Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

More Burger Alarms.

JJ, over at The Daily Cookie, alerts us to a disturbing item on the lack of vigilance on the Mad Cow front, “Don’t Read this over a burger”.

Mind you, that sort of admonition has about the same effect on me as someone saying, please, whatever you do, for the next ten minutes, do not even think about fried onion rings. Mention a burger, and I tend to want one. Fresh from a charcoal grill, if possible.

So, while the alarms do have some merit– it also bears mentioning that there are some useful steps that you can take that will minimize the risks.

Your first, and most crucial precaution, is to avoid beef that is ground in commercial facilities. This stuff shows up in everything from frozen patties to hot dogs to fast-food tacos. The sad fact is, it is very hard to know exactly what's in it. Commercial processors have been the culprits in using "Advanced Meat Recovery (AMR) Systems" – scary systems that crush bones (including spinal bones) to remove the last bits of meat, often with bits of the spinal cord matter that is the core of the problem with Mad Cow transmission. And, as the CSPI notes, "manufacturers are not required to identify AMR beef on food labels." This and other risks (did we mention E. Coli?) form the core of the problem, all of which are compounded by the sheer scale of commercial plants (to state the problem simply, one contaminated animal can get mixed into literally tons of product). (For the record, Hebrew National & other Kosher producers get a pass here; I’m not aware of any evidence of suspect contaminants, for example, in Kosher hot dogs).

The next move is to avoid generically labeled ground “beef.” Go for something from an identified part of the animal, such as Round or Chuck or Sirloin, ideally ground the day you bought it, by your local butcher. As Eric Schlosser points out in Fast Food Nation, this greatly improves the odds that your hamburger came from a single animal, rather than hundreds.

Grinding as late as possible is also advisable – which is yet another reason to have your local butcher do it, or do it yourself. The concern here is that the very act of grinding drives any surface bacteria deep into the interior of the meat – which means that, to the extent possible, the meat should be ground as closely as possible to the time you plan to cook it – especially if you like your burgers juicy & pink in the middle.

The ideal – and highly recommended – method is the Judy Rodgers approach, described in The Zuni Café Cookbook: Start with an intact chuck roast, trimmed of any discoloration but with ample fat intact; cut the roast into 1” strips, toss with salt (using about ¾ teaspoon per pound), and refrigerate overnight. The overnight salting will help kill exterior bacteria, and render the meat more succulent & flavorful. Then, shortly before you plan to cook the meat, using a chilled meat grinder fitted with a 3/16” (coarse) blade, grind the meat twice, and then form into patties. The go ahead and cook ‘em medium rare: the results are stunning. (And if you really want to go all out, there’s a dandy recipe for homemade hamburger buns in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.)

Now if I could only get away with grilling with charcoal in a New York apartment...


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