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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Your Guide to Cooking Meat To Perfection - Answering your most frequently asked questions

OBE Organic Halal is an Australian meat brand that offers our market
a choice for excellent quality, 100% organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, halal beef.
You can find their amazing meat cuts (variety of steak cuts, cubes as well as minced meat)
in Dubai & Abu Dhabi (Carrefour, Geant, Le Marche...)


I love brands with a story, a philosophy that becomes their mission. I have huge respect for such brands, and they become my brands of choice. Because while the industry today is all for mass-production, ill-practices and inhumane approaches, which are far easier and more profitable to follow; these brands operate in such a market with their eyes on tomorrow (what becomes of the world and us if we continue with those practices), and therefore go about their business responsibly. OBE Organic are such brand that I absolutely admire and personally recommend to you, because they are determined to remain organic, to treat the animals humanely in the set up that nature intended them to be. Most importantly, because while they are a brand specialised in meats, they understand that eating meat is a personal choice and always recommend that meat is consumed responsibly. That is something I respect, as just because we do something for business it does not necessarily mean we do it at all costs! Ethics, responsibility and the wellbeing of all should never be over looked.
Watch the video on this link and see for yourself.

Therefore and while I am their brand ambassador, I want you to know that when it comes to OBE Organic, they are the brand of my choice and one that I personally (not just as a business brand) recommend that you choose too.

OBE Organic not only want to supply you with superior quality organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, Halal beef, but they also want to help you cook the meat to perfection and give you a collection of recipes that are delicious and good for you which you can easily replicate at home. They also want to assist you with general tips on healthy eating to empower you to take charge of your health, and since Ramadan is just around the corner, they also want to help you remain healthy and not sacrifice your health during Ramadan. Therefore we are teaming up again to do just that, and will be posting health tips, along with fast and easy recipes on my and OBE Organic's Social networks (see their links below this post) hoping that you will enjoy and benefit from them. And today we start with this post on how to cook your meat to perfection, as many of you have asked for advise in that regards.

So in today's post I will be giving you some information about cooking meat and how to perfect it. Included are the doneness stages and how to judge each, different cuts and best cooking methods, as well as tenderising meats (which is really not necessary, but among the questions you guys have sent me). I will use steaks as an example here, but these tips work on any other cuts of beef.

Do read on, and I hope you find the information useful. Do please let me know if any more information is needed or if you have any further questions regarding cooking meats...

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic
There are many elements that control the cooking time and the resulting doneness and texture of cooked meats.

The cooking time of meat is affected by:


  • The starting temperature - this refers to both the actual temperature of the meat right before cooking (room temperature of course cooks faster than cold meat), and also refers to the actual temperature of the cooking pans and/or oven) Searing hot pans will cook the meat faster and caramelise its natural sugars (which if prolonged charr the meat) and the same applies to ovens.
  • The number of times the meat is flipped during cooking, as well as the number of times the oven door is opened, or lids are lifted - all affect the heat and cause drops in the temperature of meat. (Of course this is sometimes required and necessary, it all depends on the final outcome you are looking to achieve. (more on this below)
  • The meat's fat content - you might think the meat's fat content speeds up the cooking process, when on the contrary, in this case it slows down the cooking process as it is less conductive than the meat's muscle fiber. Therefore fattier cuts will require longer time to cook, and mature fatty animals are more tolerant to over-cooking than young lean ones.
  • Filleted meats VS meats on the bone - while the minerals in the bones double its conductivity, the hallow or honeycomb interiors of the bones make it less conductive and work as an insulator. Therefore meat cuts on the bone take more time to cook. Usually we find that the most succulent pieces of meat are those closest to the bone, this is because closest to the bone the meat cooks slower and is usually less done due to reduced subjection to heat and therefore come out more tender and juicier than any of the surrounding parts.
  • How the surface of the meat is treated - Basted or naked, the meat evaporates its moisture through the surface. This evaporation cools the meat and slows down the cooking process. If the meat is coated by a film of oil, this forms a barrier which will hold back the evaporation and slightly speeds up the process.
Say the temperature is covered, and you have made sure all is hot and sizzling ready for the meat to start cooking, how do you judge the doneness of the meat?

