Jake Ludington: July 2008 Archives

Raw whole chicken This question was posed on Slate today in response to one of the economic issues addressed in Barak Obama's recent visit to Europe. Apparently the current European ban on U.S. chicken imports costs the U.S. close to $200 million annually. The issue isn't food safety in this case, it's supposedly taste. The chlorine is meant to prevent bacterial build-up, but a University of Georgia Study from August 1999 indicates that processed chicken receiving the chlorine treatment starts tasting funny after sitting in the fridge for a few days, while non-chlorinated chicken does not.

What's the lesson here? I'm not sure. I'd rather not have bleached chicken, but I guess I'll sleep easier knowing that if I eat quickly I won't notice.

According to the Tribune-Democrat of La Junta, CO:

The Laboratory Services Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has confirmed that a jalapeno pepper provided by an ill individual from Montezuma County has tested positive with the same DNA pattern of Salmonella Saintpaul-the strain that has caused a large, multistate outbreak of salmonella.

salmonella saintpaul case map This comes on the heels of 1307 cases of Salmonella Saintpaul across 43 states since April 2008. As of this writing, it's still unclear where the Salmonella was introduced to the peppers. What is clear is the tainted jalapeno peppers originated in Mexico and not from United States farms. You can see the number of cases by state by clicking on the map at the left.

Best practices in avoiding Salmonella Saintpaul are currently to verify where jalapenos you purchase originated from before buying them. If you must buy jalapenos sourced from Mexico, be sure to cook them long enough to kill any bacteria before using. More details are available from the CDC link above or from the FDA.

...may be the best way to make sure the food you buy is safe. As Kansas State University Professor and International Food Safety Network Barfblogger, Doug Powell, points out, a food safety audit does not ensure safe food. While Powell's post is in response to comments made by NSF CEO Kevan Lawlor in Crain's Detroit Business regarding a need for better testing in a global food economy, I think there's a more important message here. Of course NSF wants more testing - more tests mean more money for NSF. But testing only assures that the food was clean at the time testing took place, it says nothing about a farmer's, or processor's, or retailer's practices in getting food through the long chain starting at the farm and ending on your plate. Find localized sources for your food, get to know them and their practices, and you'll sleep easy knowing that whether more tests and regulations are required or not, the people providing your food care about providing quality.

Just before the Beijing Olympics, Chinese news agency Xinhua is reporting that popular Peking Duck restaurant Quanjude is guaranteeing all roast duck served to Olympic athletes will be 100% safe after passing an anti-doping test. What exactly does that mean? That's a little unclear, since the only unhealthy substance mentioned in the article on the testing is colon bacillus (aka E. coli). At least athletes shouldn't have to worry about food poisoning.

There is nothing mentioned about factory farm conditions in raising the ducks, their diet prior to arriving at your table, or whether the birds would pass any kind of organic certification, presumably because you don't really want to know. Having eaten roast duck more than once while staying in Beijing, I can tell you it tastes unlike any duck I've had anywhere else. However, I'm not sure I'd want to know exactly how it got to my table. While Quanjude is arguably the most well known roast duck in Beijing, if you're going to the Olympics (or just to Beijing) Li Qun Roast Duck restaurant, which is only a few blocks away, provides a more authentic atmosphere and you can at least see how the food is prepared before you eat it.

Li Qun Roast Duck

As the first strawberries of summer arrived this year, people who discover I now live on Bainbridge Island keep telling me that the island has the best strawberries in the Pacific Northwest. I've had great strawberries all over the country, but after sampling the local berries here on the island, I'm convinced these are the best berries I've ever eaten. I'm surprised more Seattle restaurants aren't demanding them. Many of berries are this deep almost blood red color all the way through to the core and they almost melt in your mouth as you eat them. Pity you can only get them for a few weeks each year.

Strawberries and Freezer Jam

Making strawberry freezer jam is one of the best ways to preserve real strawberry flavor, allowing you to enjoy a wonderful summer flavor in the middle of winter. When you make freezer jam, be sure to use a no-cook freezer jam recipe like the one below, because cooking the berries breaks down some of that fresh sweet flavor you expect from homegrown strawberries. This is also a great project for kids of almost any age.

I decided to try Simple Creations No Cook Freezer Jam Pectin rather than Sure Jell, because it required considerably less sugar to activate the pectin, I think seeing Robin spooning the jam out of a jar the next day suggested I found a winner. The recipe is straight from the back of the package, with some minor procedural changes.

Ingredients

  1. 4 pints whole fresh strawberries
  2. 1 packet of Simple Creations No Cook Freezer Jam Pectin
  3. 1 1/2 cups of sugar
  4. Start by halving all the strawberries into a large bowl.
  5. Sliced Strawberries
  6. Crush the strawberries with a potato masher or similar flat utensil.
  7. Smashing Berries for Freezer Jam
  8. In a second smaller bowl, combine the pectin and sugar so they are evenly mixed.
  9. Pour the sugar mixture over your crushed strawberries, stirring it in as you pour. Continue stirring for about 3 minutes to make sure sugar and pectin are distributed evenly.
  10. Stirring in Pectin
  11. Ladle jam into clean jars leaving room at the top of each for the mixture to expand when it freezes. Having a funnel on hand at this stage is helpful in reducing mess (even for adults).
  12. Filling Freezer Jam Jars
  13. Screw lids on and let stand on counter for 30 minutes - 1 hour until the jam firms up. Place in your freezer for up to a year.

Yield: approximately 5 8oz jars or slightly less than 3 pint jars.

Whether you call it beer can chicken, beer butt chicken, or drunken chicken, inserting a beer can in the body cavity of a whole bird is a wonderful summer grilling tradition. Most of the recipes online call for using a dry rub on the outside of the bird, relying solely on the beer can to keep the chicken moisturized throughout the grilling process. If you're doing this as a last minute preparation, a rub is a better choice, but if you've got the time, brine the chicken before grilling for a truly amazing flavor. I also recommend using wood charcoal rather than briquettes, so you get a nice wood-smoked flavor.

Beer Can Chicken

Ingredients:

Brine
1 Gallon Water
3/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbl pepper

Chicken
1 whole chicken
1 can of beer

For a hint of spice add 2 tsp cayenne pepper to the brine.

Before beginning, remove any giblets from the chicken's body cavity and discard.

Stir salt, sugar, and pepper into the water until sugar and salt are mostly dissolved (you can speed the process up by boiling the mixture on the stove). I also like to include several sprigs of thyme in the brine for additional flavor. Submerge the chicken in your brine and place the container in the fridge for 6-8 hours.

When you get close to the end of the brining process, start your grill with coals on one half of the grill. You'll be cooking the chicken with indirect heat, so you want to make sure you have space to place the chicken with no coals underneath.

Empty or drink half of the beer can. Insert the can in the body cavity of the chicken so that the base of the can and the two legs make a tripod to hold it up on the grill. Place the chicken on the side of the grill away from the coals - this is an indirect cooking process; the outside of the chicken will burn before cooking finishes if it's placed over the coals. Cook the chicken with the grill cover on for approximately 1-1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees. Check every 20 minutes and rotate the chicken on the grill for even cooking. The temperature is more important than the cooking time.

If you get the chicken too close to the coals, the skin can get too dark like this:
Beer Can Chicken