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Old 04-14-2007, 01:15 AM   #1
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Avoiding / fixing tough meat in stews

Hello from Melbourne Australia

I could really use some help with my stews. I only have a stovetop, no oven, and I adore hearty stews that last for a few days. To try and avoid tough meat I have developed a technique whereby I tend to brown the meat first, put it to one side, then cook the vegetables etc in stock and reduce it all down before returning the meat to the pot, once the stew has gone off the boil.

This works really well for a number of dishes (particularly curries and stir-fries) where you can return the meat just before serving. However, I've found that no matter how 'gently' I heat the stew, any amount of time the meat spends in the hot stew seems to toughen it terribly.

I currently have a pot of 'roo stew' (kangaroo is much like a very lean, prime beef fillet) that I had high hopes for. I cut the meat into largish (1" - 2") cubes, browned it very quickly in a very hot pan and put it to one side. At this stage it was delicious (but very rare of course). After cooking the rest of the stew and turning the heat right down, I added the meat, and stirred it regularly over a very slow flame in the hope the meat would go tender and juicy like a slow pot roast or similar - but after about an hour it has gone tough, dry and tasteless.

So I have a couple of questions for any 'stew gurus':

1. Is it all down to the cut of meat? ie, do I need to buy the really cheap, tough 'braising' cuts or is it possible to make a good stew from fillet? (I had always been led to believe that any meat should turn out beautifully if it is cooked slow enough). I seem to get the same problem with beef and lamb, so I don't think it's just a peculiarity of kangaroo, but again I tend to use something like rump or fillet cuts.

2. Is it a problem with being 'bottom heated' over gas? Should I buy an electric slow cooker to get those beautiful, juicy meat stews?

3. Does the lid on or off make a difference to how the meat turns out? Often I will leave the lid off, in the belief that this will help stop the stew overheating (and toughening the meat) and also that it will help the stew to reduce;

4. Finally, is there anything I can do to 'fix' my stew now that the meat is tough? It contains some red wine so I've added a bit more and also a splash of balsamic vinegar, in the hope that the acid might help to break down the meat fibres a bit, but it isn't really working. The stew tastes delicious, by the way, just the meat itself is tough and has that 'dry-meat' taste, a bit like badly cooked liver. I don't know whether further slow-cooking will make it better or worse. I'm almost tempted to pick out all the meat and put it through a mincer or blender to break it up - what do you think?

All suggestions welcome - and sorry for the scroller

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Old 04-14-2007, 04:19 AM   #2
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I don't know how you're prepping your meat-------but if you season your meat with salt at the beginning you are already setting yourself up for tough meat. Also if your fillets are thick enough to begin with you can use a meat tenderizer hammer on them before cutting up--that's what I used when I was first married and we had to live on venison which is very lean. Marinating in olive oil will also help to "tenderize" tough cuts of meat. Of course the cuts of meat will definitely impact how tender they are when you are finished. These days I only use top sirloin when making stews, etc., and I look for when it goes on sale and stock up.

Good luck, Shreksbro, and welcome to DC. You'll see that many here will chime in with their great tips as well.
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Old 04-14-2007, 05:23 AM   #3
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First welcome to DC ! Just a grandma's point of view, flouring and browning your meat is great, but don't take it out when you do the vegetables and liquid, cook low and slow - mild simmer with lid on. I do mine on top the stove too. Usually simmer mine about 2-3 hrs. until everything is tender.
We like our veg's. tender, no crunch !
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Old 04-14-2007, 06:14 AM   #4
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I do my boeuf bourgignon with a very tough piece of meat, practically unedible if cooked otherwise. However it turns into a delicious tender flake in the end. I also cook on the stovetop and works just fine.
It should help if you cut the meat in smaller pieces, so it will cook more thoroughly. I brown the meat with flour, then set it aside and brown the onions. Then I will add the rest, including the meat, and start the simmering process. It should be simmered patiently for at least 2 hours, with plenty of liquid (I prefer using a lot of red wine), lid on so the liquid will not evaporate too fast.
If you can't get the flame low enough to have it simmer slowly, you may want to put a ring under the pot to increase the distance from the flame.

Good luck!!
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Old 04-14-2007, 09:15 AM   #5
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Stews are intended to use tougher cuts of meat. The key is to cook the meat slowly at a simmer for an hour or two. Brown the meat as you have been, then simmer it in the liquid for an hour or so. Then add the veggies to the meat and continue to simmer until the veggies are done. The meat has to cook for a long time. The internal temperature of the meat has to be over 200F so the toughness can be broken down and you end up with tender meat.

I do not believe flouring and /or salting meat before cooking toughens it.
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Old 04-14-2007, 09:21 AM   #6
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I agree with all that's been said. A very long LOW cook on the stove top with enough liquid to take account of that. Could you afford to invest in a crockpot/slowcooker though/ They really are a Godsend. You can leave your stew to cook all day with no harm at all.
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Old 04-15-2007, 01:26 AM   #7
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Thanks everyone!

FWIW I don't add any salt until much later, I find it's too difficult to get the levels right if the stew still has more reducing to do. I usually sear the meat unfloured, in a really hot cast-iron pan, to get that lovely caramelised brown 'crust', then I put it to one side. Salt is also known to draw out moisture of course, so I certainly wouldn't be keen to salt the meat directly.

I got into the habit of cooking the vegies separately because I was worried that if the stew accidentally came to the 'boil' it would irreversably toughen the meat. Cooking the veggies separately allowed me to get a good boil going, to soften the veg and thicken the stew, before I add the meat later.

