I took many interesting courses over the last semester, one of which was called Molecular Gastronomy. I loved this class because I was able to learn the science behind cooking processes, in other words, I learned exactly what I should do in order to theoretically perfect everything I cook! Each week focused on a different category of food or method of preparation. I learned about the composition of various ingredients, the effect of the senses on a taste experience, and even about different ways that I can alter foods using additives. I thought that the most interesting week by far was the class focused on meat preparation. I spent hours reading about protein makeup and how it changes when being cooked. The journals and articles explained the differences between light and dark meat in terms of texture and flavor and even went as far as to explain how the amount of exercise an animal gets can impact the taste of each muscle. The readings then went on to depict the processes that occur as meat is exposed to heat, how the protein fibers constrict and lose their water content, eventually changing in color from red to grey. I was so intrigued by the readings that I remember sitting on the subway squinting my eyes in an attempt to read from my iPhone. One thing was clear to me that evening, I needed to eat steak for dinner. I just had to test out my newfound knowledge and see if I could create the perfect steak!
Essentially what I came away with from the readings is that moisture is key. As meat continues to cook it loses water and becomes tougher as well as less flavorful. Therefore one should not overcook meat and should attempt to infuse as much extra moisture as possible into the dish. I entered the kitchen that night equipped with a ten-ounce filet, a few seasonings, and hard-pressed determination.
I decided to get creative with the cooking process and not only implement techniques that I read about but also expand upon some of the other principles. I had learned that one should cook meat by first searing the outsides on a high temperature and then reduce the heat to slowly cook the middle without burning the exterior. The searing process is supposed to help lock in the juices. Then cook the meat on medium heat until it is just a little undercooked from the desired outcome. The readings gave a whole description on how one should be able to tell how well done a steak is from touching it. The readings compared the desired texture to the pad on the palm of someone’s hand…this was sort of lost to me so I just mostly prayed that five minutes on each side was sufficient. The last step is to remove the meat and wrap it in foil for about five minutes after cooking, the steak will continue to cook a little bit more and the brief time off the stove will also allow the juices to redistribute into the meat. Anyway, here’s what I did different. Firstly, I began not by searing the fillet, but by sautéing some chopped onions and mushrooms. I thought this would add a little extra something, which it did. The other step I added was near the end of the cooking process. A few minutes before the filet was finished, I added about a half cup of chicken broth to the skillet and covered it with a lid. I thought that this would make the steak juicier and would also have the effect of braising the filet. I then removed the meat and continued to cook down the liquid with all its bits, onions and mushrooms into a thick sauce. My experiment paid off. I anxiously cut into the center of the steak, nervous to see if it was cooked enough. As you can see from the mouth-watering photo, the filet turned out perfect! I was overjoyed with the result of my experiment. This is just one more testament to show how much I am truly taking away from my classes.