The Magic of Plastic In Cookery
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The Magic of Plastic In Cookery

Posted by Vivian McNeil on

Cooking with plastic has made a huge comeback after some years of safety hesitancy by some eco-friendly chefs. The advantage of using plastic bags, wrap and other safely made plastic materials has become as commonplace in homes and restaurants as the microwave.

When I was raising my children, we were constantly bombarded with all kinds of scare tactics about the adverse effects of the microwave oven keeping it out of my kitchen. The same was true with plastic soda bottles and plastic cooking bags, however, with careful scrutinizing the different brands and types of plastic that they are made of, most scientists agree that cooking with plastic is safe.

Oven Bags

Plastic oven bags have been around for over fifty years. I will always remember the first time I baked a chicken (for the Sabbath) soon after getting married. Not only did my dear mother-in-law give me the raw whole chicken, but she gave me the oven bag along with the chicken with exact instructions as to how to make it. The chicken came out so delicious and moist and I was sold on those bags even though my mother never used them. (I don’t believe she ever heard of them and anyway my dad always liked his chicken burnt to a crisp.) 

Many people have grown up with the mistaken belief that you should not put anything made of plastic in the oven. It is time to move past this false assumption and understand and take advantage of the wonders of using plastic in cooking. The majority of oven bags sold in reputable stores today are approved by the FDA meaning they do not contain dangerous chemicals such as BPA. You can relax knowing that these approved bags will not catch fire or harm your food if you use them properly. Place your oven bags inside a deep pan which will prevent the bag from making any direct contact with the oven itself and avoid any of the yummy gravy from weighing the bag down so it will touch the oven where it can burst. When baking with oven bags use a reputable company such as Reynolds and you will reap huge rewards. 

Crockpot Bags

For any working mom, a crockpot is a time saving device that has no equal. You cannot get the texture or taste that you get from a crockpot with a microwave. It’s just not possible. Simple and cheap cuts of meat come alive in soft texture and taste when cooked in a crockpot. Unlike some other appliances that must be brand named to be of any quality, I have tried different brands and they always measure up. The only negative occurrence that once happened to me was when I mistakenly left the wire inside the bottom of the pot and it burned out but that was no fault of the manufacturer, it was my carelessness only. 

Whether it's chili, soups or Hungarian goulash, you can place the ingredients in the crockpot (on low) early in the morning, go to work and come home in the evening to an inviting aroma and delicious supper. It will warm your family’s hearts to walk in from school or work to the smell of freshly made supper all in one dish. 

Although I have not stopped singing the praises of crock pot cooking for many years there is one objection to this appliance that I do have and that is the baked-on food left over on the bottom that needs to be cleaned, ouch! 

Have no fear, there are special crock pot bags for every size crockpot and just like trash bags it certainly is convenient to find the right size for each particular crock pot. Personally, I have several sizes of this precious appliance myself, so I know the various sizes that the bags actually come in. They work quite well eliminating the messy cleanup and will ensure that you will use this appliance very often. 

Sous Vide Cooking

For those of you who are rib steak connoisseurs you know that you cannot make a restaurant quality steak in your own home. Or can you? I have always wondered how a restaurant succeeds in making the steak crisp on the outside yet tender within. If I cook a steak on my outdoor grill or under my new oven broiler, I must be very careful not to overdo it and I like my steak well done. So, I do not enjoy a steak at home and generally will make one for my husband who does not mind and even likes some red blood oozing out. 

Sous vide which means under vacuum in French, is the process of vacuum-sealing food in a plastic bag and cooking it to an exact temperature inside a water bath. Such a technique is so unique that it cannot be copied in any other cooking method. The cooking begins with a special sous vide precision cooker inside a pot of water and setting the temperature and timer according to your individual doneness preference. The food is then put into a sealable bag and clipped to the side of the pot. After an exact cooking time, you finish the piece of meat either with grilling, broiling, or searing. This process gives the food an added crispy outer layer. 

Sous vide cooking is very different from traditional cooking since you will have exact control over the exact amount of heat and temperature. With traditional cooking, sometimes the outside of the meat is overcooked, but the center is undercooked. When overcooking the food, it loses flavor, and you end up with a chewy dry consistency. 

Let’s take the example of my less than tender steak conundrum. Cook the steak in the sous vide at 129 degrees. Then sear it or grill to your preference. Wala! A perfect combo of a tender inside and a crisp outer crust. For me there would be no red color but for others there can be the rareness that's desired inside and outside a beautiful professional steak with grill marks to boot. What could be more ravenous? This is so because the temperature in ovens or grills fluctuate. If you are maintaining a temperature of 400 on your outdoor grill, the minute you open it the temperature drops substantially and who doesn’t want to peek occasionally when cooking in a covered grill? On the other hand, the only time the sous vide cooking will fluctuate is at the end when you finish the outside off and that's only for minutes. 

In case you are looking for specific sous vide cooking bags look no further than your trusty food service plastic bag. As long as the bag is BPA free it is safe for your sous vide cooking. Freezer bags are definitely strong enough for sous vide cooking. If you are a stickler for professional sous vide bags there are specific bags sold for sous vide cooking, for example, Stasher Reusable Silicone Sous Vide bags are specifically made for this type of appliance. 

Plastic Wrap in the Oven?

I own a lovely cookbook, entitled Secret Restaurant Recipes which gives you the confidential recipes of some famous restaurants. While checking out a short ribs recipe I was shocked to discover that after pouring their private sauce over the ribs you are instructed to, “Cover the baking pan with a double layer of plastic wrap then cover the plastic wrap with a double layer of aluminum foil.” Did I read that directive correctly? How could you use plastic wrap in the oven touching those precious expensive ribs? Maybe the recipe calls for a very low oven temperature? The ribs are baked for three hours starting at 300F and upped to 375F at the end of the braising, so the temperature is fairly basic. It’s the same principle as using the brown in bags. There is nothing as good as plastic to keep your chicken or meat so moist and delicious. Try it and let me know what happens. 

Final Words

To stay vibrant as we age, it’s imperative that we are open to new ideas, and I don’t only mean sushi and quinoa. Assumptions that we carry since we are younger sometimes must be reexamined at a later time in our lives. Some of us refused to change from glass soda bottles to plastic until we had no choice. According to past public opinion we were advised to never eat or drink out of plastic. That idea has taken an almost 360 degrees turn with some of us using plastic cutlery, dishes, and cups exclusively. It makes sense to a lot of us that the cleanliness of plastic outweighs the reason why we only wanted sterilized glass soda bottles. Most of us today would be wary of using a reused bottle even if it were completely disinfected. 

Oven bags, crock pot bags and the French sous vide are some of the practical and delicious ways to use plastic in cooking. For those of us who enjoy a juicy steak and succulent ribs there is nothing as functional as plastic. As long as you are using a respectable brand name plastic bag or wrap, rest assured that they are safe to use since the chemicals they are made with do not penetrate the food. Instead, you will have a tasteful restaurant quality entrée that will keep your family and friends begging for more. If you think they may be turned off by hearing about the magic of plastic, then let it be our secret.


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