Even the cheapest cuts of meat can be cooked in a tasty and succulent way. It is enough to know a few tips, to make the meat soft and tender. So if you have purchased a piece of inexpensive meat that is fibrous – such as the beef loin, the flank steak, or the diaphragm – you just need to follow our tips to get an excellent result. Let's find out how to soften the less valuable cuts of meat, with some grandma's tips, to enjoy your slice of meat tender and tasty, in a pan or grilled.
1. Utilize the meat tenderizer
A quick and easy method is the use of the meat tenderizer. Place the slices of meat between two sheets of food plastic wrap, and beat them to break the fibers: the movement of the meat tenderizer must go from the inside to the outside. The slice will therefore be thinner and softer. The foil will protect the meat and the work surface, but you can not put it on if you prefer. As an alternative to the meat tenderizer you can use the hand: hit the slice of meat with the carpus of the hand, with a firm movement that goes outwards.
If you want to bread or fry the slice of meat, use the meat tenderizer with the tips, beating the piece for a couple of minutes on both sides, so as to break the connective tissues of the meat. It is a method not suitable, however, for tenderising steaks to be cooked in a pan or on the grill, but only for slices to be fried or breaded.
2. Cover the meat with coarse salt
If instead you want to prepare a steak, using a cheap cut, you can soften it with salt. In this case the piece of meat must be at least 4 centimeters thick: the thickness will allow the meat to create an external crust, preserving its internal cooking. To eliminate excessive humidity from the piece of meat, pass it in coarse salt: sprinkle both sides and leave to rest for at least 1 hour, so as to eliminate excess water, leaving fat and protein. Rinse the meat and dry it well before cooking. Remember that the more you leave the meat in salt, the more tender it will be: it can rest for up to 24 hours.
3. Acid marinade
For the thinner cuts of meat you can try the acid marinade, that is based on citrus fruits, vinegar or wine, which break the muscle fibers of the meat, so as to make it more tender in cooking. Leave the meat to marinate in a mix of vinegar and lemon juice overnight. Keep in mind, however, that vinegar and lemon tend to flavor the meat. For this reason, it is advisable to use this method if you need to prepare cutlets or even meat with tomato sauce. In the latter case, the tomato will also help to soften the meat.
4. Marinade with fruit puree
It is also possible to make meat tender by using the principle of enzymatic softening. Enzymes are molecules that speed up the softening process of meat. Among the fruits to be used for this marinade, it is necessary to choose the sour ones: kiwis, pineapple and papaya are recommended. Prefer kiwis, which do not flavor the meat too much, as they have a more neutral taste. As for pineapple, however, be careful: in fact it contains bromelain, a substance that could make the meat a mush if left to marinate for a long time. But here's how to proceed: reduce the fruit to puree, lay the meat in a glass container and cover each slice with two tablespoons of puree. Cover with cling film and leave the meat to marinate for at least one day.
5. Slow cooking in a pan
If you have little time, and therefore you cannot devote yourself to the methods described above, then you can adopt some stratagems, to make the meat soft when cooking. The first is that of slow cooking in a pan over low heat: in this way, the connective tissue – the one that holds the muscle fibers together – will have plenty of time to melt, making the meat more tender and pleasant to chew. Then there is a little tip to prevent the meat from drying out during cooking. In fact, you can continuously wet the meat in a pan with water, broth or wine, without ever leaving it dry.
Grilling is one of the tastiest methods of preparing meat: it makes the meat tender, juicy and it gives it a pleasant smoky smell. This method of cooking is excellent for steak and meats rich in fats: the high temperature allows excess fat to melt, making the preparation lighter. With grilling, then, it is not necessary to add other fats.
7. Add the coarse salt halfway through cooking
One of the mistakes that is made more often, when preparing the slice of meat, is to add fine salt during cooking. In this way the meat becomes dry and smaller, and it loses flavor. If you want to taste a slice of soft and succulent meat, add the coarse salt halfway through cooking and lightly brown it. The meat will be very tender.
8. Use baking soda
A grandmother's secret is to use baking soda, a small trick that allows you to obtain soft meat, without affecting its flavor. But how to use it? When the meat is cooked for one third, add a little baking soda: it will take a teaspoon for every half kilo of meat. You can add it in any preparation: just be careful if you cook the meat with tomato sauce, because it could splash: in fact the baking soda reacts on contact with other components, forming bubbles. However, it will be useful to soften the meat.