The Heat of the Meat....
There are many different ways to cook food: pressure cooking, slow-cooking, microwaving, steaming, and the more conventional hob and oven cooking - subdivided into wet and dry methods of cooking. How often do we say we prefer to cook by 'the wet method'? Probably never, but these are terms professional cooks use all the time, and as they have also learned the best way to cook different foods, delving into their text books has helped me to understand some of their jargon.
When it comes to recipes, far too little information is given. It is far more helpful to know WHY we do something, rather than just do it because it says so. With a little more 'know-how' plus practice and the incentive we can all move a step further up the ladder of culinary expertise. Lets hope today will open a few doors.
The three main methods of cooking:
dry methods are:
roasting, baking and grilling
hot fat methods are:
deep frying, shallow frying, sauteing, and stir-frying.
wet methods are:
boiling, steaming, poaching, and casseroling.
The cooking method depends upon the nature of the ingredients. Some foods (such as potatoes) can be cooked by most of the methods shown above. Other foods may be more delicate and some may require preparation before being cooked. As an example, dried beans need an initial overnight soak in water, followed by an 8 minute fast-boil (in order to destroy natural toxins). After than they can be cooked by some of the methods mentioned.
The method and choice of cooking red meat depends upon the cut of meat. Certain cuts are better suited to particular cooking methods. The cheapest cuts usually have more connective tissue and need cooking slowly for a long time by a moist (wet) heating method - which converts the connective tissue into gelatine. The older the animal, and the parts of the body that do more work (such as the neck) will have more of the tissue. Younger beasts and muscle that is not used to any great extent will have less of the connective tissue and smaller muscle fibres so more suitable for fast (dry) cooking such as frying or grilling. Prolonged dry cooking of this tender meat is not advised as it results in stringy, dry meat.
a general guide is to use an oven temperature of 180C, 350F, gas 4 the roasting times can be calculated according to the weight:
beef: 25 minutes per lb (450g) plus 25 minutes
lamb: 30 minutes per lb (450g) plus 30 minutes
pork: 35 minutes per lb (450g) plus 35 minutes
When foil or roasting bags are used the cooking times may need to be increased slightly.
As meat shrinks when being cooked, its 'juices' - a mixture of fat and water - will flow out, and use these to occasionally baste the joint while cooking. If the joint is a lean cut, baste more frequently to prevent the meat drying out. Interesting to know that meat naturally contains 75% water.
Grilling times vary according to the thickness of the meat. Thin meat can be cooked at a higher temperature for a shorter length of time. Thicker portions require a moderate to low heat for a longer period. Using a pre-heated grill, here are suggested cooking times for meat that is 1" (between 2 - 3 cm) thick except for the minute steak which should be as thin as possible. If the chosen meat is thicker than 1", increase the cooking time accordingly:
minute steak: 1 minute on each side
rare beef steak: 2.5 minutes on each side
well done beef steak: 6 minutes each side
fillet steak: 5 minutes each side
lamb chops: 5 - 8 minutes each side
lamb cutlets: 3 - 5 minutes each side
pork chops: 8 - 10 minutes each side
sausages: 10 - 12 minutes, turning constantly
liver and kidneys: 10 - 12 minutes, turning often
First fry the meat for two minutes over a high heat to seal in the juices, then reduce the heat to medium and turn the meat frequently. Try to use a bare minimum of oil.
Cooking times are roughly double the timing shown for grilling.
This form of cooking is especially suitable for the cheaper cuts of meat. In general, cook the meat in a moderate to low oven at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for around 2 hours. If cooking large quantities, extend the cooking time. Some recipes require the meat to be browned by fast-frying before being gently casseroled.
If the bird has been frozen, ALWAYS make sure it has been fully defrosted. If a bird is to be stuffed, include the weight of the stuffing when calculating cooking times. Also stuff the neck end of the bird only, and ever completely stuff a bird as this leads to poor heat transfer and it will not cook through thoroughly.
To help the bird stay moist, onions and /or lemons (even oranges) could be stuffed into the tail end of the bird, but these should not be eaten. If the bird is wrapped in foil, increase the cooking times by a little. Large birds should not be wrapped in foil, although they top may be 'tented' with a little greased foil for the first hour to prevent the skin becoming too brown. Remove foil for the remaining time.
To test if the bird is cooked, insert the tip of a knife or skewer into the thickest part of the leg. When the juices run clear the bird is ready. If the juices are pink, cook for a further 10 - 20 minutes and test again. Allow the bird to stand for 15 minutes before carving.
Only suitable for thin portions such as breast or drumsticks. Use only a moderately hot grill and cook for 20 - 30 minutes turning frequently. The meat should change from translucent to opaque and if this has not happened, cook for a further 5 - 10 minutes.
Poultry can be casseroled whole or in portions. Place in an oven-proof dish and cover the bird with stock, adding vegetables and herbs, and seasoning to taste. Cover and cook in a moderate oven 180C, 350F, gas 4 for one and a half to two hours depending on the size of the bird if cooking whole. Correctly cooked the poultry meat should be tender and fall easily away from the bones.
Using a large saucepan, put in the poultry joints, vegetables and seasoning. Add enough stock or water to cover and bring to the boil. Skim off any fat, then cover the pan, reduce heat and simmer for 20 - 25 minutes per pound (450g). If boiling a whole fowl, then increase the cooking time to 45 minutes per pound.
Poultry can be deep or shallow fried. Minced or diced poultry can be stir-fried quickly. Fast fry and stop the minute the meat is opaque and feels firm. Drain well.
microwaving is not recommended for raw poultry as it the thickness of the meat when on the bone means that to ensure it is cooked through it can be overcooked in other places.
An important one this as fish - being delicate - when cooked incorrectly can easily lose both texture and flavour and become dry and tough. A properly gutted fish only requires light cooking.