While there are many gadgets to tell you the exact temperature of the meat (indicating the exact doneness), such as internal temp. thermometers, these actually work best on big cuts of meat and not so well on the smaller cuts. Thermometers are best used for roasts, while your eyes and fingers are your best bet when it comes to the smaller cuts. Another method is cutting through the meat and checking its colour and the flow or loss of fluid. Yes the most traditional methods are the best methods for judging the doneness.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic

Stages of Meat Doneness:
As meat cooks, it goes through 4 main stages of doneness. All four stages are ones where the meat is cooked, but different people choose their preferred doneness differently. These are the main stages of meat doneness:

  • Blue Meat - the surface is cooked but the centre is just warmed through, remaining more or less unchanged. This meat is soft to the touch, feeling exactly the same as the muscle between your thumb and index finger when its totally relaxed. The meat is red at the centre and secretes little to no coloured juice, except some colourless fat that had melted during searing. Note that when tasted the centre feels warm to the mouth and never cold. Cold is raw meat, not blue.
  • Rare Meat - will be more resilient when poked, as some of its proteins will have coagulated. when poked, it will feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when the two are stretched apart. As it cooks, red juices will start to appear as they begin to be secreted from the meat. The centre will be red, slightly lighter than that of blue meat (not a huge difference though) and will also be slightly warmer than blue centres. This stage is the most popular doneness, while still considered raw or too "bloody" for many. 
Note that the juices that run out of meat are not blood, therefore "bloody" is not a literal term. Meats are always drained after slaughter, therefore do not contain substantial amounts of blood when purchased. The red juices are the meat's own fluids. Meat contains fluids, which are a mixture of water and myoglobin (which is a component of its proteins). These are secreted during cooking. Myoglobin is responsible for the meat's red colour. Therefore, as it is secreted with the fluids during cooking, the juices are tinted red due to its presence. So these juices are not blood, but in fact a mixture of water and proteins.

  • Medium - done Meat - will be firmer to the touch as the collagen in its connective-tissue will have shrunk during cooking. When poked it should feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when the two are squeezed together. You will start seeing red juice droplets appearing at the surface. When cut through the centre will be pink and hot. Many people, prefer this stage of doneness, although many cuts of meat such as the tenderloin (fillet) tend to be drier at this stage and are best experienced a little less done. However, it is worth knowing that at this stage the meat will have reached the required temperature for most microbes to be killed. It is therefore safer to have meat at this stage especially when not sure of the source.
  • Well-done Meat - at this stage, all of the meat's proteins have been denatured and is therefore evidently stiffer to the touch. Little juices, if any, are visible and both the juices and centre of the meat are dull in colour (dull brown or grey). While all the microbes will have been killed at this stage, the meat is dead too! The only way to revive this meat and restore a certain degree of its tenderness is prolonged gentle cooking which will loosen up its connective tissues.
Note that microbes are not a huge concern when the meat is purchased from a trusted source and is in good condition. As long as that is true and that it is kept in proper conditions after purchase (refrigerated, consumed within a couple of days; or frozen and consumed within a couple of month; never defrosted and refrozen; and never allowed to reach room temperature except once, right before cooking) then microbes should not really be a concern. This of course is more controllable at home, than when dining out.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic
What about the texture? 
We all know texture is of the essence to any eating experience. It is one of the make or break factors for a good eating experience or a bad one. Who wants to chew on a piece of dry meat, or a chewy piece that will chew forever in the mouth?! Who chooses a piece of wood for meat? No one!

We all want to enjoy our food, we love textures that work with us, that are not difficult for our mouths. We like juiciness, tenderness and even a crunch, but we do not enjoy the in-betweens or the over the border! So when we cook meats, we have to think of texture, and texture is affected by the condition of the meat, however, more so by the cooking and doneness of meat. Not all cuts tolerate over-cooking, and some will be ruined by such practices. You will not have tasted meat properly, until you have tasted it at the right doneness. A tenderloin for instance should never be had a tad over rare, maybe medium rare if you must but best savoured blue. Otherwise it will be too dry and it will lose its characteristic tenderness. Until you have tried it that way, you have not yet enjoyed a fillet steak. A ribeye, for example, is one of the most flavoursome cuts, because of its marbling (the internal fats) that lends it some extra flavour. However because its a naturally fattier cut, it benefits from being cooked well. However never well-done, max medium-well. While the rump is best treated like a fillet, had rare, or max medium-rare. A striploin is best medium-rare to medium and always best to start the cooking on the fat side, then turn and let it cook in its own fat. You see, this is how steaks are delicious, and you must have noticed that no cut of steak should ever be had well-done! In fact, red meats are best never had well-done, except when cubes are used in slow cooking! Slow-prolonged cooking is not abrasive and therefore does not require the meat to shrink abruptly, which allows it to stay tender and relatively moist.

