For many of us, meat is an important part of our daily diet. Whether itâ€™s beef, lamb, pork, or chicken, the basics of creating the most flavour possible are important.
Marinades come to mind for creating flavour in cooked meats.
Although they do create flavour, they are also important in making a cut of meat more tender.
The best marinades are made of the simplest of ingredients you already have in your home. Donâ€™t rely on the packages of powder you find at supermarkets.
Marinades are made up of a base, an acid, flavourful ingredients, and salt.
The base is usually oil, to aid in cooking.
An acid such as vinegar, wine, or lemon juice is added to break down the meatâ€™s tougher proteins.
Red meats, depending on the cuts, are the toughest and are best marinated from one to 24 hours.
Chicken and pork proteins are much more delicate and are preferably marinated for no longer than four to six hours. Over-marinated chicken will actually start to become tough.
The flavour combinations that can be added to a marinade are endless: crushed garlic, herbs, spices, and condiments are just a few. Be creative!
Donâ€™t forget the salt â€“ it is crucial to help the marinade penetrate the meat.
Searing meats, marinated or not, also creates flavour. Searing develops a crust that will carry flavour all the way through to the finished dish, whatever the cooking method. Stew, for example, has a more developed beef flavour when the meat pieces are browned prior to addition of other ingredients.
Searing is not about sealing juices inside the meat. No amount of searing can prevent loss of moisture.
The flavour in the crust can be enhanced further by adding seasoning.
You may want to add salt and pepper prior to searing. They will become part of the meatâ€™s outer shell.
Applying dry rubs â€“ mixtures of spices â€“ prior to searing adds a complexity of flavours.
Searing should be done at a high temperature with an small amount of oil that is suitable for high temperatures, such as grape seed oil, rice bran oil, or even canola or vegetable oil in a pinch.
Do not crowd the pan or surface area â€“ that will decrease the temperature and cause the meat to simmer in its juices rather than caramelize.
Searing also creates browned bits (called fond) on the bottom of a pan. Fond adds depth in flavour to a subsequent sauce.
To achieve that, add a liquid such as wine or stock to the pan and loosen the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Make sure the pan is not too hot and there is very little residual oil left.
Use the new liquid as a part of a sauce, or reduce it further it to become a sauce of its own. I always add a splash of whipping cream for better colour and consistency.
Reduction of the liquids causes water to evaporate, concentrating the flavours and creating a desired sauce consistency.
Taste and adjust the sauce as necessary prior to serving.
I cannot end without mentioning the benefit of cooking over charcoal.
Lump charcoal is one of the oldest known forms of cooking fuel.
I am not talking about manmade square briquettes, just natural lump charcoal (basically chunks of wood that are burnt in a silo with very little or no oxygen).
The flavour complexity lump charcoal adds to meat, vegetables, and other foods is unparalleled, and simply switching to lump charcoal from your usual choice of gas or propane as your grilling fuel will bring your food to a new level.