Whether you're a seasoned chef executing an intricate holiday meal or a first-time cook trying your hand at eating in, knowing when a dish is done cooking is as important as using the proper ingredients. Use these no-fail doneness cues -- from precise internal temperatures to indications visible to the naked eye -- as signs that your dish is ready for the table. They'll help you achieve perfectly prepared food every time you cook.
Chef Jenna Helwig demonstrates how to properly cut an onion.
Cook the first side until bubbles appear on the surface and pop. Flip and cook second side until pancake is springy to the touch.
Let eggs gently simmer in water until the whites are set and the yolk feels like a water balloon.
Cupcakes and muffins are finished baking when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the surface is springy to the touch when gently pressed with your forefinger.
Potatoes are cooked to perfection when a fork easily pierces the flesh but meets some resistance toward the center. Gently rub the skin; it should release easily from the flesh.
Cook your rice until the surface is studded with steam holes and the individual grains look fluffy. There should be no water pooling in the bottom of the pot.
Roast beets until they're easily cut with a butter knife and the skin slides off the flesh by hand.
Roast squash until flesh is tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork and the skin is beginning to wrinkle.
Risotto is perfectly cooked when the rice is al dente (toothsome) in the center, but soft and creamy on the surface. You want it to be slightly soupy but not runny. Drop a spoonful of risotto on a flat plate; if the liquids spread out much beyond the rice, keep cooking.
For a medium-rare lamb roast, steak, or chop, cook until a meat thermometer reads 145?F. Cook to 160?F for medium and 170?F for well done.
For a patty cooked to medium, remove from heat when a meat thermometer registers 160?F. The burger should feel springy to the touch and still be juicy and pink in the center.
Test the doneness of your steak by gently pressing in the center. It should feel fleshy to the touch for medium-rare and should reach an internal temperature of 135?F. When cut, a medium-rare steak is brown around the edges and predominantly pink in the middle, with a hint of red in the center.
For medium, let the steak cook until it is slightly firmer to the touch and reaches 150?F as an internal temperature. Cook all the way to 160?F for well done. A well-done steak will feel firm to the touch. (Let your steak rest for approximately half the time it took you to cook it. The internal temperature will rise about 10 degrees while resting.)
Cook your fish until beads of moisture begin to form on the surface of the flesh and the internal temperature reaches 130?F. You'll know your salmon is becoming overcooked when white, gelatinous bits of protein are pushed to the surface.
Cook your shrimp until its gray translucent coloring turns pink and opaque and the flesh is firm to the touch.
Cook pork until firm to the touch and the temperature on a meat thermometer reaches 160?F. Contrary to popular belief, pork that is slightly pink in the center isn't necessarily undercooked.
The bird is thoroughly cooked when a meat thermometer stuck in the innermost part of the thigh and/or the thickest part of the breast reaches 165 ?F. When the turkey is pierced with the tip of a knife, the juices should run clear.
Remove from oven when the center is still slightly wobbly but the edges are firm to the touch.
Remove cookies from the oven when they're golden around the edges but still slightly soft in the center. The cookies will finish cooking as they rest on the cookie sheet before being moved to a wire rack to cool.
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