Q. Why do recipes sometimes tell you to take meat out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking it?

A. The instruction is made so the meat will begin to warm up to room temperature. That helps it cook more evenly and quickly.

Meat coming out of the refrigerator has an internal temperature of about 40 degrees. Meat that is consumed medium-rare registers about 130 degrees. If you put chilled meat right into the oven, your oven will have to raise its temperature by 90 degrees (40+90=130). If the meat starts out at 70 degrees, your oven only has 60 degrees of work to do (70+60=130). Not only will the meat cook more quickly (consuming less energy in the bargain), but there's less danger the outside will dry out before the inside is cooked.

According to Bruce Aidells, sausage magnate and co-author of, among other cookbooks, "The Complete Meat Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin, $35), "a good chunk of roasting time is just bringing that piece of meat up to 70 degrees. Once it gets to 70, it starts going faster."

How long does it takes for meat to come to room temperature? My dad was getting ready to cook a 6-pound boneless rib roast, and I asked him to perform a little experiment. After he took the roast out of the fridge, he took its temperature once an hour for three hours with an instant-read thermometer. After one hour, the roast's temperature had risen from 40 degrees to 50 degrees; after two hours, it was 55 degrees; and after 3 hours, it was 60 degrees. Obviously, a thinner roast, a steak or a chop would have warmed up much more quickly.

The FDA recommends that "ground beef or any perishable food" not be left out for longer than two hours. I would certainly adhere to that rule for ground beef, which can be (albeit very rarely) a breeding ground for potentially dangerous microorganisms.

I asked Aidells how he handles roasts and steaks. "Unlike with ground beef," he said, "the interior of whole cuts of meat is sterile. And any bacterial growth on the outside of the meat is going to be killed because it's subjected to the highest direct heat." Aidells said he lets small cuts - lamb rib chops, say - sit at room temperature for 30 minutes; steaks for an hour. "I've let big roasts sit out for four to six hours," he said.


Q. Where does baby corn come from?

A. Baby corn is nothing more than ears of corn that are harvested when they are from two to four inches long and have just developed silk. There are certain varieties of corn that have been specially developed for "baby corn" production - they produce more ears per stalk - but any variety will do. Here in the United States, baby corn comes in cans or jars; in Central America, it is sold fresh in the husks.

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