Photo Courtesy of OBE Organic
How about tenderising?
Personally, I never use meat tenderisers, especially those poor quality, chemical-laden stuff. What is the point of eating healthy and going organic if I am to use additives! However, I do believe in the traditional and natural tenderising methods, especially when it comes to tougher cuts.

Good quality meat, hardly ever needs tenderising, especially when cooked right. However, should the need arise I advise you to opt for the traditional healthy methods, rather than the use of the processed stuff.

Traditional Tenderising Methods:
These are the natural methods traditionally used to tenderise meats. Tenderising is basically used to minimise both the cooking time and the drying of muscle fiber, which are responsible for creating tough textures.

  • Physically changing the structure of the meat - by that we fragment the muscle fiber and the sheets of connective tissue. This is usually done by pounding the meat, or cutting or grinding. For instance, when we pound pieces of veal to create the escalopes or scallopini, what we are doing is making the pieces thinner, which requires less time to cook, therefore sparing them the loss of fluids and the pounding itself makes the meat more tender. The same applies to ground beef, and cutting smaller pieces such as the cubes.
  • Marinating Meats - While most people think that marinades are only for flavouring meats (which is also true), however they are also tenderisers. Marinades are usually acidic liquids in which the meat is immersed for hours (sometimes up to days) before cooking the meat. The acid cuts through the fat and weakens muscle tissues, as well as increase the meat's ability to retain moisture. The most common use of this method is in making stews, where the meat is usually immersed in a mixture of aromatics and an acidic liquid such as wine, left to sit for a while and then cooked in the marinade. The only draw back to this method, is the marinade usually takes long to penetrate the meat, which is why it is not an instant process and needs to be done ahead of time. As well as the fact that the marinated meats can be slightly sour in flavour especially with the use of lemon juice, vinegars and wines; but that is why you have other options for acidic liquids, such as: fruit juice, natural fig's extract, buttermilk or yogurt, all of which are traditionally used to soak meats. 
Did you know that meat marination goes back in time to the Renaissance, where it was used primarily to slow the spoilage of meat as well as give flavour? Today we use this method to both flavour and tenderise, but if the need should ever arise, it is good to know that marinades extend the shelf-life of meat, as acid kills microbes!
  • Brigning Meats - is one of my favourite methods, especially when it comes to turkey! (Off-topic but you must try brigning your turkey, it will never be more succulent, moist or tender. Furthermore, brigning your turkey takes away the need of rubbing it with massive amounts of butter!) Brigning is basically immersing meats in a liquid that is 3-6% salt. What this does is that the salt disrupts the structure of muscle filaments, making them weaker, so they can't coagulate into the dense aggregates as they cook, which makes the meat more tender. Moreover, the interaction between the salt and protein of the meat make it able to retain more water in the muscle cells, which makes for juicier meat (the osmosis effect). This whole process also increases the meat's absorption of aromatics molecules from any herbs or spices placed in the brine. What is not to like! The only disadvantage to this method though, is that drippings will be quite salty, which some would balance by including sugar or fruit juices...
  • Larding Meats - A more labourious and less likely method for you to use (but worth mentioning here to cover all) is the traditional French method referred to as 'larding'. Which is the insertion of slivers of fat into the meat by injections. Here you are changing the meat's fat content and the injected fat will break some of the fibers and connective tissue sheets, all of which will make for more tender meats.
TIP 
It is worth mentioning here that there is another method to tenderise cooked meat. Say you have accidentally overcooked the meat and it became too dry, you can salvage the situation by shredding the meat and pouring the collected cooking juices over it. This will coat the meat with a film of their own lost juices. Juices cling better to cold meat, so allow it to cool, covered, before reheating. And the smaller the shreds the more liquid clings to the surfaces of the meat. Another method is to slow cook the shreds in their juices for prolonged time, which will always create more tender meats.

Photo courtesy of OBE Organic

For Successful Grilling & frying of Meat:

Because grilling and frying are cooking methods that involve high heat, they tend to overcook the outer layer of the meat while the interior cooks through. This can be minimised by one of these two methods:

  • Pre-warming the meat - the warmer the meat before you cook, the less time it requires to cook through, which means less time where the outer layer is subjected to heat therefore less dry.
  • Flipping the meat during cooking - If texture and moisture are more important than creating the perfect grill marks on your meat, then flip the meat every 1 minute. This reduces its exposure to heat, and allows it to cook faster, which lessens the drying of the outer layer. However, if you do want to have those beautiful grill marks, you should not flip the meat more than twice.





Always Remember: The key to cooking meat properly is knowing when to stop!


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