Cooking meat

Cooking meat

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From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

Tenderness in meat depends partly on the age and condition of the animal, on how the meat was handled after slaughter and also on the cut. Tender cuts come from those parts of the animal which had the least exercise, such as the loin (lower back) and rump. These cuts respond to dry-heat cooking, so roast, grill (broil), fry or sauté them.

Tougher cuts, from parts of the animal which had more exercise, have developed more connective tissue, which is the main cause of toughness. Slow cooking with moisture changes connective tissue into gelatine, so braise, stew, potroast or simmer these cuts. In these slow cooking processes, the liquid should never go above simmering point – when the surface shivers and single bubbles rise slowly. Some meat dishes are traditionally called ‘boiled’ but this is a misnomer – meat that is cooked at full boiling point loses its juices and becomes tasteless and dry.

Always remove meat from the refrigerator in time for it to reach room temperature right through before cooking it. This ensures that the inside will be cooked as desired before the outside is overdone. Cooking times given in recipes are based on meat at room temperature.

To judge when meat is done: Cooking times given in recipes can be used as a guide, but the shape of the piece, the quality of the meat and the efficiency of your stove and oven can cause variations. Start testing it when about four-fifths of the cooking time is up.

To test large pieces of meat, a meat thermometer is ideal as it is marked at the correct internal temperatures for different meats. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, away from fat or bone, leave for a minute, then read it.

Failing a thermometer, or for smaller cuts such as steak, press the meat with your finger. If it is soft and spongy it is not cooked through. If it is soft but quite springy, it is medium-rare. If it is firm with little resilience, it is well-done.

You can also test by inserting a fine skewer or kitchen needle into the thickest part of the meat and checking the colour of the juice that comes out. If it is red, the meat is rare; if pink, medium; if clear, well-done.

Ingredients

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