Plastic Pork Shoulder

December 2, 2007 | By | COMMENTS

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Dear Suzanne Goin,

I love you and your book Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It’s the book I go to when I want to dazzle, when I want to blow my guests out of the water. On Friday, my guest would be none other than Lauren, a great friend and former roommate who was there at the dawn of my website: she knew me when “uh oh” was a more common cooking exclamation than “a-ha.” This would be the first time I’d cook for her in three years, years in which my cooking has improved immeasurably. I wanted to knock her socks off and so I turned to your book.

The recipe I went for was the “Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta, Root Vegetables, and Gremolata.” I decided to nix the root vegetables and gremolata and focus on the pork: Lauren is a big fan of chili and I wanted this to be a kind-of highbrow chili experience. Well not highbrow, necessarily, just impressive. And I know it’s not really that chili-like, but slow-cooked pork shoulder with coriander seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds should please any chili-lover, shouldn’t it?

I followed your instructions to the letter. Well not to the letter exactly. I didn’t marinate the pork in all the spices overnight:

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I did it for a few hours. It went in the fridge at 2 and came out around 6, so 4 hours to be exact. But that was plenty.

I browned the meat thoroughly, as directed. I know that stews like this only get really good if you let the meat get golden and caramelized, and so I showed infinite patience and wisdom. I levitated off the ground, in fact, as I watched the shoulder sizzle.

For the liquids, I used good wine and defrosted my homemade chicken stock:

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I even got frozen veal stock from my high-end grocery store, as instructed, which I imagined would add body to the end product.

The oven was cranked to 325 and I did exactly what you said. Here are your words: “Cover the pan with plastic wrap (yes, it can go in the oven), aluminum foil, and a tightly fitting lid if you have one. Braise in the oven about 2 1/2 hours.”

2 and 1/2 hours later Lauren was here, the smell was intoxicating, and I was ecstatic to present Lauren with a truly accomplished dish. No more burnt caramel corn, no more undercooked fish en papillote, no more “uh ohs.” This was my moment. Everyone held their breaths in anticipation as I pulled the pot out of the oven; mouths salivated, forks were held aloft.

Then I lifted the lid and the syllables that came out of my mouth, those dreaded syllables, forced everyone to heave a collective sigh.

“Uh oh,” I said. Or, actually, now that I think about it it was: “Oh no.”

“What?” Lauren gasped, as did Craig who was sitting hungrily at the head of the table.

Here is what I saw:

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You probably can’t tell from that picture, but after removing the lid and the aluminum foil something was missing. Well not missing, exactly, just no longer where I left it. That would be the plastic wrap. It had melted into the dish.

“Ugh,” cried Lauren when I told her the news.

“Isn’t plastic wrap toxic?” asked Craig. “Doesn’t it cause cancer?”

I’m pretty sure the answer to both of Craig’s questions is “yes” and so I set to fishing. I fished out two bits of plastic wrap, but who knows what happened with the rest.

We were left with a choice. Proceed with the delicious dinner, risking cancer and death, or throw it out and order a pizza. We decided to put our lives on the line and eat your wondrous grub.

It was served, as suggested, on polenta:

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As you can see from the picture, it was gorgeous. The meat was succulent and flavorful and the sauce was zesty and nice. We just wish there wasn’t toxic, cancer-causing plastic melted in it, but after a few glasses of wine we looked death in the eye and said, “Get away with thee, death. Be not proud, yo.”

In conclusion, I still love you and your book but I’d love to know why the plastic melted in the pot when you said, “Yes, it can go in the oven.” Maybe we didn’t use the right brand? Maybe it wasn’t secured enough on the lip of the pan? Or maybe you meant for it to melt in the dish, to give it body and a nice plastic sheen? I’m not sure.

But I do know that Lauren got some joy out of seeing me flail a little bit. “I’m glad to see you’ve still got some amateur in you still,” she said.

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Here’s hoping the next time she comes I dazzle her for real, no snafus in site. That is if she survives the plastic.

Have a great December!

All my best,

The Amateur Gourmet

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  • Stacy

    How strange. Maybe parchment instead of plastic, next time? The dish, plastic sheen and all, looks delicious.

  • Susan

    PVC wrap used in restaurants is different than the plastic wrap you buy in the supermarket. The wrap used in restaurants will not melt in the oven. Maybe Suzanne Goin didn’t realize this when she tested the recipe.

