Okay folks, I gotta admit something. The two units we have been studying at cooking school these last six weeks have been ‘meat and furred game’ and ‘chocolate and chocolate confectionary’. Both have been enjoyable and informative courses, however my favourite by a long shot was in fact meat. I can hear the gasps already. ‘Not chocolate?!’ Well let me tell you something, when you are working with a couple of kilos of chocolate and it’s caking your hands like clay and is messy and just.won’t.temper it’s not all Willy Wonka bliss. Did you know that it’s possible to get sick of the smell of chocolate? Well it is. In saying all of that I learnt many fascinating techniques, including making a box – yes a box, entirely out of chocolate. You can’t help but feel as though you’ve climbed Everest after that. Regardless of that, I found the meat course far more fascinating. Yes, I know I’m happily vegetarian and all that but I figure if you are going to eat meat you should at least cook it well. Respecting the animal in a way. I mean if we were prey I would hope that someone would do me the justice of at least cooking me nicely. Weird, but true.
I was pretty apprehensive about the meat and poultry courses (poultry is next on the agenda) – I’d only cooked meat about twice in the last three years and they were pretty poor attempts. Fortunately our teacher was a brilliant chef and passionate about cooking meat to perfection. Consequently when our exam came around on Friday I passed with flying colours (sorry, I couldn’t help bragging about that). Who said vegetarians can’t cook meat well?
My job today is thus to impart a few of the tips I learnt in the hope that those of you who do eat meat are able to appreciate it to a greater extent. Perhaps you already know how to do so or you may like your cow still mooing on the table, or are impartial to cremating it. But if you don’t fit into those categories then I hope that these tips will help you avoid any ‘wasted’ meat experiences.
Behold my (well I stole them from our teacher, but moving on…) three golden rules for cooking meat:
- Seal & baste. It doesn’t matter if you’re preparing veal shanks for Osso Bucco or a nice medium-rare rump steak of kangaroo – seal and baste. You want your pan to be nice and hot, just below smoking point with just enough oil to prevent serious sticking. Seal all sides so that no ‘raw’ bits are visible. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Pour out any oil, reduce the heat and chuck in a blob of butter. Don’t be stingy. Trust me on this one. Sprinkle the meat with sea salt (it will help the butter ‘fizz’) and use a spoon to continually douse the meat in the butter for the next five minutes. It might be monotonous and you may get sprayed with some hot butter (hopefully not in the face like I did last week), but it will be worth it. By sealing and basting, you are forcing the meat to retain its juices, therefore keeping it tender. Additionally, you are gaining a nice caramelised flavour and colour. There’s nothing like a bit lot of butter and salt to make things taste better.
- Cook with low temperatures. That probably seems like a massive contradiction to the first point. Let me explain. Unless you like your meat on the blue to rare side, the sealing and basting alone will not cook the meat. This is where your oven comes into play. 140C is ideal – it will take longer but remember that slow and steady wins the race. Oh and if you really want to cook your meat to exactly medium-rare or whatever your preference is, then by all means use a meat thermometer (we did in all of our classes).
- Rest. Repeat after me “I must rest thy meat and practice patience”. Theoretically you should rest the meat (if you cover it with foil, do it loosely otherwise it will sweat), for the same length of time as it was cooked for, turning it every five minutes or so to prevent the juices leaking out. Now I became a bit impatient in my exam (I don’t possess much of that particular virtue) and didn’t follow the ‘rule’ to a tee (I rested it for about half the cooking time). However even some degree of resting helped to relax the muscle fibres and redistribute all of the juices. The result? Moist, juicy and flavoursome meat.
A quick disclaimer here – I have not tasted the effects of these tips, however I have observed the reactions of others. A scientific experiments if you like. Furthermore, I in no way claim to be an expert on cooking meat. However I am now quite confident that if the opportunity presents itself I could do a reasonable job of producing a dish that honours the animal. Here’s to no more ‘wasted’ i.e. tough, chewy and bland meat. After all that hard work and waiting (patiently of course) you’re bound to appreciate your meal just that little bit more!