My Pandemic Diary, Entry #16

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #16

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

This virus, this demon, has taken another of our poets, the darling John Prine. Here is his obituary from The Times.

As crushing as this news was, we can celebrate his astuteness of life.  You can listen to him here singing with Bonnie Raitt at a concert in the early 90’s, his haunting Angel from Montgomery.  

Make me an angel
That flies from Montgomery
Make me a poster
Of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing
That I can hold on to
To believe in this livin'
Is just a hard way to go

But let’s try to not cry by comforting our hearts with the messages of Passover. Tonight is its first night, a happy time for sharing gratitude and optimism knowing that tragedies can be transcended, while insisting that the future will be better. For all the families that will gather tonight, perhaps at a distance, I wish you a most happy Passover with the belief that next year we will all be closer together.

Cooking and Groceries

I cook dinner every night.  I have for years and it’s rare when I don’t enjoy doing so. But I’m getting a feeling that this isolation is wearing down my enthusiasm. I don’t think it’s the cooking.  Instead I suspect is a combo of having to relentlessly and carefully score and manage precious ingredients, plus not having normal days that are stimulating enough to get an appetite. I mean, it’s not like I’m not engaged with stuff all day. I walk, I exercise at home, I clean my apartment, I do laundry, I study my French, I read, I stay in touch with friends, I make noise out of my window at 7:00 pm, I do other work, and I write to you.  But this isn’t the same as being out with people and being in what we all can call our big lives. Our normal lives.

At the start of this isolation, I had worried about gaining weight, but I’m not (gaining weight; I still worry, though). I think that’s because I'm still glad to cook but not to eat.

But the nutrition is essential for our immune systems so I’m staying at it.  The cooking for sure, and most of the eating.

Last night’s cheeseburgers and a salad were a hit for both of us. I cook my burgers really simply: buy the best beef you can, pat a good-sized portion into a well-formed shape (mine were about a half-pound each), salt and pepper aggressively (it’s the only seasoning they’ll get), and cook in a very hot cast iron skillet into which I’ve added just a teaspoon or so of oil.  Let them be – don’t fuss with or turn them – for three minutes over medium-high. Flip over and cook for another three or four minutes depending on how large the burgers are. If you’re making cheeseburgers, place the cheese on top right after you’ve flipped them. Try to have thin slices of cheese so that they’ll melt within the three minutes. This method should produce medium-rare results. Cook them longer if you want them more well done. Let them rest for a few minutes before serving.

Why do I always say give meats or poultry a rest before cutting or serving? It’s because proteins like these have moisture in them and when you cook meat or poultry – it could be burgers, it could be a steak, it could be a 20-pound turkey – the moisture moves toward the surface of whatever you’re cooking because it’s drawn toward the heat. While it cooks, the moisture, which is usually distributed throughout the meat, no longer is, and it stays at the surface until the end so if you cut something right as it's out of the pan or out of the oven, the juices will all run out. This is also why you should never cut into a steak to see if it's done. Instead, touch it.

When you finish the cooking – when the steak is medium rare, when the turkey is at 165° F internal temperature, when the sausages are cooked through – you need to give the thing time to let the moisture re-distribute.  Otherwise, if you immediately cut into that steak or the sausage or the turkey or a leg of lamb roast, it will be completely dry even if it’s otherwise perfectly cooked. And you’ll be very unhappy.

The larger the piece of meat or poultry, the more time you need to let it rest.  For example, a 20-pound turkey at Thanksgiving can easily need to rest for 30 minutes.  An 8 oz. hamburger, about five minutes.  A 10 oz. steak closer to ten minutes.  Remember, too, that while a right-out-of-the-oven meat rests, it will continue to cook a little bit.  How much will again depend upon what it is, and its size/weight.

Resting meat after it’s been cooked is as important a step as any other in its cooking.  So be patient.  It will be better later than sooner.

I hope you all are staying safe during these particularly significant days of isolation.  Find something tempting to cook and something funny to watch or read, and call a friend.

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough



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