For this article, I’ve gathered some meat tips and useful facts that were too short to warrant their own article. May this save you some of the failures I had before either discovering these tips or figuring them out myself. I’ll continue to collect these tips for future installments in this series.
Who doesn’t love a good Cajun-style blackened chicken? Who does love the excessive smoke and splattering that generally happens when you attempt this cooking method? I’ve had many failures of blackened chicken over the years, from over-splattering and a messy kitchen to a disappointing and almost burnt dinner.
Cook’s Illustrated Issue 172 gives a thorough article on one chef’s experiments with blackening chicken. In a nutshell, the reason blacked chicken is so richly flavorful is the delicate combination of browning, caramelization and pyrolysis (burning) of the proteins, sugars, and spices on the chicken. The three main tips for a good blackened chicken:
- Minimize the fat used in cooking. Less fat means less splatter. 3 tbsp. of butter is sufficient.
- Make sure the cutlets are pounded thin, and have an even thickness. You’re counting on quick cooking, and a cutlet that’s thicker on one side will ruin your balance, potentially burning the thinner side before the thicker side is done.
- As an additional tip, when flattening chicken for cutlets, place the chicken inside a gallon plastic bag and then pound thin. Plastic wrap works, but tends to slip and sometimes splatter chicken or pork juice from underneath it.
- Cover the cooking surface as much as possible. In your skillet, arrange the chicken cutlets puzzle style to have as little of the bottom of the pan showing as possible. This minimizes the smoking potential of the fat, and keeps splattering to a minimum.
Carryover Cooking Helps Cheap Beef Roasts Stay Tender
Beef has natural enzymes that help tenderize the meat while it’s cooking, but those processes halt after the meat’s internal temperature exceeds 122F. Tougher cuts like a pot roast or eye-round roast can be elevated by implementing a method called carryover cooking. The idea is to first sear the outside of the roast to get some good browning (not to seal in juices, as the common folk wisdom states), then roast at a low temperature (225F) for a long time in order to maintain an internal temperature of just below 122F for as long as possible. Once the meat reaches 115F, turn off the oven and leave the meat inside the oven to continue cooking as the oven cools. This gentle heat, called carryover cooking, will finish the meat slowly and give these enzymes time to break down the tougher fibers.
Don’t forget to rest any meat cooked. As an additional tip, slicing any cheaper cut of meat very thinly against the grain shortens muscle fibers and makes any cut seem more tender.
Why You Shouldn’t Use a Wok on Western Stoves
If you’re in the West (Europe, North America) and want to make your own stir fries, you may be tempted to purchase a wok. I did, and I rarely use it anymore. The results were unsatisfying, and my meat and vegetables came out more steamed than stir fried. Why?
A wok is designed for pit-style stoves where the flames (and thus the heat) will make contact with both the sides and the bottom of the wok. Western stoves are flat, so the wok only has a tiny amount of surface area (the very bottom) in contact with the Western stove. This leads to extremely inefficient heating, where the bottom of the wok is too hot, and the sides are too cold. When you add food, the temperature in the pan plummets, and will cook more slowly. The slower cooking and bowl-shape of the wok allows for more steam to stay in the wok, preventing the crispiness of a good stir fry. I had too many instances of soggy vegetables in a stir fry before learning that, in fact, a good old 12″ skillet is the best for stir fry.
- If you need to score meat or slice meat very thinly for an Asian stir fry, do so when the meat is still partially frozen. You will find the slicing is easier, more consistent, and safer since the meat won’t be as slippery.
- A tiny addition of sugar to your salt rub or a sprinkle on top of meat or fish prior to browning will caramelize quickly and help jumpstart browning of meat. This is especially important for fish, as you want a nice crust to develop without drying out the fish. Fish is a very delicate meat to work with, and is too easy to overcook, so help it out with a tiny sprinkle of sugar. You’ll get a beautiful crusting and a juicy interior, and will not notice any taste of sweetness at all.
- America’s Test Kitchen. The Science of Good Cooking(2012). ISBN: 978-1-933615-98-1
- Cook’s Illustrated (Iss: 171). July/August 2021
- Cook’s Illustrated (Iss: 172). September/October 2021