  • Susan

    PVC wrap used in restaurants is different than the plastic wrap you buy in the supermarket. The wrap used in restaurants will not melt in the oven. Maybe Suzanne Goin didn’t realize this when she tested the recipe.

  • http://katek.wordpress.com/ Kate

    Yep. I blogged about this after a traumatic run-in with Goin’s short ribs recipe. Especially after spending the amount of time one spends on her recipes, it’s terribly upsetting to open the pot and … well, wonder how much cancer you’ll be giving your guests. We went ahead and ate it, with no ill-effects (*yet*) but yikes, was that scary. Susan must be right, the restaurant-grade stuff is different. Still, she says exactly that, “Yes, it can go in the oven” in ALL the braising recipes!

    http://katek.wordpress.com/2007/01/23/huzzah-for-short-ribs/

  • http://www.kidscuisine.net Sarah

    That looks so good that I probably would have done the same thing, cancer schmancer. FYI, here’s another thing to look out for — don’t cook anything with tomato sauce in a disposable aluminum tray. I discovered this in college when the lasagne I worked so hard on ATE THROUGH the foil pan. That I couldn’t bear to eat, and I had to throw away the whole giant pan.

  • http://www.latartinegourmande.com/ Bea

    ahah, sorry to laugh, but it also happened to me once with gratin dish I had prepared, and there is a story that followed, whereby I told my doctor “I think I ate plastic”…and he looked puzzled. “What do you mean “you think?”" was the sentence that follows me now.

  • Katie

    I’m also curious as to why it is necessary — isn’t the foil and a tightly fitting lid enough to keep steam in and braise the meat properly?

  • http://www.ovenstobetsy.com/blog Ovens to Betsy

    Next time reach for the parchment paper! Cut it to your pan’s size and place it directly on top of the food. Then wrap foil on the top and proceed with the recipe.

  • http://www.yumbrosia.com Aoife

    I’ve eyed that exact recipe, wondering whether to trust her. I’m glad that you went before me to clear the way.

  • http://www.yumbrosia.com Aoife

    I’ve eyed that exact recipe, wondering whether to trust her. I’m glad you went before me to clear the way.

  • Rebecca

    I had the same experience with her recipe a few weeks ago. I hesitated before adding the plastic, but I trusted her recipe. Sigh. She explicitly said it could go in. Right? Well, we ate it anyway….also thinking the whole time about the permanent damage we were doing to our bodies. It was delicious anyway. Shame they didn’t catch that in the recipe testing.

  • http://www.restaurantreviewworld.com foodette

    That is scary! I am not sure what I would have done, but I think I would have tasted it and then not told my guests. Does that make me a bad person?

  • Cary

    I use the plastic + foil combo all the time (as learned in restaurant kitchens). Yes the professional film is sturdier, but good-quality grocery store film will work too. Wrap it tightly over all edges of the pan, then wrap foil tightly over that. The first time you peel back the foil, the plastic will “disappear” and shrink way back to just a few ropy things. Discard it and re-wrap with just the foil, or add new plastic if you really peeked early, if you are going back in the oven. It works great to hold in moisture and heat. Don’t be afraid!

  • Polymer Scientist

    Don’t worry! The polymer molecules in plastic wrap are indigestible and will not harm you (think about drug smugglers who swallow baggies). The melting temperatures of all varieties of plastic wrap are above 100 C/212 F, and polymers of this type do not get hot when exposed to microwaves, but contact with liquids (or surfaces) at higher temperatures will cause the film to lose structure. The film shrinks upon heating because the polymer chains, stretched like dried spaghetti during processing, relax into loosy-goosy coils. The silicones on parchment paper have extremely high melting points (above 200 C/450 F), so that seems like a better choice.

  • Mary Sue

    This reminds me of a fun thing we used to do in my youth: Take a piece of plastic wrap, have friend hold it loosely between two hands. Then hit the bad boy with a direct blast from a hair dryer on high.

  • http://www.kitchentoolz.com Kitchen Toolz

    Sorry I had to laugh. That is something I would have done. But, I would have done the same thing and ate the meal after all that hard work. It’s looks delicious!

