The Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton

Chapter XI.

Various Modes of Cooking Meat.

General Remarks.

540. In Our “INTRODUCTION TO COOKERY” (see No. 76) we have described the gradual progress of mankind in the art of cookery, the probability being, that the human race, for a long period, lived wholly on fruits. Man’s means of attacking animals, even if he had the desire of slaughtering them, were very limited, until he acquired the use of arms. He, however, made weapons for himself, and, impelled by a carnivorous instinct, made prey of the animals that surrounded him. It is natural that man should seek to feed on flesh; he has too small a stomach to be supported alone by fruit, which has not sufficient nourishment to renovate him. It is possible he might subsist on vegetables; but their preparation needs the knowledge of art, only to be obtained after the lapse of many centuries. Man’s first weapons were the branches of trees, which were succeeded by bows and arrows, and it is worthy of remark, that these latter weapons have been found with the natives of all climates and latitudes. It is singular how this idea presented itself to individuals so differently placed.

541. BRILLAT SAVARIN says, that raw flesh has but one inconvenience — from its viscousness it attaches itself to the teeth. He goes on to say, that it is not, however, disagreeable; but, when seasoned with salt, that it is easily digested. He tells a story of a Croat captain, whom he invited to dinner in 1815, during the occupation of Paris by the allied troops. This officer was amazed at his host’s preparations, and said, “When we are campaigning, and get hungry, we knock over the first animal we find, cut off a steak, powder it with salt, which we always have in the sabretasche, put it under the saddle, gallop over it for half a mile, and then dine like princes.” Again, of the huntsmen of Dauphiny it is said, that when they are out shooting in September, they take with them both pepper and salt. If they kill a very fat bird, they pluck and season it, and, after carrying it some time in their caps, eat it. This, they declare, is the best way of serving it up.

542. SUBSEQUENTLY TO THE CROAT MODE, which, doubtless, was in fashion in the earlier ages of the world, fire was discovered. This was an accident; for fire is not, although we are accustomed to call it so, an element, or spontaneous. Many savage nations have been found utterly ignorant of it, and many races had no other way of dressing their food than by exposing it to the rays of the sun.

543. THE INHABITANTS OF THE MARIAN ISLANDS, which were discovered in 1521, had no idea of fire. Never was astonishment greater than theirs when they first saw it, on the descent of Magellan, the navigator, on one of their isles. At first they thought it a kind of animal, that fixed itself to and fed upon wood. Some of them, who approached too near, being burnt, the rest were terrified, and durst only look upon it at a distance. They were afraid, they said, of being bit, or lest that dreadful animal should wound with his violent respiration and dreadful breath; for these were the first notions they formed of the heat and flame. Such, too, probably, were the notions the Greeks originally formed of them.

544. FIRE HAVING BEEN DISCOVERED, mankind endeavoured to make use of it for drying, and afterwards for cooking their meat; but they were a considerable time before they hit upon proper and commodious methods of employing it in the preparation of their food.

545. MEAT, THEN, PLACED ON BURNING FUEL was found better than when raw: it had more firmness, was eaten with less difficulty, and the ozmazome being condensed by the carbonization, gave it a pleasing perfume and flavour. Still, however, the meat cooked on the coal would become somewhat befouled, certain portions of the fuel adhering to it. This disadvantage was remedied by passing spits through it, and placing it at a suitable height above the burning fuel. Thus grilling was invented; and it is well known that, simple as is this mode of cookery, yet all meat cooked in this way is richly and pleasantly flavoured. In Homer’s time, the, art of cookery had not advanced much beyond this; for we read in the “Iliad,” how the great Achilles and his friend Patroclus regaled the three Grecian leaders on bread, wine, and broiled meat. It is noticeable, too, that Homer does not speak of boiled meat anywhere in his poems. Later, however, the Jews, coming out of their captivity in Egypt, had made much greater progress. They undoubtedly possessed kettles; and in one of these, Esau’s mess of pottage, for which he sold his birthright, must have been prepared.

546. HAVING THUS BRIEFLY TRACED A HISTORY OF GASTRONOMICAL PROGRESSES, we will now proceed to describe the various methods of cooking meat, and make a few observations on the chemical changes which occur in each of the operations.

