Grainyness in stew meat, how do I get rid of it?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by cato47, Jan 6, 2006.

  1. cato47

    cato47

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    I make stews quite often and the meat always has a grainy texture insted of being kind of slick when you bite into it and chew. I'm using pork tenderloin and beef cubes, but both are grainy. I always brown the meat and I've tried not browning the meat and it's still grainy in texture. How do I get this meat to a slick texture??

    Thanks cato47
     
  2. suzanne

    suzanne

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    If I understand what you mean by "graininess," there are two possible answers to your problem.

    1. Like wood, meat actually does have a "grain" -- meaning the fibers in it are all lined up in one direction. How are you cutting your cubes? It might be that where you want to be cutting "across the grain" you should be cutting with it, and vice versa. (Think about when you slice a flank steak -- to get slices you can actually chew you need to cut across the grain. Slice it with the grain and you get long, tough strings.)

    2. You might be overcooking the meat, at too high a temperature. It seems hard to imagine that stewed meat could be overcooked even in all the moisture, but if you cook it too long at too high a temperature, the muscle fibers in the meat can tighten up and dry out -- they literally squeeze out all the juices -- and no amount of sauce will make it any less dry or chewy. This is especially true when you're using very lean meat like pork tenderloin. And I'll bet you're using a lean cut of beef, too.* When you brown it, don't crowd the meat in the pan, and do cook it for a very short time at moderately high heat -- just enough to brown the outside. Then when you add the other ingredients including the liquid (or put everything in the pot if you haven't browned the meat first), bring it up to a boil quickly but then turn the heat down right away so that the stew barely simmers (just bubbles very gently). Stews need long, slow cooking, never boiling.

    *I could never understand why my father-in-law said the chicken breasts I cooked for him were too dry -- they were drowning in sauce! But I had overcooked the meat, so it really WAS dry and hard to eat. :(
     
  3. shahar

    shahar

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    Putting the stew in the oven at 300-325 makes it easier to control temp wise than stove top.
     
  4. suzanne

    suzanne

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    I hope cato47 doesn't mind that I share his followup with everyone:
    No, more oil won't help. The goodness of fat has to come from within. :p

    Sigh, we've been trained that fat is bad, so we think using extra-lean meat is always the best way to go. Wrong. :cry: Repeat after me: fat carries flavor and moisture, so fat is good. :p What's bad is eating too much of it. People also think that it's wasteful to use fatty meat in a stew, because you "lose" all the fat that comes out. But I think that you get so much more flavor that you can just eat less and be satisfied.

    The key to not drying out meat is to not shock it. :eek: Just like when you get a fright, you tense up -- when you hit meat with too much heat for too long a time, it literally tenses up and gets dry and tough. Gentle cooking is best, because it doesn't make the meat tense up, and it gives the internal fat plenty of time to melt and baste the meat from the inside out. Gentle cooking also gives flavors a chance to develop and blend. Since stews are better after they sit for a day or so, the fat that comes out of the meat can collect on top so your can remove it easily. You end up with tender meat, a lot of flavor, and very little fat in your mouth.

    My favorite cut for stewing pork is usually called country ribs. I don't cut it up, just cook it in the big pieces it comes in, on the bone. Then, after I've refrigerated it I can lift the congealed fat off the top of the sauce, and remove the bones -- and separate the internal fat from the meat to have a pretty lean but very tasty stew!

    For stewing beef, chuck is a good cut. Again, the important thing is removing the fat that has come out of the meat into the sauce.

    Today I was stewing some lamb neck -- big, bony pieces with a good amount of internal fat. I browned them in just a little oil, then put them in the slow cooker on low heat, covered them with boiling liquid, and let it sit from about 10:30 in the morning until about 4:00pm. I tested it a few times, sticking a fork in to see if the meat felt soft. That's more the way I cook -- not strictly by time, but by feel. But I'm sure other people can help you out with suggested timing.

    And Shahar's suggestion of using a low temperature in the oven is great. Low and slow is the way to go! :D
     
  5. cato47

    cato47

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    Suzanne: Thanks again for the help. You mentioned that you covered a dish with boiling liquid? What's that?

