For many of us, meat is an important part of our daily diet. Whether it be beef, lamb, pork or chicken, it is important to know the basics of creating the most flavour possible.
Marinades seem to be first and foremost in people’s minds when it comes to creating flavour in cooked meats. Although they do create flavour, they are also important in making a cut of meat more tender.
The best marinades are made up from the simplest of ingredients that you have in your home already. Please don’t rely on the packages of powder you find at the supermarkets. Marinades are made up from a base, an acid, flavourful ingredients, and salt. The base of a marinade is usually oil, as this will aid in the cooking process. An acid such as vinegar, wine, or lemon juice is added to breakdown the tougher proteins found in the meat. Red meats, depending on the cuts, are the toughest and are better to marinate from one hour up to 24 hours. Chicken and pork proteins are much more delicate and are more preferably marinated for no longer than four to six hours. Over marinated chicken will actually start to become tough.
The flavour combinations that can be added to a marinade are literally endless. Crushed garlic, herbs, spices, and condiments, are just a few. Be creative! Don’t forget the salt as it is crucial to assist in the marinade penetrating the meat thoroughly.
Flavour creation does not only exist by marinating. Searing meats, marinated or not, is very important. There is usually no cooking method that should exempt one from searing meat first. This develops a crust that will carry flavour all the way through to the finished dish one is preparing. Stew, for example, has a more developed beef flavour when the stew meat pieces are browned prior to the addition of other ingredients.
Many presume searing seals juices inside the meat. This, however, is incorrect as no amount of searing can prevent the loss of moisture.
The flavour in crust development can be enhanced even further by the addition of seasoning. You may want to add salt & pepper to the meat prior to searing. This simple seasoning will then become part of the meat’s outer shell. Applying dry rubs, consisting of a mixture of many different spices, prior to searing is popular for adding a complexity of flavours.
Searing should be done at a high temperature with a small amount of oil that is suitable for high temperatures, such as avocado oil, grape seed oil, rice bran oil, or even canola or vegetable oil in a pinch. Do not crowd the pan or surface area, as this will decrease the temperature and cause the meat to simmer in its juices rather than caramelize. Searing also creates “browned bits” (called fond) on the bottom of a pan. Fond will also add depth in flavour to a sauce being created. To achieve this, add a liquid, such as wine or stock, to the pan and loosen these bits with a wooden spoon – just make sure the pan is not too hot and there is very little residual oil left in the pan. Use this liquid as a part of the sauce or reduce it further it to become a sauce of its own – I will always add a splash of whipping cream for better colour and consistency. The reduction process of these liquids will cause water to evaporate thus concentrating the flavours and creating a desired sauce consistency. Taste and adjust the sauce as necessary prior to serving.
Furthermore, I cannot end this column without mentioning the benefit of cooking over charcoal. Lump charcoal is one of the oldest known forms of cooking fuel to mankind. I am not talking about manmade square briquettes here, just natural lump charcoal (basically chunks of wood that are heated in a silo with very little or no oxygen). The flavour complexity lump charcoal adds to meat, vegetables, and other foods is unparalleled to anything else and simply switching to lump charcoal from your usual choice of gas or propane as your grilling fuel will bring your food to a new level. Happy cooking!