547. IN THIS COUNTRY, plain boiling, roasting, and baking are the usual methods of cooking animal food. To explain the philosophy of these simple culinary operations, we must advert to the effects that are produced by heat on the principal constituents of flesh. When finely-chopped mutton or beef is steeped for some time in a small quantity of clean water, and then subjected to slight pressure, the juice of the meat is extracted, and there is left a white tasteless residue, consisting chiefly of muscular fibres. When this residue is heated to between 158° and 177° Fahrenheit, the fibres shrink together, and become hard and horny. The influence of an elevated temperature on the soluble extract of flesh is not less remarkable. When the watery infusion, which contains all the savoury constituents of the meat, is gradually heated, it soon becomes turbid; and, when the temperature reaches 133°, flakes of whitish matter separate. These flakes are albumen, a substance precisely similar, in all its properties, to the white of egg (see No. 101). When the temperature of the watery extract is raised to 158°, the colouring matter of the blood coagulates, and the liquid, which was originally tinged red by this substance, is left perfectly clear, and almost colourless. When evaporated, even at a gentle heat, this residual liquid gradually becomes brown, and acquires the flavour of roast meat.

548. THESE INTERESTING FACTS, discovered in the laboratory, throw a flood of light upon the mysteries of the kitchen. The fibres of meat are surrounded by a liquid which contains albumen in its soluble state, just as it exists in the unboiled egg. During the operation of boiling or roasting, this substance coagulates, and thereby prevents the contraction and hardening of the fibres. The tenderness of well-cooked meat is consequently proportioned to the amount of albumen deposited in its substance. Meat is underdone when it has been heated throughout only to the temperature of coagulating albumen: it is thoroughly done when it has been heated through its whole mass to the temperature at which the colouring matter of the blood coagulates: it is overdone when the heat has been continued long enough to harden the fibres.

549. THE JUICE OF FLESH IS WATER, holding in solution many substances besides albumen, which are of the highest possible value as articles of food. In preparing meat for the table, great care should be taken to prevent the escape of this precious juice, as the succulence and sapidity of the meat depend on its retention. The meat to be cooked should be exposed at first to a quick heat, which immediately coagulates the albumen on and near the surface. A kind of shell is thus formed, which effectually retains the whole of the juice within the meat.

550. DURING THE OPERATIONS OF BOILING, BOASTING, AND BAKING, fresh beef and mutton, when moderately fat, lose, according to Johnston, on an average about —

In boiling. In baking. In roasting.
4 lbs. of beef lose 1 lb. 1 lb. 3 oz. 1 lb. 5 oz.
4 lbs. of mutton lose 14 oz. 1 lb. 4 oz. 1 lb. 6 oz.
Baking.

551. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ROASTING MEAT AND BAKING IT, may be generally described as consisting in the fact, that, in baking it, the fumes caused by the operation are not carried off in the same way as occurs in roasting. Much, however, of this disadvantage is obviated by the improved construction of modern ovens, and of especially those in connection with the Leamington kitchener, of which we give an engraving here, and a full description of which will be seen at paragraph No. 65, with the prices at which they can be purchased of Messrs. R. and J. Slack, of the Strand. With meat baked in the generality of ovens, however, which do not possess ventilators on the principle of this kitchener, there is undoubtedly a peculiar taste, which does not at all equal the flavour developed by roasting meat. The chemistry of baking may be said to be the same as that described in roasting.

552. SHOULD THE OVEN BE VERY BRISK, it will be found necessary to cover the joint with a piece of white paper, to prevent the meat from being scorched and blackened outside, before the heat can penetrate into the inside. This paper should be removed half an hour before the time of serving dinner, so that the joint may take a good colour.

553. BY MEANS OF A JAR, many dishes, which will be enumerated under their special heads, may be economically prepared in the oven. The principal of these are soup, gravies, jugged hare, beef tea; and this mode of cooking may be advantageously adopted with a ham, which has previously been covered with a common crust of flour and water.

554. ALL DISHES PREPARED FOR BAKING should be more highly seasoned than when intended to be roasted. There are some dishes which, it may be said, are at least equally well cooked in the oven as by the roaster; thus, a shoulder of mutton and baked potatoes, a fillet or breast of veal, a sucking pig, a hare, well basted, will be received by connoisseurs as well, when baked, as if they had been roasted. Indeed, the baker’s oven, or the family oven, may often, as has been said, be substituted for the cook and the spit with greater economy and convenience.

