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A Rare Treat!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

There’s something about the preparation of meat that fascinates people. You’ve either squirmed at the thought of it being undercooked or embraced the idea of consuming it rare. Whatever it might be, you’ve probably also got some misconceptions about it. Pooja Salvi busts some myths about eating and cooking meat

Do you enjoy meat that is cooked through, medium rare or rare enough to make the less adventurous foodie squirm? There’s nothing wrong with preparing your meat rare, but you need to know enough about it in order to savour the juicy flavour without compromising on your health. So, take a look at what meat you can actually eat rare, which ones you should have well done and more.

Why do we have to cook pieces of meat through if we can enjoy a steak rare?
Beef is a very dense meat. So, the bacteria and other microbes that have the potential to make us sick (no matter how strong your immune system is) cannot penetrate into a steak; they can only live on the surface. If you’re worried about it being so rare that you will end up falling ill, know that searing the top is just about enough to ensure that you stay healthy — of course, this also depends on the quality of the meat that you buy!  As a matter of fact, searing just the outside or top of the meat is the way to prepare a famous steak known as the Pittsburgh rare.

However, this only applies to beef cuts, not to ground beef. This is because the meat is mixed together really well during the grinding process, which means that there is no longer an inside of the steak that is safe from the microbes. And, the reason you can’t eat other meat rare is because meats from chicken and pork are less dense, which means they’re not completely free from bacteria.

What’s the perfect temperature for my meat?
A food thermometer is the most important tool if you’re not accustomed to cooking meat. Using it is the only way to ensure that the meat you’re cooking is prepared at a minimum internal temperature  at which harmful food bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli can be destroyed.

In a case where these bacteria are not destroyed, they can lead to serious illness and/or diseases. A thermometer can help you avoid illnesses such as food poisoning.

How do you know your meat is safe?
You don’t need to stick to eating well done meat in order to make sure that it’s safe to eat — unless, of course, you prefer it that way. The better approach is to simply check the temperature of your meat to assure that you’re not undercooking or overcooking it — both of which can either ruin the taste or your stomach. Ultimately, a food thermometer guarantees that you’re cooking meat until it is just right for the steak to remain juicy, delicious, and still be healthy for you.

How do I cook my meat safely?
Remember that there are actually risks to overcooking your steak too! However, if you really love your steak well done, there are a few things that you should focus on in order to minimise the formation of harmful carcinogens in your steak when you’re grilling it.

  • Keep your meat portions small in order to cut down on the grilling time. The less time on the grill, the less time the harmful carcinogens called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) have to form. Instead of grilling the entire steak, barbecue a few kebabs since they cook faster.
  • For meats that require longer cooking time, partially pre-cook them in the microwave, drain off the juices and continue cooking them on the barbecue till they are done. Microwaving meat for two minutes before you grill it can result in significant reductions in HCAs.
  • Marinate meat for 10 minutes before you grill it. Ingredients of acidic nature in the marinade such as vinegar, citrus juice, vegetable oil and spices may prevent carcinogen formation.
  • Cook at a lower temperature. Turn the gas down or wait for the charcoal to turn into low-burning embers.

The bottom line
Well done or not, it is best to limit your intake of red meat (beef, lamb, pork and mutton). Research suggests that heavy red meat eaters are at an increased risk of colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Cancer experts advise eating less than half a kilogram a week. When you eat meat, keep your portion size small — enjoy small amounts of red meat in stir-fries and pastas. While eating steak, ask the chef to serve it in thin slices rather than eating the entire steak. It’s also important to choose meat cuts that are lower in fat such as sirloin, flank steak, eye of the round, beef tenderloin, lean and extra lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, and centre-cut pork chops.

Chef Speak
We spoke to Indrajit Saha, executive chef at Sofitel Mumbai, and asked him about a few things we should remember while consuming or preparing a steak.

Can someone with slow metabolism eat rare meat?
Most meat items require strong metabolism to digest because they contain a high amount of iron. Raw, or rare meat means that the protein is in a different state, which requires a stronger digestive system to assimilate in the body.

How can you cook rare meat if you want to do it at home?
It is not advisable to cook rare meet such as lamb at home. One of the predominant reasons is the formation of salmonella bacteria that leads to food poisoning. Having said that, meat production abroad is controlled through strict hygiene processes and so allows restaurants serve rare meat. The key is to carefully monitor its storage temperature and source. You can have a Steak Tartare or even a Lamb Tartare in Tataki style. This is a Japanese cooking method where high temperature is used to sear meat, but is still rare in the centre. There’s also a new technology called Flash Freezing, which uses liquid nitrogen to reduce the temperature into a safe zone.

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