Expert Q&A

5 questions about cooking meat managed

Five of the chewiest questions about meat answered by our expert Pamela Clark.

Q: The meat in my stir-fry is often tough and chewy. Why is this?
A: It sounds as if you’re overcrowding the pan (or wok). When too much meat is added to the pan all at once, it decreases the heat of the pan and stews the meat in its own juices, causing it to become tough and chewy. The pan should be at a high temperature and the meat should be seared in small batches to seal in the juices. If stir-frying marinated meat, thoroughly drain the marinade before cooking. Cut the meat into thin strips across the grain, this shortens the fibre, making the pieces more tender.
Q: How do I know when my roast beef is cooked?
A: Insert a meat thermometer into the centre of the thickest part, away from any bone – the roast is cooked when the temperature is 63°C for medium-rare, 71°C for medium and 77°C for well-done. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, insert a fine skewer into the centre of the meat towards the end of the cooking time, and check the juice that runs out – red juice means rare, pink means medium, clear means well-done. To enhance juiciness, rest the meat, wrapped in foil, for 15 minutes before serving. You may find the cooking times, below, useful next time you are making a roast beef.
Rare: 240°C/220°C fan-forced for 15 minutes, then 180°C/160°C fan-forced for 15 minutes per 500g.
Medium: 220°C/200°C fan-forced for 15 minutes, then 180°C/160°C for 20 minutes per 500g.
Well-done: 220°C/200°C fan-forced for 10 minutes, then 180°C/160°C fan-forced for 25 minutes per 500g.
Q: Is it true that cutting meat against the grain will give it a more tender cut?
A: Yes, meat should always be cut against the grain for maximum tenderness (unless a recipe states otherwise). Meat is composed of small and large muscle fibres. The “grain” of the meat is the direction in which these fibres run. Cutting against the grain severs these fibres, making the meat more tender.
Q: How can I tell when my steaks are cooked medium-rare?
A: Press the surface of the steak with a finger or use the back of the pair of tongs. Rare steak feels soft and spongy; medium-rare feels soft and springy; medium-done feels firm but still springy; and well-done feels quite firm. Rest the steaks, wrapped or covered with foil, for 5 minutes before serving.
Q: My chicken roast always dries out. How do I keep it moist?
A: This can happen when the oven temperature is too high or the chicken is cooked for too long. Try covering the chicken with greased foil for an hour, then remove the foil to brown the chicken in the remaining cooking time. Another trick is to roast the chicken breast-side down. Or, to prevent the breast drying out, cover it with criss-crossed bacon rashers. In this case, don’t cook the chicken under the foil. To test if a chicken is cooked, insert a small metal skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. If the juices run clear, it is cooked; if they’re pink the chicken needs more cooking. If there aren’t any juices, then the chicken is overcooked.

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