Fowl Territory

The Kitchen

    My favorite weeknight meal: pan-roasted Cornish hen with bacon bits and pearl onions. You know, back when my dad started cooking this for me when I was a kid, it must have seemed fairly exotic. After all, the Cornish hen as we know it, didn't even exist until 1965 when Donald John Tyson crossed a Rock Hen and a Cornish chicken, a breed originally from Cornwall in England. Of course, now, they seem commonplace.
    You know, the same can be said of food-borne illnesses. I mean, just 25 years ago, many of the critters that plague us like Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter jejuni, simply did not exist in their current strains. So today, in the age of mechanization, globalization, and emerging pathogens, the home cook is faced with two seemingly daunting tasks: make it tasty and keep it safe. How do I do it? Well, the tasty part eludes me from time to time, but the safety part I think I've got down to a system that I call the four C's.
    Stick around for the next half-hour and you will discover that safer meals are easily within your reach. And that pan-roasted Cornish hen with bacon bits and pearl onions is definitely ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

    Most food-borne illnesses happen when bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins—not to mention other microbial beasties—use our food to get into us.


(oh my!)

    They can, however, be stymied by judicious application of the four C's: Contain, Clean, Cook, and Chill. Simple concepts all. The trick is to apply them strategically across every phase of meal construction, beginning with ...


Harry's Farmers Market
Marietta, GA – 10:15am

GUESTS: FDA Agent #1, #2, #3 and #4

...  the market. Now assuming that your market has good purchasing and handling practices of their own, it is your job to maintain the containment and chilling that they have no-doubt worked hard to establish.

    Now here is a map of a standard megamart [unrolls a blueprint-like drawing]. These aisles contain cans, boxes, and dried goods that are not temperature-sensitive, so we'll hit those first. ETHNIC
    Then, we'll work what's called "The Ring" where most markets display their produce, dairy and eggs, meat, and seafood—which just so happens to be the order we will follow. PRODUCE
    Finally on the way to the register, we will move through the frozen food corridor. Of course, if your market has a different design, you can ask the manager for a floor diagram so that you can determine the safest route of acquisition. FROZEN FOODS

[note: these last two were in the shot, he didn't mean that you should go to those last

    Having procured our dry goods, our produce, and even our cured, packaged meat products, i.e. bacon, we are now ready to hunt down our fresh meat, so to speak. I am after a Cornish or Rock game hen, which is defined by the Federal Government as ...


FDA #1:  ... an immature chicken, generally five to six weeks of age, weighing not more than two pounds ready-to-cook weight, which was prepared from a Cornish chicken, or the progeny of a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed of chicken.
FDA #2: [is shining an infrared temperature sensor in AB's face]
FDA #3: Would you stop that?

    No matter how small it is, it's still a chicken. And it's safe to assume our old nemesis, Salmonella or perhaps the emerging pathogen Campylobacter jejuni, will be present. Which is why markets must be careful to clean, contain, and chill. Clean

    Now the clean part? Well, that's pretty easy to tell. Just look around. If the case is dirty, then you can only imagine what might be going on back there [in storage] where you can't see. This looks good.

    Containment is pretty much about packaging. Now whether they are bags from the factory or rewraps in the store, they should feature tight seals. No juice leaking out.


    As for chilling, well, whether they're on ice or in open [chill] case like this, you want the surface of each bird to be at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit [has a temperature and tests the outside of the chicken]. Which of course, is the temperature above which bacteria can go crazy and get frisky.



    Now if you are really paranoid like me, you'll dig deep, up into the back of the case where the coldest specimens await. This looks good.

    Containment continues in your cart. I always place raw fish, poultry and meats in the very bottom where most people stash their cat food. I don't want to take any chances of cross-contamination.


SHOPPERS: [they all let out a collective scream and then resume shopping]

    Yes, cross-contamination is scary. But proper containment practices will greatly reduce the likelihood of nasties migrating out of the meat, and, you know, taking up residence in your greens.

    The freezer case is always my last stop. Here, you want to see a temperature well below zero—[uses an infrared temperature sensor] ten below, very nice—packages that show no signs of damage, and foods that show no signs of having been thawed and then refrozen. Big chunky ice crystals are always a bad sign, especially in IQF, or individual quick frozen products, like these onions [feels the package]. These are good.


