Cook it until it’s done (meat, poultry and fish)

I think this is some kind of old French cooking proverb.  Regardless of what you think of French food, you can’t argue that things cooked properly taste better than things cooked poorly.  I used to think I didn’t like pork chops.  It turns out I didn’t like pork cooked until it was as dry and tough as shoe leather like my mom used to make them. (sorry mom!)  I now cook pork chops until just slightly pink inside and love them!

Rule #1: Don’t trust any recipe that tells you how long to cook something!  There are very few things you can cook for a fixed time that come out perfectly, except maybe boiled eggs.

There are two main types of meat: the kind you just barely cook and the kind you cook to death.  Steaks and more tender cuts of meat should be cooked until just barely done.  “Barely done” depends on the type of meat and your personal preference.  Here are my guidelines:

  • Beef roasts and steaks – Rare to medium
  • Pork roasts and chops – Medium
  • Chicken and Turkey- Medium well
  • Fish – Medium
  • Shellfish – Medium to medium well

The only way to figure out when meat is done is to either check the internal temperature with a quick-read thermometer or poke it.  I opt to use the poke method (since my mom stole my thermometer).  It’s hard to describe when something is done based on a poke- and by poke I mean, literally, using your finger to poke the meat.  Experience will tell you how done “feels”.  In general, rare meat feels pretty soft and spongy.  Medium feels firmer but still soft.  As meat gets near well done it firms up until it doesn’t give at all.  What you’re usually looking for is a place where the meat starts firming up but before it gets as firm as it’s going to get.  Poke everything you cook and you’ll get the hang of gauging doneness by poke.  For example, I cook chicken until it’s not quite as firm as it’s going to get.  I know this from experience.

Tough cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and beef chuck need to be cooked for a long time until they are tender.  These cuts can be timed because the cooking time is so long.  They go long past the “well done” phase to where the connective tissue start breaking down.  This is key to these fatty but flavorful cuts.  For these, you need to test them with a fork, hence the phrase, “stick a fork in it, it’s DONE!.  Stick a fork in the meat and twist.  The meat should give easily.  If the whole piece rotates, put it back in the pot and keep going.  Most of these cuts take 2-4 hours to get tender.

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