…and now we take the pan, put it on the stove—and in goes the turkey, breast side down (remember, place it in the pan moving away from you to avoid splashing oil, just as with anything else you put in a pan with oil…).

You’ll have to brown one side at a time…and your fork or tongs (BBQ tools work if you don’t have big kitchen tongs or a carving fork…) can support the turkey so you don’t have to hold on to it.

It’s gonna splatter a bit (the less water, the better), but don’t be scared…and after a minute or so one side will be nicely browning, so do the other side next, and then flip the whole thing breast side up, and put the pan in the oven.

Except for taking the bird’s temperature from time to time (again, 165 F., or 75 C. internal temperature) and taking it out when it’s done, you are completely finished with the work on this project.

In fact, it’s probably about time for that second glass of wine.

So let’s take a moment and summarize.

Hot oven, hot stove, hot pan, put object to be cooked face down in pan on the stove, don’t splatter yourself, get it brown, flip it, put it in the oven, have a second glass of wine, remove from oven when done.

And just like they always tell you at the Fair: “It’s just that easy”.

So have a great day, don’t stress over the cooking…and remember, this technique works great on anything from a partridge to a steamship round.


On The Fate Of The Bees, Or, One Problem Down, One To Go September 9, 2007

Filed under: Agriculture,Bees,Colony Collapse Disorder — fakeconsultant @ 11:45 pm

The survival of the honeybee, perhaps the world’s largest matriarchy, has been a matter of real concern since the announcement of Colony Collapse Disorder earlier this year.

As we discussed in an April story (On Bees, Or, An Apple A Day May Be A Thing Of The Past), the pathogenic loading seen in the few recovered bees was so dramatic and of such a great variety that it was assumed there was more than one cause for the troubles.

Recent news reports from Spain have suggested the answer may be at hand…but apparently nothing in life is that easy. We’ll talk more about the bad news-and the good-as we go on.

First the bad news: There do appear to be two different problems the bees are facing, and unfortunately we can only resolve one at the moment.

One of the most common of bee diseases is nosema, caused by a parasitic infestation (Nosema Apis, for those keeping score at home) of the bee’s gut. It is easily treated with the antibiotic Fumigilin.

The news from Spain concerns reports of another similar bee parasite, Nosema Ceranae (a third parasite of this class, Nosema Bombi, is also known to infest bees), which appears to have made the jump from infesting Asiatic honeybees (Apis Cerana) to the far more numerous and, for agriculture, more important Western honeybee (Apis Mellifera). Thanks to the work of Dr. Mariano Higes we know that the infestation is widespread in Europe, and may be present in the US.

We first became aware that N. Ceranae was a problem for Western bees because of the fact that both Western and Asiatic bees are found in Vietnam-and in 2005, it was discovered that both had the same infestation. (A quick note-we have three members of the faculty of the School of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University, Belfast, to thank for the development of a rapid-sequencing DNA screening method that made this discovery possible: Julia Klee, Andrea Besana, and Robert J Paxton, whose story we referenced above.) Further confirmation was obtained when an imported colony of Western bees was found to be infested with N. Ceranae in Taiwan.

Klee and Besana’s work can be seen here. It contains an excellent discussion of the spread of N. Ceranae, “host jump”, the technical details of bee analysis, and a thorough description of how you too can sequence DNA at home in your spare time.

They also point out that the presence of N. Ceranae in collapsed European colonies does not automatically prove it’s causing CCD-it could well be coincindental.

So we now find ourselves facing a few questions:

–Are we looking at the source of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?

–Is this infestation suddenly spreading because of opportunities created by the agent that causes CCD?

–If N. Ceranae is not the cause of CCD, what effect does this infestation have on the bees?

It does not appear that N. Ceranae is the cause of CCD, according to an analysis of Dr. Higes’ work published at North Carolina State University’s website. As we had discussed in April, the sheer number and variety of pathogens found makes it unlikely that one single agent was solely responsible. At the time the thinking was that a new infection or infestation was causing immunosupression through stress, allowing the variety of other opportunistic pathogens to take hold. To quote from the analysis:

“Initial studies on bee colonies experiencing the die offs has revealed a large number of disease organisms present in the dying colonies, with most being “stress related” diseases and without any one disease being supported as the “culprit” underlying the deaths. The magnitude of detected infectious agents in the adult bees suggests some type of immunosuppression. Case studies and questionnaires related to management practices and environmental factors have identified a few common factors shared by those beekeepers experiencing the CCD; but no common environmental agents or chemicals were easily identified by these surveys. The search for underlying causes has been narrowed by the preliminary studies, but several questions remain to be answered.”

As to the other two questions: is N. Ceranae spreading opportunistically because of the agent that causes CCD? We don’t yet know.

What will be the effect of the spread of N. Ceranae in Western honeybees? That is a big unknown. It appears it can be easily treated, but what is unknown is what might happen if treatments are only applied irregularly. The possibility exists of “acclimation” to our current treatments, and that is but one of many possible implications that will have to be explored-the sooner the better.

There is guarded success in the effort to deal with CCD as well.

Details are literally coming in as we speak, but on September 6th Science Daily broke the story that a US based scientific consortium had discovered a connection between the presence of the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV) and Colony Collapse Disorder in numerous samples collected from a variety of media-including actual dead bees and royal jelly-collected from infected colonies and non-infected colonies.

The team was able to use DNA sequencing as a tool to determine associations between many pathogenic “possibilities” such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, which is why the work could be completed so quickly. As a result of the sequencing work, it was determined that IAPV was found in all the collapsed colonies-and none of the non-infected ones.

Does this mean we have a culprit?
Not so fast, friends.

As with N. Ceranae, association does not automatically mean causation has been established, and we are reminded to be cautious by the Mid Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium (MAAREC) in a September 7th statement. (The statement also suggests imported Australian bees may be responsible for the infection.)

In fact, we are specifically told IAPV is likely a marker, or working with other opportunistic pathogens, and not likely to be the sole cause of CCD.

But we are again told that there is a very strong association (all the CCD colonies have IAPV present, and none of the non-infected ones do) between the two.

The statement tells beekeepers not to re-use hives, and continue to treat for Varroa and nosema as usual, and to keep hives healthy and well-fed (to maximize profits, as with any “livestock”, bees are fed exactly what they need to survive and not much more…this may also play a part in CCD).

Here’s some other possible good news: we are told that Australian bees are not affected by IAPV, and this could be because the Australian bees are immune to the virus. If so, cross-breeding is possible to eliminate the susceptibility. (It is also possible that Varroa, which is not present in Australian bees, may potentiate the virus, suggesting cross-breeding would not work.)

So that’s our story for today: the cause of CCD remains unknown, but tantalizing new information exists; a second new threat has been identified, and with any luck, our hard working friends in yellow and black (no, I don’t mean the Steelers) will be back where they belong-out hunting for your pollen.