Kid just loves him some cows (komos) wrote,
Kid just loves him some cows

Not at all like the pumpkin ravioli question

I can't really talk much about what I do (except in the abstract), and so I occasionally deal with the frustration it causes by obsessing grousing about peripheral things that find their way to my desk. Over the past few weeks, the peripheral thing that has drawn the most fire has been the "Healthy Recipe Corner" that's published in the weekly employee newsletter.

For sake of full disclosure, I don't ascribe to the theories that animal proteins, sodium, and butter are the fundamentals of Satan's own diet. I do get where the nutritionists are coming from, but the recipes provided seem largely to be informed by assumptions about proteins/fats/carbs that date to the 1980s. The only "meat" recipe listed in the archives is a Southwestern-style ham, (low-fat) cheese & potato casserole, and that the vast majority of recipes that have been published since I started to pay attention seem to have been green salad variants (This one has NUTS!) or rather uninspired soups.

One other common theme to the HRC has been the source of the recipes. The recipes are often drawn from a cookbook that managed a meager 3.5 stars in's ratings, based largely on complaints of internal inconsistencies and untested recipes. Although this week's recipe is simple enough that a relatively fearless monkey could manage it, there are some pretty glaring issues...

Tips from [...]’s Kitchen:
Searing meat or fish is a way to lock in the juices without exposing it to very high temperature. The correct way to sear is on a hot skillet or on a grill for a very short amount of time, then slowly finish cooking in the oven. Be careful not to get the skillet too hot too fast or the oil will burn. If you want to serve this dish for lunch, serve half of a fillet with a side of salad.

1 lb. sardines
Dash of salt
Olive oil (enough to brush on sardines)
Lemon wedges

Rinse the sardines under cold water.
Brush the sardines with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Place them on a grill or under a hot broiler.
Cook them about 2 minutes per side until the flesh is just firm and the skin lightly browned.
Serve immediately with fresh lemon wedges.
(Serves 4 (.25 lb. per serving)

Let's look at the opening line. Searing meat or fish is a way to lock in the juices without exposing it to very high temperature. Searing to "lock in juices" has largely been debunked as a kitchen myth. Yeah, there is the occasional yahoo who will attempt to debunk the debunkers, but at this point pretty much any reasonable culinary authority will assure you that the idea that meat, which structurally is a series of open fibers, somehow has "pores" that close when exposed to high temperatures is a quaint idea based on mid-Nineteenth Century pseudo-science.

Wait, high temperatures? Yes, and this is the other major flaw in the statement. In most cases, searing requires two conditions to be present 1) low moisture, and 2) high temperatures. You sear in order to trigger the Maillard reaction, and complex series of chemical processes that can be summed up as "browning." The Maillard reaction becomes evident at temperatures in excess of 300F.

The recipe itself is perfectly fine, except that it's not really a recipe. Frankly, you could brush any piece of fish with olive oil, wave some salt at it, and throw it on a medium hot grill and get something edible. That said, it's not terrifically interesting even with the crazy addition of a lemon wedge garnish. Suffice to say that there are folks in my office who don't cook who looked at it and said, "you need instructions for this?"

The coup de grace to this offering has nothing to do with factual errors or even overly simple food. It's the fish chosen. Not trout, not mackerel, not perch... our intrepid nutritionist not only failed to point out that this was more of a technique than a recipe, but chose to feature a recipe based on fresh sardines. While I'll confess a love of the little buggers, they're not a common sight at your average grocer, and I'm guessing that more than a few people will look at the recipe and say what my colleague K did when he saw it, "WHERE THE HELL DO I FIND FRESH SARDINES??"

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