In over 25 years of professional cooking, I’ve learnt a lot about cooking meat – from experts and also through trial, error and practice. How to cook meat is a question I’m asked again and again. Good quality meat is expensive and definitely worthy of getting right. This prompted me to put together a meaty checklist:
Suit the cooking technique to the cut
I like to pay respect to any animal which has given up its life for us to eat and I like to use all of it. Depending on the occasion and season, I may choose primary or secondary cuts or offal. As a rule with red meat, the cheaper, secondary cuts need long, slow cooking. The primary, more expensive cuts can be cooked more quickly and not necessarily all the way through. However, fashion in food changes and while lamb shanks were once disdained, as a more popular cut, their price has increased!
Room temperature is best
Always remove meat from the fridge 15 to 30 minutes prior to cooking. This will avoid uneven cooking – overdone on the outside and raw in the middle. It will also avoid having to adjust cooking times.
Starting with a hot pan
Pale, blonde-looking meat is not only unattractive but the taste suffers too. The best way to maximise flavour and obtain an aesthetically appealing dish is to heat the pan well before adding oil or fat and finally meat, fish or poultry. That sizzle sound is good. This will also avoid food that sticks. I also like to salt my meat, just before I seal it.
A meat thermometer takes out the guesswork
When dealing with a large roast, by all means calculate the cooking time based on weight, however inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest part is the easiest way to avoid under or over cooking. A meat thermometer is a small investment to make when seeking a perfectly roast chicken or medium-rare beef roast. Some ovens come standard with a digital probe, however it is just as easy to pick a thermometer up from a kitchen supplies shop.
Don’t turn, turn, turn meat, fish or poultry too often when cooking
It is very important to leave food alone when cooking, particularly when grilling and especially when barbequing. The piece of meat, fish or poultry must develop a crust on one side before turning. It also needs to heat up right through. If you keep turning it, the heat stays on the surface and the inside doesn’t get cooked properly. When to turn? Ideally once. A spatula or tongs will slide easily underneath the meat and the crust will stick to the meat not the pan. This is true for both regular and non-stick pans.
Give it a rest
Depending on size, all meat should be rested from 5 minutes (a chicken breast) to 30 minutes (a whole bird or a standing beef rib roast). Or as a guide rest it for half the cooking time. When removing the meat from the oven ‘tent’ it with foil to keep it warm and set aside to allow the juices, which migrate in the centre of the meat, to distribute throughout. This applies for both expensive and inexpensive cuts. This provides time to turn up the oven to crisp the potatoes or cook the Yorkshire pudding, as well as transfer the roasting dish to the stovetop and turn the pan juices into gravy.
Season season season
Recipes will often say ‘season to taste’. Learn to use your palate and remember that while under-seasoning may ruin a carefully constructed dish, it can be corrected, over-seasoning for the most part, cannot. Proceed with caution and taste, taste and taste again. It’s always best to season during the cooking rather than adding afterwards, except for something like a risotto as some stocks can be quite salty.
Boiling when you should be simmering
Slow cooking cannot be fast-tracked by excessive boiling. It doesn’t work that way. The result will be a tough, dry dish. Simmering is when a bubble breaks the surface every second or two and boiling is a more vigorous bubble.
Get to know your butcher
Don’t be restricted by the more usual cuts such as rump, eye fillet and sirloin, look out for the newer cuts like skirt and brisket. Brisket is one of my favourite cuts of beef. It can be cooked quickly – ask the butcher to cut it v-e-r-y thinly – and is delicious seared in a very hot pan or barbecue and served with a Korean style dipping sauce. Brisket also benefits from being slow cooked. A very “now” recipe is Tex Mex style pulled beef sliders with a quick pickle.
Lyndey Milan, Australian home cook hero, combines a thirst for life and a sense of fun with a love of good food and sparkling shiraz. A familiar face on television and in print, she been instrumental in changing the way Australians think and feel about food and wine for over twenty-five years.