In the Pink
Is the day at hand when American restaurants can stop cooking pork until it's dry and lifeless — not to mention less tasty than it could be? Not quite, but “we're working in that direction,” says Herve LeBiavant, executive sous-chef at the California Culinary Academy. “Twenty-five years ago, pork around the world was much more likely to have bacteria in it, and it had to be cooked until well done” — that is, to an internal temperature of at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. These days, improvements in agricultural methods (including uncontaminated feed for hogs) and more methodical government inspection have resulted in a (slightly) relaxed USDA standard for cooking pork: 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
The French standard is even lower — 65 degrees Celsius (about 149 degrees Fahrenheit). LeBiavant describes the latter level of doneness as “medium rare,” with meat that's “distinctly pink.”
Pink pork is still a no-go for a lot of people in this country, especially “the older generation,” LeBiavant says. When he was a chef at the Fairmont Hotel, he would occasionally have a pork tenderloin returned to the kitchen with the request to “cook it a little more.” But in European restaurants, he says, “people will accept pink pork.”
For years, the great nemesis lurking in undercooked pork was trichina, a parasitic worm whose presence was largely the result of feeding garbage to hogs. But the worm larvae die at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. These days the threat is almost entirely illusory; according to LeBiavant, the USDA has not recorded a pork-related case of trichinosis in this country in more than 10 years.
Fire and Ice
American industry continues to churn out food products for a population whose ever-diminishing kitchen skills open new vistas for purveyors of the ready-made. Gorton's, the frozen-seafood giant, is interested in “capitalizing on consumer interest in grilled foods.” To this worthy end, the company is “introducing Grilled Fillets in two varieties, Lemon Pepper and Italian Herb.” (They seem to like capital letters: Are they owned by Germans?) “A quick and easy solution to adding [sic] wholesome, delicious fish to your diet,” the fillets (“individually wrapped for freshness protection”) are factory-charred for your convenience, then frozen; all you have to do is remove them from their attractive box and pop them in the microwave. Or in the oven, if you know how to use it.
By Paul Reidinger