Oven cooked fish is always called baked, never 'roasted'. Baking is suitable for small whole fish, or the chunkier steaks and fillets and the oven temperature for these is 200C, 400F, gas 6, baking for 15 - 20 minutes according to the size of the fish. To prevent drying out, the fish can be baked in a foil parcel, otherwise baste frequently. Additional flavour can be gained by cooking with herbs and vegetables or basting with wine or stock.
When cooking a very large whole fish, the temperature should be reduced to 180C etc allowing 15 minutes to the lb (450g).
One of the fastest and most effective ways to cook small whole fish, fillets and steaks. Pre-heat the grill and line the grill pan with kitchen foil, shiny side up. Brush the foil with oil to prevent the fish sticking. A light brushing of oil to the fish itself will help to prevent it drying out too much. Grill for 8 - 10 minutes then remove from the grill immediately.
When grilling whole fish, make deep diagonal slashes through the skin and flesh down to the bone on both sides to allow better penetration of heat.
The best way to cook thin fillets or small flat fish. Pre-heat water in a pan to simmering point, then place a steamer over the top. Place the fish in the steamer than cover with a lid. It is important not to let the water boil - it should just shimmer on the surface.
Steaming should take about 10 - 15 minutes, although large fish or thicker fillets will need a longer cooking time, taking care not to overcook.
Similar to steaming only the fish is in direct contact with the liquid. Suitable liquids are stock, milk, wine, cider or just water. When intending to make a sauce to go with the fish, poach the fish in the milk then use the milk to make the sauce.
Poach in an uncovered pan for 5 - 8 minutes, but never allow the liquid to boil - just keep it at a simmer or even slightly below.
Shallow frying or stir-frying is most suitable for fish fillets, steaks and small seafood such as sprats and whitebait. When the fish is coated with seasoned flour (then tapped to remove excess flour) this will give a crisp pleasant textured coating and helps prevent the fish breaking when being fried. Egg and crumbing give the same, but thicker, effect.
Shallow frying will take 3 - 10 minutes in pre-heated oil depending upon the thickness. When frying larger pieces, start with a high heat to seal the coating, then reduce the heat down and cook slowly until the fish is tender.
When deep frying, the fish should always be coated with a batter, or flour, egg and crumbs. The temperature of the oil should be between 170C/340F to 190C/375F. The temperature should depend upon the thickness of the fish. Test the oil with a cube of bread, and when it sizzle briskly and browns in one minute the temperature should be correct. Frying should take between 3 - 4 minutes, and the fish drained well before serving.
The fishy flavours get into the oil, so it should not be continually used, and changed fairly often. Do not waste fresh oil by topping it up.
Now we come to two lesser used methods of cooking. Only general info has been given given, as the cooking times for different foods we would need to refer to the instruction booklet that came with 'cooker'.
The boiling point of water is 100C. The addition of any 'impurities' - such as salt - will raise the boiling point slightly which means the food will be cooked faster. Vegetables cook better at slightly higher than boiling point which is why salt should always be added to the water when boiling in the normal way, and why steaming (steam aslo havng a higher temperature) is an even better way to cook veggies.
Altering the pressure will also alter the temperature, and at high pressures the boiling point of water will increase and the food will cook faster as more heat is transferred to the food in a shorter time.
It is important to follow manufacturer's instructions as cooking times will vary for different foods, and also depend upon the size of the food to be pressure-cooked.
Temperatures achieved in a pressure cooked are capable of killing any bacteria present.
Unlike vegetables, protein will cook at a temperature below boiling point, so a slow cooker is ideal for cooking the cheaper, tougher meats as long slow cooking makes the meat extremely tender and full of flavour. A slow cooker is also suitable for cooking pulses (after the initial soak and 8 minute fast boil), some vegetables and to make soups and porridge etc.
It is best to first part-cook vegetables that need more heat to become tender (carrots etc) then add them to the pot. Onions cook very well in a slow-cooker. Other raw vegetables should be chopped small and placed nearer the heat source.
The high and low settings on a slow-cooker will eventually both reach the same temperature of 92C, the only difference is the speed at which that temperature is reached. The high setting can reach that in 30 minutes, but the low setting takes considerably longer. It is best to use the low setting for tougher cuts of meat, so that it can takes it time and cook slowly for several hours (a whole day if you wish), the slower the cooking, the more tender the meat, and for anyone caught in a traffic jam and arriving home hours later than intended, anything slow-cooked will not be spoiled.
When using a slow-cooker, always turn it on as you load it. Never put meat or chicken into the unheated dish and then let it stand around (covered or uncovered) before cooking. If a casserole has been prepared in advance (up to cooking) then keep it in the fridge until ready to load. Never turn the slow-cooker off and leave the food in the dish after cooking. The cooked food should be served up (or cooled and chilled) immediately. Do not keep adding to the stew in order to top it up.
When food has been cooked it should only be re-heated once, whether initially cooked in our own kitchens, or as a bought cook-chill product/ready meal. Food that is repeatedly heated is less nutritious and less safe.
When re-heating, the food should be heated through until piping hot to make sure bacteria is killed. If just 'warmed-up' any bacteria that may be there can multiply to dangerous levels and possibly produce toxins that are not killed by heat, so - if for some reason - the warmed up has to be set aside (even chilled) to be re-heated 'properly' later, these toxins may remain making the food very unsafe to eat. worth knowing that in one bacteria can, within an hour - multiply into billions.
The recommendation when re-heating food is to make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 70C for a minimum of 2 minutes. It is far better to over-heat food and allow it to cool down than undercook and under heat.
When re-heating in a microwave, always follow the standing times recommended by the manufacturer, as the heat still continues working its way through to the middle.