555. A BAKING-DISH, of which we give an engraving, should not be less than 6 or 7 inches deep; so that the meat, which of course cannot be basted, can stew in its own juices. In the recipe for each dish, full explanations concerning any special points in relation to it will be given.

Boiling.

556. BOILING, or the preparation of meat by hot water, though one of the easiest processes in cookery, requires skilful management. Boiled meat should be tender, savoury, and full of its own juice, or natural gravy; but, through the carelessness and ignorance of cooks, it is too often sent to table hard, tasteless, and innutritious. To insure a successful result in boiling flesh, the heat of the fire must be judiciously regulated, the proper quantity of water must be kept up in the pot, and the scum which rises to the surface must be carefully removed.

557. MANY WRITERS ON COOKERY assert that the meat to be boiled should be put into cold water, and that the pot should be heated gradually; but Liebig, the highest authority on all matters connected with the chemistry of food, has shown that meat so treated loses some of its most nutritious constituents. “If the flesh,” says the great chemist, “be introduced into the boiler when the water is in a state of brisk ebullition, and if the boiling be kept up for a few minutes, and the pot then placed in a warm place, so that the temperature of the water is kept at 158° to 165°, we have the united conditions for giving to the flesh the qualities which best fit it for being eaten.” When a piece of meat is plunged into boiling water, the albumen which is near the surface immediately coagulates, forming an envelope, which prevents the escape of the internal juice, and most effectually excludes the water, which, by mixing with this juice, would render the meat insipid. Meat treated thus is juicy and well-flavoured, when cooked, as it retains most of its savoury constituents. On the other hand, if the piece of meat be set on the fire with cold water, and this slowly heated to boiling, the flesh undergoes a loss of soluble and nutritious substances, while, as a matter of course, the soup becomes richer in these matters. The albumen is gradually dissolved from the surface to the centre; the fibre loses, more or less, its quality of shortness or tenderness, and becomes hard and tough: the thinner the piece of meat is, the greater is its loss of savoury constituents. In order to obtain well-flavoured and eatable meat, we must relinquish the idea of making good soup from it, as that mode of boiling which yields the best soup gives the driest, toughest, and most vapid meat. Slow boiling whitens the meat; and, we suspect, that it is on this account that it is in such favour with the cooks. The wholesomeness of food is, however, a matter of much greater moment than the appearance it presents on the table. It should be borne in mind, that the whiteness of meat that has been boiled slowly, is produced by the loss of some important alimentary properties.

558. THE OBJECTIONS WE HAVE RAISED to the practice of putting meat on the fire in cold water, apply with equal force to the practice of soaking meat before cooking it, which is so strongly recommended by some cooks. Fresh meat ought never to be soaked, as all its most nutritive constituents are soluble in water. Soaking, however, is an operation that cannot be entirely dispensed with in the preparation of animal food. Salted and dried meats require to be soaked for some time in water before they are cooked.

559. FOR BOILING MEAT, the softer the water is, the better. When spring water is boiled, the chalk which gives to it the quality of hardness, is precipitated. This chalk stains the meat, and communicates to it an unpleasant earthy taste. When nothing but hard water can be procured, it should be softened by boiling it for an hour or two before it is used for culinary purposes.

560. THE FIRE MUST BE WATCHED with great attention during the operation of boiling, so that its heat may be properly regulated. As a rule, the pot should be kept in a simmering state; a result which cannot be attained without vigilance.

561. THE TEMPERATURE AT WHICH WATER BOILS, under usual circumstances, is 212° Fahr. Water does not become hotter after it has begun to boil, however long or with whatever violence the boiling is continued. This fact is of great importance in cookery, and attention to it will save much fuel. Water made to boil in a gentle way by the application of a moderate heat is just as hot as when it is made to boil on a strong fire with the greatest possible violence. When once water has been brought to the boiling point, the fire may be considerably reduced, as a very gentle heat will suffice to keep the water at its highest temperature.

562. THE SCUM WHICH RISES to the surface of the pot during the operation of boiling must be carefully removed, otherwise it will attach itself to the meat, and thereby spoil its appearance. The cook must not neglect to skim during the whole process, though by far the greater part of the scum rises at first. The practice of wrapping meat in a cloth may be dispensed with if the skimming be skillfully managed. If the scum be removed as fast as it rises, the meat will be cooked clean and pure, and come out of the vessel in which it was boiled, much more delicate and firm than when cooked in a cloth.

