Food for Thought



People who are seasoned cooks and chefs might mock this post, but I have been cooking for over 10 years and it wasn’t until 3 months ago that I ever heard of this, so I am sharing it.

I think it’s pretty sad to work hard on a meat dish and pull it out of the oven to find that the lovely golden brown crispiness and color is not there. A crispy skin on a roast chicken, for example, can change the whole experience of eating it. Browned, crackling skin adds texture and flavor (and looks prettier and thus more appetizing).

I have been taking cooking classes at ICE and I finally asked one of the chefs what the deal is with achieving (or not achieving) this desired effect. I thought it would be an easy answer, but then came out drawing boards and a mini lesson in chemistry and a man named Louis Camille Maillard.[peekaboo_content]

To super summarize, Maillard is the man who discovered the chemical reaction behind developing flavors and the golden brown color we all see in food magazines, whether it’s chicken, fish, pork, beef, lamb, the crust of bread, and a bunch of other stuff. Heat creates a chemical reaction between natural sugars contained in the food and the amino acids. This chemical reaction creates color, crispiness, and yumminess. The higher the heat, the more these molecules jump around and do molecule things that develop flavors and aromas.

SO, the moral of the story is: If you can create the Maillard Reaction while cooking, you also develop the desired aromas/tastes in your food. Here are some tips that I have learned to help achieve this:

1)     DRY YOUR MEAT. I mean, really SUPER dry your meat before cooking it. If a recipe calls for washing meat, I use damp paper towels and pat it down. DON’T run the meat under the faucet! Once you have rinsed meat with wet paper towels, dry it repeatedly until it’s time for the oven. Personally, I also take the grill out of my oven, lay it over a baking dish and let whatever meat just hang out there and dry out while I am prepping my mise en place for other parts of my meal.

2)     TRY NOT TO BUY MEAT THAT HAS BEEN PREVIOUSLY FROZEN. (I learned this the hard way). Freezing and reheating meat can make the texture gummy and gross. Finding meat that has not been frozen can be tricky, but not everyone/everywhere freezes their meats, so ask around.

3)     LIMIT MOISTURE IN THE OVEN. Water will slow or stop the Maillard reaction, so when cooking in an oven, it’s important to encourage the dry and hot environment. Don’t stress about moisture and tenderness, all food (including meat) already has water within it and that will keep it moist.

In future recipes (like one later this week), if there is a step that is essential for this reaction to occur, I’ll point it out and link back to this page.[/peekaboo_content] [peekaboo]Content [/peekaboo]

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