Because of an editing error, incorrect cooking temperatures were reported in a story Saturday about a researcher who said he developed a recipe to reduce the amount of fat in ground meat. The researcher's recipe called for cooking the meat in vegetable oil at 194 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes, then at between 212 degrees and 230 degrees for another five minutes. The story also incorrectly reported the usual cooking temperature for a medium hamburger, which typically is 158 degrees for five minutes. (Published 1/15/91)
The New England Journal of Medicine -- typically a forum for complex discussions of renal failure or heart disease -- steps out of the clinic and into the kitchen in its latest issue. Its lead article is devoted to a process for cutting the fat out of ground meat.
Boston University biophysicist Donald Small -- who last published in the Journal 11 years ago on a method for reconstituting lumpy bernaise sauce -- details a simple technique for frying ground red meat that he says removes an average of 43 percent of the cholesterol from a wide variety of meats and 72 to 87 percent of the saturated fat -- meat's two least healthy ingredients.
What happens to the taste of the meat, however, is a different matter.
Based on his five years of using the method in his kitchen, Small insists the meat tastes "just as good."
However, some food scientists, after reviewing the extremely high temperatures and long cooking times required by Small's analysis, beg to differ.
"My guess is that if you cook meat as long as he says and at that kind of temperature it would be tasteless," said University of Illinois researcher Floyd McKeith, an expert on fat-reduction technology. "We're talking about cremation."
Ground meat -- even meat that has been trimmed very carefully or cooked and drained of fat -- still contains large amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, because those ingredients are lodged within the muscle-cell membranes of the meat.
This has made fat and cholesterol reduction a challenging task for food scientists, prompting a number of complicated and expensive suggestions.
Small's procedure, which he says adds about five minutes to typical ground meat cooking time, is much simpler. It is based on the observation that at high temperatures the cholesterol and saturated fat lodged between meat cells will dissolve into certain kinds of cooking oils -- principally vegetable oil.
Small developed the following process: cook about two pounds of meat for five minutes in vegetable oil at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, then for another five minutes at between 148 and 166 degrees. The maximum amount of fat and cholesterol will dissolve into the oil. Strain the meat, allowing the oil to pass through. Pour two cups of boiling water over the meat, collecting it in the same container with the oil.
Separate the oil and broth (cooling in a refrigerator will cause the fat to rise and harden, allow it to be skimmed off) and re-add the broth to the meat to return its flavor.
Small thinks his method has enormous commercial potential, particularly for fast-food chains. But others are not so sure. A medium-cooked hamburger, for example, is typically cooked at 94 degrees Fahrenheit for five minutes. Small is suggesting cooking at a much hotter setting, for twice as long.
"He's cooking the hell out of it," said McKeith.