  • http://burgersandbratwurst.blogspot.com Kerstin

    I have to say that in my experience restaurant-quality plastic wrap does the same thing. I’m in culinary school right now, and one of the students forgot to take the plastic wrap off a pan of roast chicken thighs last week. It shrunk/disappeared into the pan and left only an awful smell of melted plastic and an inedible pan of food. We use sysco plastic wrap, which I assume most other restaurants use as well.

  • http://www.badhomecooking Bad Home Cook

    Gah! Well it sounds delicious. Almost good enough for me to start eating pork again.

    See, I’d never even try something like this. You give me hope…

  • Egaeus

    Polymer Scientist:

    According to what I found (okay, I used Wikipedia, but it’s good enough for our purposes), Saran Wrap is now made from LDPE, which melts at 248 degrees F. True Saran, PVDC, has a melting point that is…comparable (sources vary significantly). Either is well below the temperatures that it’s exposed to in the oven. Either way, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to put them in the oven.

    When you’re talking about the health effects of plastics, I don’t think using drug mules are really helping your point. :)

  • http://www.judithgreenwood.com/thinkonit/ Judith in Umbria

    You can use brown paper bag material instead of plastic wrap, assuming brown bags still exist. They do not exist here. It creates sort of a low-pressure pressure cooker and is especially useful for octopus.

    In this case, I’m not certain why you would even want it. Rather than risk plastic I’d use a flour/water paste if I wanted to seal this up, but why seal it up?

  • http://www.izzyeats.blogspot.com izzy’s mama

    For me this is quite a timely post. I was just about to prepare Suzanne Goin’s brisket recipe for Hanukkah. I was not planning to use the plastic wrap despite her advice. Plastic wrap is not healthy and should certainly not be ingested (despite polymer scientists words). I was even hoping to contact her to see why on earth she would use this, considering all of the bad press plastics in general have been getting.

    I am sure parchment will do the trick as I used it with her short ribs recipe and they were succulent.

    Next time, please don’t eat the plastic.

  • jodi

    Same thing happened to me! I made the brisket and at the end, no plastic! We too risked our lives an ate it, months have gone by and so far so good. But Suzanne-the book is so amazing, how could you overlook this in your recipe testing?!?

  • kay

    I really think you all are being a little overanxious about the effects of eating a tiny bit of plastic. Your digestive system probably wasn’t able to make a dent in it, which means it passed (assuming you ate any at all) completely unchanged through your system. Goodness me, look at the horrendous stuff babies and small children consume! Or used to, before helicopter parenting prevented any and all contact with the real world. Lots of people live with plastic in their bodies (stents & heart patches, fake veins, skull plates). Calm down.

  • zeep

    Suzanne rocks and all, but…plastic? Hmmmm… there has got to be a better way. Ah well – this post reminds me of an old friend who once made a frozen pizza by simply sticking it into the pre-heated oven with plastic wrapping, cardboard backing and all still intact – you can imagine how that turned out…

  • http://erinskitchen.blogspot.com erin

    I made the exact same recipe a few weeks ago, minus the plastic wrap, and everything was still succulent and well-braised. So, next time–no plastic, no difference. And man, it’s delicious!

  • http://www.swirlingnotions.com swirlingnotions

    Shame on Suzanne . . . and shame on her editors! They should have caught that. In any case, you should be proud of your efforts!

  • http://clumsycook.com clumsy

    Wow, I’m so glad I came across this post, I had a plastic-wrap-covered in the oven recipe that I was going to try out this weekend. Pheeww, I though it was weird that plastic wrap was used when the supermarket stuff I buy seems so flimsy, but I figured cookbook authors were smarter than I so why not! It’s hard to imagine that even the restaurant grade wrap wouldn’t melt… maybe if the restaurant is spending a gahgabillion dollars on the stuff! At least it’s not harmful (or so says a scientist, and I’ll assume he’s smarter than I!)

  • http://www.aliceqfoodie.com Alice Q. Robertson

    Gah! I am so glad I saw this before making this dish this weekend for fifteen people. I was looking for it online to copy down the list of ingredients (while at work, shhhh!) and found your post. Hilarious, and it looks delicious even so! Glad to hear it sounds like you won’t get cancer at least – though I’m sure it didn’t add much to the flavor of the dish!

  • http://thursdayclubnyc.blogspot.com/ teddy

    Dude, you’re a brave man eating that braised plastic. Hardcore. Your pork looks astonishing nonetheless, and I think I’d have braved the big C to get a mouthful.

