Friday, July 29, 2005

Folly as Neil Perry foils a fish

It absolutely amazes me just how many chefs have no idea as to the true nature of the materials with which they work. I'll use Oz lemon which is my awesome lemon myrtle mix as an example of how chefs cock up cooking with new ingredients in a future blog but there are countless other more mundane products.

Take aluminium foil for example. I recently saw Neil Perry's August newsletter with a recipe for baked snapper where Neil poured one of his ready-made sauces (so much for Neil Perry Fresh but I guess starting with a fresh fish is a good idea before you poison yourself with the cooking method). Where was I? Oh yes. You pour this ready made stuff all over the fish and then wrap it all up in foil.

Now let me ask you a question? Once baked and unwrapped - and you might have done it yourself with potatoes on the BBQ - what colour would the foil be on the inside? Is is still bright and shiny or dull and grey?

I can tell you if you can't remember (and I'll tell you why you can't remember too). The foil goes a drab grey and doesn't look anywhere near as pristine as when you rolled it out of the package. In fact, it's probably lethal in the long run and definitely bad for your health in the shorter term.

What happens, is the plastic coating - yep, the foil is actually a fine layer of aluminium metal with plastic on both sides to protect this highly reactive metal from oxidising and turning into the powdery white, aluminium oxide - as I was saying, the plastic coating dissolves in the fats and oils of the food you're about to eat.

You might recall the ruckus about plasticisers (mono vinyl chlorides) which were found to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic (they cause cancer, mutations and tumors, respectively) and were released from the lining of milk cartons before the problem was sorted. Let me refer you to an excellent website on plastics which will scare the pants off you. Anyway. These are the same problematic plasticisers! So where's the education about this common product? We're not just drinking cold milk that's been stored in cartons with a few free plastic monomers, we're being shown how to cook with this stuff, apply heat and make it actually dissolve through the process we use. You can see what's happening!

Help! Who was it who was said to have said "Forgive them for they know not what they do."?

And it doesn't stop there. Once the protective layer is picked up in your food, the aluminium metal is free to react with the oxygen in air and the more soluble and certainly more mobile aluminium oxide is also taken up by your food. Now Altzheimer's disease has a characteristic feature of high brain levels of aluminium and while no one can definitively say that the metal is a causative factor in the disease, wouldn't it be a good idea to avoid getting the features of a disease if it were a simple matter of doing so?

Where's ANZFA (the food authority people) or the ACCC (yes they also meddle in food affairs) now?

On a positive note, foil can be an excellent barrier to moisture and so is a great material in which to bake or steam food but please, add a layer of paper or paperbark, even cabbage or lettuce leaves (none of which you eat) in between the food item and the foil. This renders the cooking method safe. I suppose that the only good thing about Neil Perry's way of cooking is that you won't remember doing it as you suffer the cellular damage and your family suffers your ultimate memory loss.

(My apologies to any sufferers of the disease and to their families who really bear the brunt of this modern ailment).

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