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Ask the Chef

Q: Why do we cook meat and what happens to it when it is cooking?

A: Usually we roast or grill meats at higher temperatures uncovered to cause the Maillard effect or browning. This process in itself adds flavor to your meat even without seasoning it. Given these high temperatures the protein starts to change during the cooking process and the collagen in the meat starts to break down. This process causes the protein to slightly tenderize; however, over cooking and moisture loss can cause the exact opposite to happen and you can end up with a tough, dry and flavorless piece of meat. Proteins that have a higher amount of collagen and connective tissue need to be cooked using moist heat like braising. Typically you would brown the protein first by roasting it or pan searing it providing the flavor before a liquid is added and a cover is put on. Tougher cuts like a blade roast or cross rib roast need moist heat when cooking. More tender cuts like inside round or outside flat are roasted uncovered with no liquid. Even the most tender cuts like Tenderloin and rib eye roasts can be roasted but again with no liquid and uncovered.

 Q: What is resting and why do you rest meat after it is cooked?

A: One of the key factors in preserving the juiciness of a freshly cooked piece of protein is to let it rest before cutting into it. I have seen many people remove their steak from the grill or roast from the oven and immediately cut into it releasing all of the juices onto the plate. The seasonings, marinades and or rubs can only do so much. I believe that the cooking method and resting time effects the overall flavor of the protein after cooking no matter what seasoning, rub or marinade you use. The key is having the perfect balance of tenderness, juiciness and seasoning for the perfect meal. The cooking process is quite aggressive. When the protein is in the oven or on the grill the muscle tissue starts to contract squeezing the juices towards the center of the meat. Some of the moisture from the tissue leaks out into the pockets between the tissue and the molecules. Once the meat is cooked it is important to let the muscle tissues rest or relax from the aggressive cooking process. Some people say that the moisture that is pushed to the center of the meat during the cooking process is absorbed back into the tissue during resting. Resting can vary from 5 minutes to 15 minutes depending on the size of the protein you are cooking. Once the protein is cooked to the desired doneness; remove it from the direct heat either on a plate, serving platter, or cutting board. Do not cut into the protein. Just leave it there while you finish some of the other preparations for your meal. After the resting period it is now time to slice into your meat. It will be juicy, tender and full of flavor. There should be very little moisture leaking out of it. Most of the juices should remain in the protein giving you the perfect balance of flavor, tenderness, and juiciness.

 Q: What is carry-over cooking and how do I avoid over cooking my meat?

A: Carry-over cooking happens during the resting period. This means that your meat will continue to cook as it sits. The reason is that the residual heat from the hotter outside continues to heat towards the cooler center of the protein. Usually a piece of protein will climb 10-15 degrees in temperature. It is extremely important to remove your protein 10-15 degrees cooler than you want your final temperature. For example poultry is cooked to a final temperature of 180 degrees. You would remove it from direct heat at 165 degrees and let it rest for the 10-15 minutes. When checking the internal temperature of your protein, insert a thermometer into the center of the protein. This will give you the most exact way to judge the doneness of your meat. If you follow these simple guidelines you will always have a tender, juicy, and flavorful piece of meat.

 Q: What is the most effective way to calibrate my thermometer?

A: A thermometer can be calibrated very easily. First fill a medium container with ice and enough water to stir the ice (mostly ice). The temperature of ice water is 0 degrees. Insert your thermometer into the ice water and stir it around. The needle on the thermometer will move towards 0 degrees. If it stops before 0 or goes past 0 turn the nut directly under the top of the thermometer until the needle is at 0 degrees while holding the thermometer in the ice water. Some thermometers come with a sleeve that has a wrench built in, if yours doesn’t have one a crescent wrench works just fine. It’s that simple. Now your thermometer is ready to take the heat.