They say cooking is an art but it’s also a science and learning some of the science behind food and cooking can be both fascinating and empowering – just ask any baker. The more I understand, say, about what’s happening to an ingredient when I cook it in a particular way, or the science behind combinations of different ingredients, the more confident I feel to experiment.
A fascinating and useful tip I gleaned from McGee on Food & Cooking (see here for an in-depth review of this amazing book) is that there is no such thing as ‘sealing’ meat. After reading about this I’m surprised at how often I read about sealing meat in recipes, even from very experienced cooks.
The idea that it was possible to seal the moisture into a piece of meat by cooking it quickly at high temperatures (or searing it) was postulated around 1850 and even though this was disproved a few decades later the idea lives on. Searing meat does not create a water proof crust, just a really tasty one. This gets our own juices flowing and so probably contributes to our experience of juiciness from seared meat.
While I’m on meat, another useful tip from McGee is that the best way to pan cook or BBQ a piece of meat (unless you really want the perfect grill marks) is to turn the meat frequently – about once per minute. Now this goes against everything I’ve always been told which is to not fiddle with the meat once it’s on the heat, just flip once. The rationale totally make sense though. For texture and moistness,
Frequent turns mean that neither side has the time either to absorb or release large amounts of heat. The meat cooks faster, and its outer layers end up less overdone.
Well, fancy that!