More Ways to Make Meat Tender.
Over the last week or so I have written about methods of preserving meat in previous times. Another problem often begging to be solved by meat-cooks and meat-eaters is that of tough meat. Last week we had a glimpse of Benjamin Franklin’s experiments on the tenderizing of meat by electricity, and the Tartar Method of Preserving Meat given in yesterday’s post also purported to increase tenderness as well as improve flavour. I thought I would see what other methods of tenderizing meat I could glean from old books and newspapers, and share them with you.
Many sources suggest chopping or mincing the meat, which I think negates the issue rather than solving it, especially if what you crave is a slab of the stuff. Another common recommendation is to thrash your slab of meat with a rolling pin or mallet, but I have never felt that the sacrifice in texture is worth it – and anyway, it is not going to work for your dish of chicken drumsticks. One time-honoured way of course is to ‘age’, or ‘hang’ meat until it reaches a satisfactory degree of tenderness (and high-flavour) by putrefaction. A number of ideas in relation to this method have been touched on in previous posts, including several seventeenth century ideas of “Keeping flesh long uncorrupted” and an eighteen century method of rescuing the situation when the process has progressed too far and it is necessary “To save potted birds that begin to be bad.”
Here are a couple of ideas from a text published by the American Public Health Association in 1890 - Practical Sanitary and Economic Cooking Adapted to Persons of Moderate and Small Means (1890) by Mary Hinman Abel.
To Make Meat Tender.
It is well known that meat must be kept some time after killing to make it tender. In winter, a large piece of beef or mutton will keep for six weeks if hung in a dry, cool place. Indeed, this is the time allowed in England for the Christmas “shoulder of mutton,” and every few days it is rubbed over with salt and vinegar. In summer, unless the butcher will keep the meat for you, you must resort to other means.
A tough piece of meat may be laid in not too strong vinegar for 3 or 4 days in summer and twice as long in winter, adding to the vinegar such spices as you may like. To soften a tough steak pour a few spoonfuls of vinegar on and let stand for twelve or twenty-four hours. This method has been long recommended and is to some extent used among us; the foreign cook employs sour milk for the same purpose and with even greater success, but this must be changed every day and at the end of the time well washed from the meat.
We cannot too strongly urge that the housekeeper, especially if she be straightened in means, should become used to these methods and practice them occasionally. She does not want to confine herself to soups and stews and she cannot buy “porter-house” steak at 20 or 25 cents a pound, but she can buy "round" at half that price, and after a little experiment can make it tender for boiling, roasting or broiling by one of these methods. In winter, she should buy a supply of meat ahead and keep it until it grows tender.
And if vinegar works, why not up the ante and use vinaigrette?
To Make Meat Tender.
If the fact can be demonstrated to a cook that meat can be made tender by softening the fibers with the action of a little vinegar, there will be no reason why she should send a tough steak to the table. If she can be convinced that it is better to turn it over on a plate containing a little vinegar, salad oil, and pepper four or five times in a couple of hours, instead of trying to make it tender by battering ti with a rolling pin or cleaver, and so forcing out all its juices, she must be obstinate indeed if she prefers to latter method.
Brazil Register (Brazil, Indiana) of May 12, 1881.
Or instead of acid, try soda:
How to make meat tender.
Cut the steaks, the day before, into slices about two inches thick, rub them over with a small quantity of soda, wash off next morning, cut into suitable thickness, and cook as you choose. The same process will answer for fowls, legs of mutton, etc. Try, all who love delicious, tender dishes of meat.
New Albany Ledger (New Albany, Indiana) October 17, 1881
And my personal favourite idea:
The sap of the papaya (pawpaw) tree, is used in India to make meat tender, and even the exhalations from the tree have the same effect. Assistant Surgeon Gopal Chunder Roy compares the action to that of a ferment, and suggests the administration of a few grains of dried juice after meals in cases of indigestion, caused by deficient secretion of gastric juice.
Columbus Bartholomew Democrat October 31, 1873
Now, if only I could get a pawpaw tree to exhale upon the raw meat ….
If none of the above methods are appropriate, then surely the most time-honoured way is to cook your tough meat very slowly, as in our recipe for the day:
Stew with Vegetables.
Coarse or tough pieces of meat will answer for this. Put them in a kettle with carrots, turnips, onions, dried peas or beans, all or either of them, only some onion is necessary. Slices of potato may be added, but should be put in later than the meat. Also green peas grown old and hard, or lettuce too old for salad, or green onions. Add salt and pepper, herbs or celery seed (or leaves), tomatoes, or any such seasoning, to vary the dish and suit the taste and convenience. Cover with water or weak broth, and stew slowly till the meat is quite tender. Dry peas and beans may need previous boiling. If put on after breakfast, the stew will be ready for dinner. Some dumplings may be added to it.
Newport Daily News (Newport, Rhode Island) April 27, 1875