There are several techniques to achieve deliciously succulent, tender meat.
Depending on the type and cut of meat, the amount of time you have for preparation and how you wish to cook it. Lean meat such as beef fillet or chicken breast will not require tenderising and as long as they are dry cooked over high heat for a short amount of time, the meat will be lovely and tender.
Using a Mallet
Almost any kind of meat can be pounded to create thinner and flatter cuts which will cook faster and more evenly. Although chicken breast does not require tenderising, it can be pounded to flatten it out so it may be wrapped around ingredients e.g. chicken breast stuffed with spinach and cheese.
The idea of pounding the meat is to break down the protein strands to make shorter strands, resulting in a thinner and more tender cut.
Another method for achieving similar results, is to use a Jacquard meat tenderiser. This is useful for tougher cuts of meat (e.g. beef steak) if cooking at high temperatures for a short amount of time. It is comprised of many small needles which are pressed into the meat, puncturing the surface and severing some of the connective tissue. These small holes help the meat absorb flavours more efficiently from a marinade. For slow cooking, it is best not to use this method as too much moisture will be lost through the small cuts in the meat.
This technique is used for tougher cuts of meat which have some fat attached or marbled through it, and is not appropriate for lean cuts as this will dry out the meat rendering it chewy. As the fat melts, it imparts a great deal of flavour to the dish and moistens the muscle fibres as they cook, preventing them from bunching up very tightly and drying out.
Braising involves cooking the meat fully submerged in a flavoursome liquid at a low temperature (somewhere in the 60C – 80C range) for a long period of time (over 2 hours). The connective tissue softens and the tough collagen turns to gelatin producing succulent and tender meat.
It is important to note that this is marinating to tenderise which requires a small amount of an acid (e.g. lemon juice, vinegar, yoghurt or buttermilk), or an enzymatic ingredient (e.g. Bromelain from Pineapple, Papain from Papaya, Actividin from Kiwifruit to Ficin from Figs) for the tenderisation process.
Care needs to be taken with these ingredients as, if the acid is too strong, or it is left to marinate for too long (over 2 hours), the meat will ‘cook’ and become tough; and if the enzymatic tenderisation is left too long, the meat will become mushy.
While marinating gives the surface of the meat a delightful flavour, using a Jacquard will enable the marinade to penetrate slightly below the surface. However, the most effective long-term marinades are yoghurt and buttermilk as they are only mildly acidic and they actually seem to penetrate the meat. It is thought that the Calcium seems to break down proteins in a similar way that the ageing process tenderises meat. For years yoghurt has been used as a tenderising agent in Indian, Turkish and North African cuisine, and buttermilk is used by Southern cooks for delicious Southern fried chicken.