    A paper cartouche has the same effect as the plastic, and it works well. You can even wrap leftover meat in it, if any.

  • http://www.marriedwithdinner.com anita

    We had the same experience last week with a Ruhlman recipe for pate de campagne. My husband made a gorgeous batch and of course the plastic melted in the oven. Argh!

    You’re braver than we are — we threw it away :(

  • http://angusindex.blogspot.com emily

    Yet another vote for “What was Suzanne Goin thinking?!” :) I love that cookbook but this seemed totally wrong to me, so I omitted the plastic and my heavy Le Creuset lid kept a great seal on its own. I agree with the other posters who note that even if the wrap doesn’t disintegrate onto your food, it seems unsafe to me to heat up plastic *near* your food. I don’t use plastic in the microwave anymore for the same reason…I don’t want to find out in another 10 years that the off-gassing is just as bad as eating a chunk! :P

  • adrienne

    I have that book. Strange thing is, I thumbed to both the pork stew AND brisket recipes, and neither (in my book) said anything about plastic wrap. Both said, “Cover the pan with foil and a tightly fitting lid if you have one.” I’m feeling very lucky, like maybe I got the safety edition!

  • julie

    Just another comment to add that I too tried making the short ribs and the plastic totally melted. (We threw it away–not as brave as you plastic eaters!)

    I have since made the pork stew and the brisket, both of which were amazing, and just left the plastic wrap off. Everything turned out fine.

    From the previous posters comments it looks like Suzanne fixed the error in the reprinted version of the book….

  • Dylin

    I know this was posted a while ago, but I just purchased her book because the recipe (despite it’s plasticity) sounded delicious.

    The suggestion to place a layer of plastic wrap, followed by foil, is no longer in the book!

    I don’t think the book made mention of a second edition, but I thought this was absolutely peculiar. Hopefully all new buyers of the book won’t have the plastic problem.

  • Ken

    I’m so glad I found this page. Earlier this evening I got home from work and threw a chicken curry dish in the oven that had been marinating overnight. Being a messy bachelor with almost no cooking experience I was in a hurry to get things cooking, so I didn’t notice that I left the plastic wrap on the dish before it went into the oven.

    Fifteen minutes later my room was filled with that horrible burning plastic odor. A quick inspection revealed a few shrunken plastic strands floating around the chicken and an extra protective layer added to the outside of my clear glass dish. I pulled out what I could with a fork, and stirred things up a little. Five minutes later I was faced the dilemma: I’m so hungry and I want to eat it; the siren song of yummy chicken curry calls to me, but I’m wondering how poisonous my dish is.

    I’m glad to read here on this page about others who faced death to eat their cooking. Now I don’t feel so alone, knowing that others made the same choice I did, to bravely eat whatever plastic might still be lurking among something delicious.

  • http://rpidrivestick.blogspot.com Cara Mia

    Pffft…my dog used to eat plastic all the time and he lived to nearly 20!

    Okay, on a serious note…Judith from Umbria is onto something. (Ciao! And btw, we do still have paper bags here.) Make a pastry crust, roll it out into a rope. Lay it around the rim of the pan, so that it is one continuous rope. Skip the foil, and put the lid on, smooshing it a little. It’s an old fashioned pressure cooker!

  • Joe

    Just followed two recipes from two local chefs that called for using Saran Wrap. One was used to seal a standing rib that I slow cooked at 200 degrees and one was for a bread pudding at 350. The rib came off without a hitch. The bread pudding didn’t.

    When I removed the foil the wrap was no where to be found. I have to admit that I was a bit freaked out. Upon closer inspection, it was melted to the side of the dish and more importantly it had melted on to the foil. The food was unscathed.

  • Anonymous

    This type of plastic is INDIGESTIBLE to humans. That is, IT PASSES RIGHT THROUGH YOU.

    Stop freaking out.

  • http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=1 Martin

    I did some reading on the whole topic of plastic wraps. I don’t know about the cancer it may cause, but I read that on many sites that is harmful to the endocrine system (hormones), specifically female hormones. It is responsible for the fiminization in fish. It also has severe effects on skin health and sometimes the other indrediants, specifically nonylphenol, will cause severe skin rashes if the skin is exposed to it.

    Obviously you all didn’t notice any direct effects, but it certainly can’t help your systems in the long run

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