Beef: Removing excess moisture
How are we supposed to go about frying meat these days? No matter what temperature I use and across almost all types of meat, I invariably end up boiling it in its own water for the first 5 to 10 minutes until the water has evaporated, and then fry from then. But that makes cooking a decent steak pretty much impossible, doesn’t it? I doubt you’ll be able to convince me it’s to preserve the meat either.
Frying meat — I have to say it doesn’t actually sound that appealing a thing to do. I think of frying fish, eggs or potatoes, but I’m not sure meat should be fried. Personally, because cuts of meat tend to be thickish (excepting bacon) I prefer to cook them in either a griddle pan or on the barbecue. If I do use a pan, then if it’s something like a lamb rump, I’ll place it into the oven to finish which gives a more even cooking. I have been known to cook duck breasts in a pan with a lid on, slightly ajar, which helps build up a constant heat and this works well, and keeps the oven clean. As I type this now I realise there’s actually no reason meat can’t be fried, so long as it is cooked evenly so you don’t end up with burnt edges and raw insides. A beef steak or lamb chop could, I guess could be cooked just as well as slab of tuna — the latter I’d have no hesitation in cooking in a pan.
If your meat is leaking water, then it might just be that it has been soaked in water to bulk it up. As we all pay for our meat by the kilogram, you might in fact be paying for water, not protein. In the old days this technique was used by dodgy processors of bacon, scallops and prawns among other things, all of which would weep water into the pan in which you cooked them once defrosted. On the grill you’d be less likely to notice it of course, but it was a terrible practice, and I’d like to believe it is not operating in 2013. If you’re finding the same with all varieties of meat then buy your meat from another shop, or use another brand and see if you notice any improvement.
Personally I haven’t noticed it myself either cooking at home or in the restaurant. One way you could possibly prevent weeping meat would be to gently press it between two Chux cloths and a tea towel for five minutes by resting a plate on top, and I do mean gently. Hopefully this will force out any excess water. Another technique could include lining a colander with a tea towel and a few Chux cloths and draining the meat, and I guess this would be good for diced meat for a stew or similar.
Lastly, you could lay your meat (patted dry previously) on a tray in the fridge, lined with a tea towel. Lay several cloths loosely over the meat and leave to dry out for 24 hours. Don’t cover with cling film as that will prevent it drying out. The air inside a fridge is desiccated (drying it out) and this can be useful for all sorts of things. However, always make sure you keep raw meat on the tray on the bottom of the fridge, with no blood dripping anywhere, away from any uncovered foods. In fact, you should never leave food uncovered in the fridge for the very reason that it will dry out, and also from a health and safety viewpoint; you don’t want to cross-contaminate your other food.
Some of the best beef steaks you can eat these days are cut from dry-aged joints of beef. By drying either the whole beast or individual joints out, the flavour intensifies and the meat becomes very tasty — rather like the intensity of mild vegemite. Less water equals more flavour. In fact there are restaurants now where they brag about curing their meat in a cabinet lined with blocks of Himalayan pink salt. Who knew? The salt draws the moisture from the air, and therefore the beef itself. If this is the length some people are going to, to un-moisten their meat, then perhaps you have a very valid point.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you’re stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.