When you’re living frugally, sometimes you have to settle for some lesser cuts of meat. (Or, if you’re me, you think those “lesser” cuts taste a million times better than the pricier cuts. So there.) The bad news is a lot of these cuts can be a little tough, but the good news is there are easy and natural ways to tenderize tough cuts of meat.
That old mallet that gets stuck in the junk drawer when you try to open it? Few things work better. Just don’t pound it too hard, or you’ll mushify your meat. There are also special tenderizing tools that tenderize by poking small holes in the meat (sort of like aerating turf).
Acids are great for breaking down meats to tenderize them, but you can’t leave them on too long, or you’ll literally cook the meat. This is the method used in making ceviche, and while it works great for things like fish and shellfish, it doesn’t make for a very appealing steak. Have you ever made a recipe that calls for soaking chicken in buttermilk but didn’t know why? Tenderization! Buttermilk, yogurt, citrus juice and vinegar are all acids that can take the toughness out of a piece of chicken or steak in no time.
This blog actually came about because I recently made pork chops with a side of grilled pineapple. I packed the leftovers into a single container, and when I went to eat it the next day, the pork chop was all soft and mealy where the pineapple had been touching it. Pineapple, as well as papaya, kiwi and Asian pear, contain an enzyme called bromelain that’s very powerful. It’s only contained in the fresh juice of these fruits, so canned won’t work.
Heavily salting meat a couple of hours before cooking can also help tenderize a thicker cut of meat. Just let it sit, at room temperature, liberally (and I mean thickly) sprinkled with kosher or sea salt. When you’re ready to cook it, rinse it and pat it dry. Adding the salt way ahead of time allows the salt to swell the protein based fibers and disentangle them from one another, causing tenderization.
So there ya go! You don’t need to buy that weird jar of white powder from the spice aisle to make your meat tender, plus you can flavor it while you tenderize in many cases!
What’s your favorite way to tenderize meat? Mine is Greek yogurt.