We’ve all been there: the meat seems cooked to perfection, presented beautifully on the plate with its glimmering, enticing succulence, and as you place it in your mouth you anticipate culinary heaven, only to find…you’re chewing…and chewing…and chewing…
Yep. Tough, chewy meat can really put a damper on your eating experience, which is why it’s always worth tenderizing meat before you cook it. This means weakening the muscle fibers so that the meat becomes much softer, easier to chew and (more often than not) yummier.
Fortunately, even the toughest hunks of meat can be turned into juicy, buttery cuts if you know how. Scroll down to find out how to tenderize meat using chemicals, heat or good ol’ brute force!
As great lovers of ingredients, we’ll always opt for some kitchen alchemy before we turn to other techniques. You can buy chemical tenderizers in most grocery stores, which are easy to sprinkle over your meats before cooking, but we recommend going a more natural route, via fruits, vegetables and other everyday ingredients.
Many acidic fruits and veggies contain enzymes that slowly break apart meat fibers, softening the flesh and making it easier to chew. Now, it’s important to be careful about your choice of fruit, as some are too effective for their own good: pineapples, for example, can turn meat into a mushy, unpalatable mess. But we highly recommend making a puree or marinade out of ingredients such as lemon, lime, ginger, kiwi, papaya, vinegar, yoghurt or wine. Simply make your marinade of choice, place it in a bag or bowl, and let your meat soak in it for 24 hours. During this time, the meat will soak up those juices and acquire a more tender, succulent texture. Just be aware that it will also acquire the marinade’s flavor, so you should think about whether those flavors will compliment your sides, not to mention the meat itself!
If you want to keep it really simple, you can always just sprinkle some sugar over the meat before cooking it, which will sufficiently tenderize it without adding too much flavor.
With Brute Force:
Another popular tenderizing method – one that doesn’t involve added ingredients – is the use of physical force. Simply cover your meat in a strong plastic bag or paper wrapping, place it on a cutting board, and pound it evenly with a firm tool such as a rolling pin. It’s best to do this with the meat still cold. By pounding the meat, you’re essentially “chewing” it before it’s even been cooked, making the eating experience more pleasurable. Be sure to flip the meat halfway through, and pound it evenly so that the whole cut is tenderized.
For especially tough pieces of meat – we’re thinking collagen-rich cuts with lots of connective tissue, such as briskets, shanks or ribs – the best way to tenderize them is with long, slow heat. This can be a tricky business: cook them at too low a temperature or for too short a time, and the collagen fibers won’t break down sufficiently. Stewing or braising slowly are the most reliable methods, ideally around 160 Fahrenheit for however long it takes to make even the toughest fibers soft to the touch.