I'm beginning to suspect, though, that a 'good' cut of meat will be tender if quickly seared and rare, then it will actually toughen in a stew, before becoming tender again after a long slow cooking - does this sound reasonable? If so, that might explain what I've found, and perhaps I'm simply not cooking the meat long enough to reach that second, tender-and-juicy phase (or rather, I'm sampling it too soon and panicking). I'm happy to accept that a 'cheap' cut of meat probably has better flavour and makes a better stew, but I also believe that a prime cut should still make a great stew - and maybe this explains what I'm doing wrong.

Andy, you say that the stew has to be over 200F to break down the toughness - does this mean that I have to stay in the narrow band between 200F and boiling point? I'm still not sure whether actually boiling will damage the meat or not, although I guess most casseroles etc would be done in an oven hotter than boiling point, so it can't be that harmful?!


I actually managed to fix this particular stew last night - as I had left the pieces of meat so large I could take them all out, slice them across the grain and return them, and after reheating it gently it was actually really good - but I've had stews before with enormous moist chunks of meat that flake easily with a fork, and that is what I would like to achieve.

Maybe I will start looking at electric slow-cookers...
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Old 04-15-2007, 03:12 AM   #8
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I use chuck or blade for my stew/casseroles. Costs little, has best flavour IMO, and always ends up melt in mouth tender. On stovetop or in oven.

Fillet of any animal has no place in a stewpot I believe but I understand that if you have a surfeit of kangaroo it could be tempting!
Have you checked some Aussie sites to see how others treat roo meat? I have no experience at all with that but I would certainly go toward venison recipes given its leanness.

Best of luck!
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Old 04-15-2007, 03:19 AM   #9
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If you want a stew with larger pieces of meat and vegetables maybe you should try an oven stew recipe.

I like this one: Oven Stew with Burgundy Wine
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Old 04-15-2007, 05:05 AM   #10
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I believe Andy is spot on.

Meat is tender when it is rare, or when cooked for a long time.

Sounds to me like you are ignoring the long time step.

Even the tenderest cuts of meat toughen at first when cooked. But braise or stew the stuff for an hour or more and the meat turns tender.

Just my experience. Welcome to DC.
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Old 04-15-2007, 05:33 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by auntdot
Even the tenderest cuts of meat toughen at first when cooked. But braise or stew the stuff for an hour or more and the meat turns tender.
Thanks Auntdot, that's just confirmed for me what I was beginning to guess. I think one of the problems is that so many cooks talk about meat 'going' tough so I have been a bit paranoid about 'keeping' it tender!

My next stew will definitely be cooked for much longer. Is it possible to overcook it though? Do I need to have a specific amount of time in mind, depending on the meat and the cut, or will it always be tender if cooked for say 3 hours or more? Does it go tough again at some point?!

I'll definitely look at some venison recipes (thanks for the tip expatgirl and lynan), it makes sense that they'd be very similar meats - but I guess I'm really trying to understand the science behind it. I'm not much of a 'recipe' cook, I tend to get an idea of what I'd like to use and make it up as I go along. It usually turns out pretty tasty, there's just a bit of room for improvement with meat texture.

Also, would a high cooking temperature actually toughen the meat, or just cause the stew to dry out prematurely? In the worst case scenario, could I just keep adding liquid and cook it over a high heat for ages, or would something in this cause the meat to remain/turn tough?

Thanks everyone for your input and your warm welcome, it's much appreciated
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Old 04-15-2007, 08:04 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shreksbro
...Andy, you say that the stew has to be over 200F to break down the toughness - does this mean that I have to stay in the narrow band between 200F and boiling point? I'm still not sure whether actually boiling will damage the meat or not, although I guess most casseroles etc would be done in an oven hotter than boiling point, so it can't be that harmful?!...

What I was trying to say was the internal temperature of the meat pieces has to reach 200F.

It is a standard method to cook stew by simmering the meat and veggies for a long period of time until the meat is tender and the veggies done to your liking. You should brown th emeat as you do and simmer it 'til almost done then add the veggies so they will not be cooked to mush when the meat is done.

Do not worry about salt drawing moisture out of the meat or toughining it. It's not a problem. I suggest salting and peppering the meat before searing it then adjusting the seasoning towards the end of the cooking time.
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Old 04-15-2007, 12:43 PM   #13
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Quote:
1. Is it all down to the cut of meat? ie, do I need to buy the really cheap, tough 'braising' cuts or is it possible to make a good stew from fillet? (I had always been led to believe that any meat should turn out beautifully if it is cooked slow enough). I seem to get the same problem with beef and lamb, so I don't think it's just a peculiarity of kangaroo, but again I tend to use something like rump or fillet cuts.
I've never heard of making strews or braises with fillet. the less expensive cuts of meat arer the ones that braise best. I wouldn't leave the meat out of the pan at all. Brown it, add your onions and the rest of the mirepoix, and let the whole thing simmer in the liquid of your choice at a low temperature for at least two hours (or so!)

Quote:
2. Is it a problem with being 'bottom heated' over gas? Should I buy an electric slow cooker to get those beautiful, juicy meat stews?
As long as you can control the heat to get a slow cook, you should be able to turn out a terrific stew!

Be sure to let us know how you do!
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Old 04-15-2007, 01:29 PM   #14
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[quote=Andy M.]What I was trying to say was the internal temperature of the meat pieces has to reach 200F.

I don't think it is a matter of reaching 200F. That's pretty easy to accomplish within fifteen minutes or less depending on how much meat you have. I think it is a matter of maintaining 200F of consistent heat for approx three hours. (I think I just said the same thing you did??) Because I make about 20 qts of stew, I use the time to peel, chop and prepare the vegetables. You can always cook your meat in a slow cooker overnight and finish making the stew the following day. Thanks for the temp info Andy; do you think that would be a good temperature to oven bake a stew? Maybe if I use my new 8 qt roaster, I could learn to make a smaller pot of stew. Maybe mine is a visual recipe.....just eyeing it up!
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