Harry's Farmers Market Parking Lot

    Whenever I go on a big grocery binge, I always bring along a cooler loaded up with cold packs to keep things nice and chilly. The raw meats—bagged, of course—should go on the bottom and the produce up on top. There. Everybody's happy and safe. Clean

The Kitchen

            The Refrigerator Gnome

    When you get home, remember, cross-contamination ...

CAST: [another collective scream is heard off-camera]

... can happen in your refrigerator as easily as anywhere else. So, careful containment is especially important in here. All raw meats should go in the very, very, very bottom level. If that means a drawer, even better. Foods to be served raw can go up above that, and containers of cooked foods and leftovers and what-not should go above that, at the very top.

REFRIGERATOR GNOME: [slides out from the bottom shelf startling AB]
AB: You're not The Lady of the Refrigerator.
RG: Stunning observation. I'm The Refrigerator Gnome.
AB: Refrigerator Gnome?
RG: Yes, and I'm here to make my annual inspection.
AB: Refrigerator Gnome?
RG: Is there an echo in here or are you simple?
AB: Er, simple?
RG: Argh! Where is your refrigerator thermometer?

AB: Um, right, right here.
RG: Good grief, man. It's 41 degrees in here, and I'm roasting.

AB: What? 41? [looks at the thermometer]
RG: Haven't you ever heard of "the danger zone"?
AB: Of course, I've heard of "the danger zone". Hey, I'm the guy who teaches other people about "the danger zone".
RG: Oh, never mind [withdraws into the refrigerator].
AB: Hey, where did you go, you little ...  Oooh, where did that little creep go? Hey ...

In 1911, the first home refrigerators cost twice
as much as the average new car.

The Kitchen

RG: Although bacteria can live in a wide range of temperatures, they grow and reproduce rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Which is why you should always keep your refrigerator set between 35 and 38 degrees and your freezer below zero.


::::|:::: BAD! :::::|.......
   40°F               140°F

AB: You gonna inspect that one too?
RG: Different gnome!
RG: When was the last time you cleaned your refrigerator coils?
AB: Um ...
RG: Now is no time for meditating. The coils are on the back of many refrigerators. But on some side-by-sides, they're behind the kickplate at the bottom. Where are yours?
AB: Um ...
RG: They're on the top, of course. So take a bottlebrush to them, or vacuum them off, you simpleton! Cheerio, moron!
AB: Why you little creep. [runs after The Refrigerator Gnome which has run away] Come back here! Come here!

    Riddle me this, kids: what's the first step to any cooking process? I'll give you a hint: it isn't cooking. Ask the CDC, the WHO, the FDA, the USDA, the FBI, and CIA, the PTA, or the 4-H Club, and they'll tell you that good food safety starts with proper hand washing—which can remove dirt, dead skin cells, oils, and what-not, that microbial beasties thrive on. So plenty of soap and plenty of warm water. Above all, you need to take your time, okay? Count to 30, nice and slowly, before rinsing. Clean

    By the way, research has shown that antibacterial soaps are no better than the regular old-fashioned kind when it comes to getting your mitts good and clean. It may actually help bacteria develop resistances to antibacterial drugs. Now, rinsing. And notice using my arm to turn the water off, just in case that is dirty. When it comes to drying— although I admit to keeping around this attractive fez monkey hand towel, it's just for ornamentation—real drying, usually done with single-use paper towels just to keep everything nice and clean. Now, it is time to cook.

    This dish is pan-roasted, and there's no better vessel for pan-roasting than cast iron. We're going to put that over medium heat, and bring on four rashers of bacon. Now ordinarily, we would cook this in strips, but we need it in wee little pieces, or lardons, so I see no reason not to snip them directly into the pan. It'll make the task a lot easier. Cook

4-Rashers Thick Sliced Bacon

    Now before we turn our attention to the bird, we must turn our attention to the oven by turning it to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. You're going to want to go ahead and put a rack somewhere near the middle. Oh, and you're also going to want to wrap a brick in aluminum foil, and place it in here to get hot. It's ...  well, just trust me on this.

500 Degrees

    Now, the battlefield on which many a war on cross-contamination ...

