From silky beef stir fry, to melt-in-your-mouth marinated steak, to juicy braised short ribs, tenderised meat elevates dishes to a new level. But what’s involved in the process, and how can you make sure you get the best results? We break down the nitty gritty of tenderising meat to help you ensure your next kitchen venture is a cut above the rest.
What is tenderised meat?
Before delving into any new skill, it helps to understand the ins and outs first. A number of factors come into play when it comes to the tenderness of meat; namely the meat grain and the amounts of fat and connective tissue present. To increase the tenderness, different processing techniques may be used.
In essence, tenderising involves slow cooking or pounding meat with a meat tenderiser to break up the muscle fibres. The tighter the muscle, the tougher the meat. By disrupting the muscles and tissues, the meat becomes softer, juicier and more palatable, therefore enhancing its overall quality.
The manual act of pounding or beating meat is a popular method for damaging the connective tissue, resulting in a thinner and flatter cut of meat that cooks faster and more evenly. To achieve this, a tenderiser is used. These little hammer-shaped tools come in a variety of options, including sustainable materials such as beechwood and timeless aluminum mallets.
Many tenderisers come with two sides: the flat side can be used for pounding chicken, while the texturised side is ideal for tougher cuts of meat. It’s important to avoid going overboard – the goal is to tenderise the meat, not pulverise it. If holes start to appear, you know you’ve gone too far. Additionally, it’s a good idea to wrap your meat in baking paper first to reduce mess.
Types of meat best used with a tenderiser:
Ideal options for pounding include meats which are uneven in thickness or have a tougher quality, such as:
Naturally, you want to avoid using a tenderiser on cuts that are already tender – this includes premium cuts or dry-aged steaks.
Slow cooking meat
With a rich history dating back to the days of wooden cook stoves, slow cooking is another reliable method for producing a more tender meat. These days, it’s a handy way of popping dinner on in the morning so it’s ready when you get home from work.
Methods include simmering or braising on a stovetop, using a crock-pot, or cooking the meat covered in an oven.
By immersing the meat in liquid and using a low temperature, this process of slow cooking helps to soften the connective tissue without toughening the muscle. While over-cooking is certainly possible, leading to raggy cuts of meat, the low temperatures used prevent the meat from actually burning.
Types of meat best used in slow cooking:
In general, slow cooking is a good option if working with grass-fed meats, bony cuts, and cheaper meats that have high amounts of connective tissue and lean muscle fibres. Examples include:
On the other hand, something like chicken is likely to become tough and rubbery when slow cooked.