The real secrets to cooking great meat dishes

The real secrets to cooking great meat dishes
by Stephen Kember

Listed below are the 8 most important things you need to think about when ‘preparing & cooking meats’. The list is in no order of priority as all points are important.

1. Ask your butcher for his advice on which meat to buy for cooking outdoors; he or she will know best; say what you’re planning and be guided. Buy your meat well in advance, at least a couple of days before you want to cook it.

Freshly cut red meat is usually not yet ready for cooking; steaks need time to age. Aging occurs as naturally occurring enzymes beak down proteins helping to build flavor & tenderize. Put your meat in the fridge for 24-48 hours ahead of cooking. And always try to select meat with some fat on the outside, or with veins of fat running through the meat as this is where the juicy flavor come from.

2. Dry your meat and salt it beforegrilling.

The drier you get the steak the less water vapor that will be created at the start of cooking. This helps the process that builds a crust on the steak, which gives it it’s great flavor; this process is further enhanced if you salt your steak after drying.

3. Only cook steaks on a hot grill

Preheat the grill to a high temperature-so that it’s almost smoking; then drop the temperature to medium before placing the meat on the grill. To test the temperature, hold your hand over the grill, if you can keep it there for 3-4 seconds, this is medium. If your grill is too hot your steaks may char; burnt outside & rare inside; always cut of charred bits of meat as this is now considered to be unhealthy.

4. Don’t cook partially frozen steaks

Thaw meat thoroughly in the refrigerator; this helps to retain its texture & flavor. Steaks & chops will thaw in 1 day, larger roasts will take up to 2 days. Remove steaks from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking and ensure they are at room temperature before starting grilling; this lessens the shock of the meat hitting the hot grill affecting flavor & texture. To thaw meat quickly use cold water; never use a microwave oven or the meat will lose it’s juices and become chewy.

5. Meat Cooking Temperatures

There is no perfect temperature for cooking meat as we all love our, meat particularly our steaks, cooked differently. Remember that meat with bone in takes longer to cook than meat without. Here are some general guideline temperatures for cooking meat:

Steak & Lamb

Rare 120-130F. 6-7 minutes. Center of steak still cold when served;

Medium Rare 130-135F. 8-9 minutes Cooked on outside, deep pink inside;

Medium 140-150F, 10-12 minutes. Served uniformly pink throughout the center

Plant Stuff

Medium to Well done 155-165F. Almost totally cooked through with slight pink in the center

Well done 170F. 13-15 minutes Completely cooked through Has to be cooked slowly

Pork

Medium 140F to 155F Meat is slightly pink in center

Well-Done 160F to 185F Meat is uniformly brown

Veal

Medium 145F to 155F

All poultry:

Cook to 165F . Juices should run clear in the thickest part of the bird

Once the required cooking temperature of the meat is reached remove it from the heat and let it stand for 10-15 minutes. The time required varies with size, the larger the meat the longer the time. During resting time, the meat continues to cook increasing in temperature 5 to 20 degrees after its been removed from the heat source. During this time the meat’s juices settle and it becomes much more tasty.

6. Testing the temperature of your meat

You can tell how well your meat is cooked by pressing down on it with your finger. Rare meat is soft; medium meat feels springy; well-done meat is very firm. Better still use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, well away from the bone.

7. Don’t repeatedly turn your steaks

To achieve even cooking and see those lovely grill strips across each steak, turn the steaks only once. Always use tongs, never a fork as puncturing the meat allows juices to escape.

8. Steadily brown your meats before adding them into a stews.

The Maillard reaction is an important when cooking stews as it helps your meat to taste great. When cooking a stew start by browning the meat on a skillet so facilitating the Maillard reaction to occur. This reaction happens when meat is cooked to a temperature of over 115C, at which point the meats natural amino acids inter react creating a melange of complex wonderful flavors.

So why is this important when cooking a stew? Well for the simple reason that if you cook your meats in a stew without first browning the meat then you’re reliant on the heat of the water to do all the cooking. But this will mean that the highest temperature the meat will reach will be 100C; [the boiling point of water] meaning the Maillard reaction cannot occur, meaning your meat won’t be very tasty.

So how should you go about browning the meat? First cut your meat into cubes, then season it; then heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan; then gently brown the meat on all sides over a medium heat. Do this in small batches avoiding an over filled pan. Don’t turn up the heat or to try to go more quickly, just go steady; the difference in the flavor will be well worth the effort.

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