CREW: [screams off camera]

... is lost, is the cutting board phase. And I get around this by having at least two in my household. Here I have a wooden board which I use for vegetables and any other food which can be consumed raw. It is very fast. Knives like working on wood. For all raw proteins—meats, that is—I use a food-grade plastic board. No, it is not as fast as wood. But for butchering, it doesn't need to be. The other great benefits? It is cheap and it can go in the dishwasher.
    Now we have out little station set up. I like to cut next to the sink. We have our board. I have donned latex gloves, which I like to handle poultry with. We have our boning knife and our shears standing by.
    Now the goal is to get this bird as flat as possible so that it will cook as quickly as possible. The procedure that we will use is called "spatchcocking", and supposedly that's an old English term. It comes from "dispatch the cock" or "kill the chicken", which doesn't sound as good as spatchcock. First step is, this backbone. It's got to go. The best tool for the job, kitchen shears or even just stout scissors will do the trick. So grab hold of the back, and just slide in the blade, and snip up, and then up the other side. There. [holds up the spine] Show a little backbone, will ‘ya?
    Now that that is out, we can gain access to the keel bone, which needs to come out. That's the bone that's the sternum, essentially. But it's got a membrane over it, so slice that open and then kind of push. Kind of like breaking the binding on a book. That's got to hurt. Then get your fingers under and kind of just lever it out and you'll have yourself a perfectly intact keel bone, which is pretty much worthless.
    Now, time to deal with the legs. Flip this guy back over, take your boning knife and make a slit in this skin right here off the back end. Reach in, and push the drumstick through. There. And repeat that on the other side. Make a nice tidy little package. There. And now we've got a nice flat bird. Now I like to kind of tuck it down, like that, give it a push to flatten, and there we have it. Next patient!
    By now, we have rendered out all of the fat that this bacon has to give, or almost. And since we want the bacon separate from the fat, we're going to go ahead and strain off the whole kit and caboodle and get all the bacon out of here. Get in there! There.

    Now, we will return one tablespoon of that fat to the pan for the hens, which, by the way, have been liberally seasoned with salt and pepper. Now, the arrangement is thus: they go skin-down, and we're going to arrange them face-to-face. Well, they don't have faces any more, but where their faces used to be. And it's going to look like a very tight fit, but it isn't as bad as you think. Kind of squeeze them in there. And then, the onions. We've got 20 to 24 of them and I want them in direct heat, so they caramelize. So I'm going to kind of dose them around. Eh, we've got room in there for one, and hey, you get one too. There. 1 Tbs. Bacon Fat

2 Spatchcocked Cornish Hens
    Seasoned With Kosher Salt
    & Freshly Ground Black

20-24 Peal Onions

    Now the last ingredient? More heat in the form of our little ceramic friend in the oven here. So we'll get him out. Ahh, hot [tries to remove the brick as he dons oven mitts] There we go. Now this is going to go right down on top [of the hens]. But we're going to try to evenly space it so that the pressure and heat is even. There. Now we leave that in place until it develops a good sear, say, about five minutes. Cook

The CDC estimates that foodborne [sic] diseases cause
approximately 76 million illnesses in the US each year.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: EPA Agent #1, #2, #3 and #4

    Whenever I'm handling raw meat, I like to clean up as soon as possible. If you don't, any new food to hit the counter—or tool, for that matter—will be even more in danger of ...

CREW: [screams off-camera].

    Huh? [AB looks around]


    Of course, clean is good, which is why it is one of the four C's. And soap or detergent, water and scrubbing devices will go a long way towards removing the visible soil that wee beasties cling to. But sanitizing, well, that's something else altogether. According to the EPA, to sanitize means to ...

EAP Agent #1: Sanitize: to reduce bacterial presence by 99.9%

    Of course, sanitize is not the same thing as sterilize, which means ...

EAP Agent #1: Sterilize: is to reduce bacterial presence by 99.999%. That is a three logarithmic reduction. [sic]

... which wouldn't sound practical to me, even if I understood what he just said. Now sanitizing is easy and odds are you've probably got everything you need already in your kitchen.

    Sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in modern bleach, is a very very powerful oxidizing agent which is capable of just kind of blowing up the cell walls of bacteria and even some viruses. And it's very very potent stuff. Just a quarter teaspoon mixed into a cup of water (that's a tablespoon per gallon) would be enough to do away with most kitchen nasties [squeezes a rubber doll, representing a pathogen] bleeeeech. Kind of like that. Hah hah hah. Um, sorry.


