Why It Tastes Better Sometimes…
I don’t tell many people this. Mainly because they think I am a show-off.
Raw meat has very little flavour. Many people don’t like
it. Despite my love of a blue steak I do not much like raw meat
either. It has a slightly metallic iron
blood taste. A blue steak is cooked, and
does not. So there.
meat and other foods are cooked, a lot of complex chemical reactions
happen. The ones we want to happen are
known as Maillard reactions, chemical reactions between protein amino acids and
sugars at high temperatures. The
Maillard reactions break down the relatively large and fairly tasteless protein
and sugar molecules into smaller, more volatile, much “tastier” molecules. Most of our appreciation of our food is by
smell. That is why volatiles are so
important. It is also why spices and herbs work so well and why they are used
so much in old fashioned stews. But I
digress. This is why we brown meat
before stewing it.
reactions are the reason meat and onions and other foods turn brown. Without
Maillard reactions, however you cook it, meat will not have as much flavour,
unless you add some, such as spices, or tasty vegetables. Because Maillard reactions are so complex, food
scientists still do not have a good handle on them, or how they work, at least
the ones I knew didn’t, but they tell me the chemistry won’t happen until the
temperature of the food is somewhere over 140°C.
Anything boiled, stewed or braised in a pot of water or a casserole dish is not
going to make it, because even with salts and other dissolved ingredients, the
boiling point cannot be much above 104 °C or so, and Maillard reactions can’t
happen, at least not in meat. They may
happen at lower temperatures in milk. I
don’t remember who told me that, but I do know sweetened condensed milk can be
caramelised in the can by immersing the can in boiling water for a few hours. But
that is a dangerous practice, because if the water boils dry the can explodes. But
I digress once more…
that is why we brown meat first. NOT to
seal in the juices. That is an early
misconception, now an urban myth. No sealing takes place. Not possible.
roast recipes require the oven temperature to be raised quite high in the last
20 minutes or so of cooking, so that the roast browns and develops its flavour.
reactions only happen at or near the surface of food, because the moisture
inside prevents the temperature rising high enough. “Caramelised” is a term often used to
describe the results of Maillard reactions when browning sugar and proteins,
such as in onions, or when making toffee, or cooking braised lamb shanks.
the reason braised lamb shanks are so delicious, is that the meat is protruding
above the liquid, exposed to the very hot air of the oven, and if turned
frequently, the meat is glazed and caramelised all over. Also the bone conducts heat rapidly into the
well as adding spicy flavours, marinades add sugar and other complex molecules
to the surface of meat. One more good reason why barbecued steaks taste really
good. We deglaze a pan after frying
meats because that is where a great deal of flavour is left, and it is perfect
for making a good tasty sauce or gravy.
frying, and basting with very hot fat all raise the temperature sufficiently to
allow Maillard reactions to go on. That
is why us tubby people are so reluctant to go onto an exclusive diet of steamed
fish and braised skinless chicken breasts, and poached eggs. They may have less fat, but they also have