    Rick
     
  6. chefjosh

    chefjosh

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    It sounds like the problem is all about the tender cuts of meat you are using. For stews and other braised items choose from legs and shoulders front or rear. Those muscles are used far more than the middle of the animals. The more use the muscles get the tougher, and more flavorful the meat will be. You want tougher meats because they will get tender with the long slow cooking time.

    My suggestion would be to dice up some pork butt and beef chuck. Get a rondo large enough to hold your whole stew. Sear the meats in small batches so they brown quickly. After all your meat has been browned, remove meat from the pan, this is when I add the aromatics; onions etc. when aromatics are translucent pour off any residual fat. Put the pan back on high heat to deglase, for this you can use wine, stock or even water but the more flavor in the liquid the better, scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and then the rest of your ingredients. Bring the stew up to a boil then drop it to a simmer cover it and put it in a 300* oven . As the meats cook they will become more and more tender the stew is done when the meat is fork tender. This will take about 1 to 2 hour for a stew and longer for larger cuts of meat
    You should have no problem with the graininess with the right cuts of meat.

    If you want to thicken your stew dust the meat with flour before browning the browned flour will add depth of flavor as well as thickening your stew.

    Happy cooking and may all your stews be tender.
     
  7. scott123

    scott123

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    Successful braising doesn't have to be gentle. Braising is more about time than temp. Long moist cooking breaks down the protein fibers and melts the connective tissue. That breakdown occurs just as easily at 212 degrees as it does at 180.

    When you expose meat to extreme heat, it does tighten up, lose moisture and get tough/dry out. That I agree with. When you roast meat the goal is to keep as much of the moisture in as possible. If you heat it gently and take it to a particular temperature (and no higher) the protein fiber framework doesn't have a chance to tighten up and a high level of moisture/tenderness is maintained. Braising is a different story. With braising, you take the meat past, well past, the temperature where tightening/moisture expulsion occurs. The meat tightens, loses whatever moisture it's going to lose, and then, after hours and hours, softens up again. In essence, you're 're-loosening' the meat.

    Gentleness doesn't hurt the process, but it isn't essential. Succulent meat can be achieved just as easily in a pressure cooker (where temps exceed 230 degrees) as it can in a crockpot. Prolonged time is critical, as is fat/connective tissue content. Fat coats the protein fibers and prevents them from bonding with each other/getting tough. The weakened bond also prevents them from squeezing out as much water. Fat doesn't just equal flavor, it equals tenderness. Think about how the butter/shortening creates flakiness/tenderness in pie crust. The fat in meat does the same thing.

    Get a fatty/high connective tissue cut of meat and cook it for hours. If the stew boils during that time, it's not the end of the world.
     
  8. ma facon

    ma facon

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    Scott, Very true, Well said.:chef:
     
  9. suzanne

    suzanne

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    Right you are -- to some extent. ;) Especially about the pressure cooker, which brings liquid to higher than boiling point. But it is the pressure that works to tenderize the meat, not the temperature.

    I was just trying to get across that what cato47 refers to as "grainyness" is actually tough, overcooked muscle fibers -- more likely to occur when meat is cooked at too high a temperature for too long. There are many factors that affect the tenderness of cooked meat, starting with the cut and moving on to the cooking method, cooking temperature, cooking time, and even the resting period after cooking. And while it's true that the liquid in a stew or braise won't go higher than 212F/100C, you really don't want to keep the temperature up there for the whole cooking period. Why have to undo what need not have happened to such an extent in the first place?

    The best -- perfectly rare -- roast leg of lamb I ever made (from Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen) starts in an oven heated to 450F then immediately turned down to 250 and cooked for at least 2 hours, then rested for another 15 to 20 minutes. And think about sous vide cooking, in which the surrounding water rarely goes above a gentle simmer. I'm sticking with low and slow! :lol:
     
  10. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    So you guys don't think that boiling the juices in the meat will result in a tough piece of meat?

    Yeah right...