    Anyway, I mix up my sanitizer and keep it in a spritzer bottle like this; not only for ease of application, but because keeping it contained will make it last longer. This will remain potent for up to a week. If you were to put it just in an open container, you'd have to replace it every single day. Now to use it, just spritz on any clean, non-porous surface and just let it dry. No buffing necessary. Now let's get back to those hens, shall we?

    What begins in the cook top, finishes in the oven. Now obviously, a non-stick finish should not be used in here [oven]. So if you don't have cast iron—and you really should—you'll have to use heavy steel. Now we're going to leave this in for, say, 10 to 15 minutes, or until the thigh meat hits 170 degrees. Cook Until Temperature Reaches 170 Degrees

    Look up the word "cook" in the dictionary, and it says, "To prepare food for eating by applying heat." Now, in light of this revelation, would it not be reasonable to assume that one of the cook's most powerful tools would be the thermometer?
    Now here are a few of mine, my travel kit, so to speak. I'd love to take you on a long, loving tour of each and every one, but our time is limited. So we will concern ourselves only with instant-read thermometers with digital read-outs that are not meant to be left in the food during cooking.
    Now there are two basic styles that you should be familiar with. The first uses a device called a thermistor. Now if you were to look inside the probe, you would see a ceramic semiconductor bonded into the tip with temperature-sensitive epoxy. This type of thermometer is very stout, robust. It's relatively accurate, and extremely inexpensive. The downside is, well, since the thermistor itself is relatively bulky, the probes are wide. It can leave gaping wounds in your food. Also, the thermistor itself is usually at least a third of an inch up from the tip, making it not so good for temping shallow foods, like say, a fish filet.
    Not so, thermocouples, the second variety, which relies on a voltage differential created by heat between two fine wires in the very very tip of the probe. Now thermocouples are extremely fast, and extraordinarily accurate.

    Although they are generally a little bit more expensive than thermistor models, thermocoupler thermometers have some distinct advantages, especially for a dish like this. One, they can often be fitted with a long cable, so that you can take readings while keeping your head safely out of the oven. The other thing is that they can make very, very narrow probes, which is good, because it means that multiple readings will not leave your food looking like it has been riddled by machine gun fire. [checking the temperature of his hen] And this is good to go. Obviously, careful extraction is a must. Cook Until Temperature Reaches 170 Degrees

    Remove the brick, turn out a bird, and liberally apply both the onions and the crispy pork product. What a dinner, and gosh darn it, since we made it, applying the four "C"s, we know that it's a meal that will not come back to bite us. [looks at us] What? You ... you think that's, what? A little ... a little too simple. You want to kind of kick it up a notch? Okay, okay, we can do that ...

Americans consume more than 80 pounds of poultry per person annually.

The Kitchen

    Place a small saucepan over medium-high heat and add a third of a cup of vegetable oil. When it just starts to ripple, add one teaspoon of whole fennel seeds, a teaspoon of whole cumin seeds, and a whole teaspoon of coriander seeds. When that heats up a bit, you can add one-half teaspoon of mustard seed, and last but not least, half a teaspoon of ground paprika for color, as much as flavor.

1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
1 tsp. Whole Fennel Seed
1 tsp. Whole Cumin Seed
1 tsp. Whole Coriander

½ tsp. Mustard Seed
½ tsp. Paprika

    When the seeds just start to pop, kill the heat and allow the mixture to cool for at least five minutes ... before adding to the carafe of your friendly neighborhood blender, along with a third of a cup of slivered almonds, and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Put on the lid, and pulse until a smooth purée is formed. 1/3 Cup Slivered Almonds
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
    Then, lay out your hens in a baking dish, and basically just massage in the goodness. You can do this up to eight hours ahead, by the way. 2 Spatchcocked Cornish Hens

Back Porch

    Welcome to The Great American Grill Site: home of family fun, fine food, and, unfortunately, food-borne illness. What's the problem? Well, I'll tell you what the problem is. The problem: men. That's right, it's us. Inside, sure, we can be all civilized and clean, but you get us out here in all this fresh air, and we revert to the dirty little primates that we are. But that's all over now, because the four C's have come to town.

    Let's start with cleaning. American men, we're pretty bad about keeping our grills filthy, and that is only going to invite bacteria and what-not to the party, so, a good polishing. Clean
    Also, we need one area for our raw goods, and another area for our cooked goods. Double up on the tools, both raw and cooked. Contain
    Down below, I like containment. Not only an empty trash can, but some sanitizer, and a cooler, to keep my hens chilled. Now, last but not least, we will require a thermometer to know when the cooking has been properly done. Clean


    Now, fire your grill according to your manufacturer's instructions, and add the foil-wrapped brick once again, so they can heat together. You want to put your raw birds on the left-hand side—(the raw side—and your clean platter on the right side, keeping them apart.

    When the grill hits 500 degrees, you will want to move the brick aside, and lay down the birds, just as we did in the pan, face-to-face. Brick on top, lid down, and cook for 10 minutes. Then, carefully remove the brick, and roll the birds over, thusly. There, I can still use the raw tongs at this point. Replace the brick, and cook for eight to ten minutes. At that point, you should be able to register about 170 degrees on the thighs, which is exactly what we're looking for. Cook


    Remove the birds to your clean platter, using the clean tongs, and rest five minutes before serving.

The Kitchen

    Spicy hen coupled with a cooling coleslaw may just become my new favorite weeknight meal.
    Well, I hope that we've instilled in you a healthy respect for the power of the roasted hen, and the four C's: Contain, Clean, Cook, and Chill. Look to utilize these tools at every opportunity and your meals will be safe eats, as well as "Good Eats". See you next time.

    a note about that statement from Michael Roberts:
    What AB probably meant is more like " ... a three orders of magnitude reduction". But even that is wrong.
    A reduction of bacteria by 99.9% means that 99,900 out of every 100,000 organisms are killed, or, to put it another way, 100 organisms out of 100,000 survive. By the same reasoning, 99,999 out of every 100,000 organisms are killed in a sterilization process that is so defined, leaving 1 organism surviving. The difference between the two methods is 100-fold (100 organisms in the first case, 1 in the second). This reduction is two orders of magnitude (10 to the 2nd power = 100). Sometimes, people refer to this as "2 log units", or "2 logs", because the logarithm, base 10, of 100 equals 2, which is more like what AB is referring to. But, to use the lingua franca of "Good Eats", that's another show.
    Now, not to pick nits, but the E.P.A. does not regulate food safety, nor does it control the definition of words like "sanitize" and "sterilize" when you are talking about food. This falls under the purview of the Public Health Service, a division of The Food and Drug Administration, which defines "sanitize" as: " ...  to adequately treat food-contact surfaces by a process that is effective in destroying vegetative cells of microorganisms of public health significance, and in substantially reducing numbers of other undesirable microorganisms, but without adversely affecting the product or its safety for the consumer (21 C.F.R. 110.3(o))."
    So, it turns out that there is no numerical standard for materials in order to be considered "sanitized".
    But as of the date of the first airing of the program (February 21, 2007), there was a proposal to standardize the meaning of "sanitize" as follows:
    Proposed 21 C.F.R. 1111.3: "Sanitize means to adequately treat equipment, containers, utensils, or any other dietary product contact surface by applying cumulative heat or chemicals on cleaned contact surfaces that when evaluated for efficacy either, (1) yield a reduction of 5 logs, which is equal to a 99.999 percent reduction or (2) confirm the absence of representative microorganisms of public health significance and substantially reduce the numbers of other undesirable microorganisms, but without adversely affecting the product or its safety for the consumer." (Our tax dollars at work, eh?)
    In other words, the F.D.A. cGMP (current good manufacturing practices) definition of "sanitize" is proposed to be defined as a 99.999% reduction in the number of "wee microbial beasties".
    So what does it mean to "sterilize" something? Well, this term basically means eliminating ALL detectable pathogens. It is an important consideration when you are dealing with things like medical devices and pharmaceuticals, but it has little practical utility when you are talking about food safety. So AB is right about this point. If food is sanitary, then it's safe to eat.
    In writing all this, I don't mean to take away from a great program, nor do I imply that the research for the show is sloppy.]

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010