563. WHEN TAKEN FROM THE POT, the meat must be wiped with a clean cloth, or, what will be found more convenient, a sponge previously dipped in water and wrung dry. The meat should not be allowed to stand a moment longer than necessary, as boiled meat, as well as roasted, cannot be eaten too hot.

564. THE TIME ALLOWED FOR THE OPERATION OF BOILING must be regulated according to the size and quality of the meat. As a general rule, twenty minutes, reckoning from the moment when the boiling commences, may be allowed for every pound of meat. All the best authorities, however, agree in this, that the longer the boiling the more perfect the operation.

565. A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON THE NUTRITIVE VALUE OF SALTED MEAT may be properly introduced in this place. Every housewife knows that dry salt in contact with fresh meat gradually becomes fluid brine. The application of salt causes the fibres of the meat to contract, and the juice to flow out from its pores: as much as one-third of the juice of the meat is often forced out in this manner. Now, as this juice is pure extract of meat, containing albumen, osmazome, and other valuable principles, it follows that meat which has been preserved by the action of salt can never have the nutritive properties of fresh meat.

566. THE VESSELS USED FOR BOILING should be made of cast-iron, well tinned within, and provided with closely-fitting lids. They must be kept scrupulously clean, otherwise they will render the meat cooked in them unsightly and unwholesome. Copper pans, if used at all, should be reserved for operations that are performed with rapidity; as, by long contact with copper, food may become dangerously contaminated. The kettle in which a joint is dressed should be large enough to allow room for a good supply of water; if the meat be cramped and be surrounded with but little water, it will be stewed, not boiled.

567. IN STEWING, IT IS NOT REQUISITE to have so great a heat as in boiling. A gentle simmering in a small quantity of water, so that the meat is stewed almost in its own juices, is all that is necessary. It is a method much used on the continent, and is wholesome and economical.

Two useful culinary vessels are represented above. One is a boiling-pot, in which large joints may be boiled; the other is a stewpan, with a closely-fitting lid, to which is attached a long handle; so that the cover can be removed without scalding the fingers.

568. THE HOT-PLATE is a modern improvement on the old kitchen ranges, being used for boiling and stewing. It is a plate of cast iron, having a closed fire burning beneath it, by which it is thoroughly well heated. On this plate are set the various saucepans, stewpans, &c.; and, by this convenient and economical method, a number of dishes may be prepared at one time. The culinary processes of braising and stewing are, in this manner, rendered more gradual, and consequently the substance acted on becomes more tender, and the gravy is not so much reduced.

Broiling.

569. GENERALLY SPEAKING, small dishes only are prepared by this mode of cooking; amongst these, the beef-steak and mutton chop of the solitary English diner may be mentioned as celebrated all the world over. Our beef-steak, indeed, has long crossed the Channel; and, with a view of pleasing the Britons, there is in every carte at every French restaurant, by the side of à la Marengo, and à la Mayonnaise — bifteck d’Angleterre. In order to succeed in a broil, the cook must have a bright, clear fire; so that the surface of the meat may be quickly heated. The result of this is the same as that obtained in roasting; namely, that a crust, so to speak, is formed outside, and thus the juices of the meat are retained. The appetite of an invalid, so difficult to minister to, is often pleased with a broiled dish, as the flavour and sapidity of the meat are so well preserved.

570. THE UTENSILS USED FOR BROILING need but little description. The common gridiron, for which see engraving at No. 68, is the same as it has been for ages past, although some little variety has been introduced into its manufacture, by the addition of grooves to the bars, by means of which the liquid fat is carried into a small trough. One point it is well to bear in mind, viz., that the gridiron should be kept in a direction slanting towards the cook, so that as little fat as possible may fall into the fire. It has been observed, that broiling is the most difficult manual office the general cook has to perform, and one that requires the most unremitting attention; for she may turn her back upon the stewpan or the spit, but the gridiron can never be left with impunity. The revolving gridiron, shown in the engraving, possesses some advantages of convenience, which will be at once apparent.

Frying.

571. THIS VERY FAVOURITE MODE OF COOKING may be accurately described as boiling in fat or oil. Substances dressed in this way are generally well received, for they introduce an agreeable variety, possessing, as they do, a peculiar flavour. By means of frying, cooks can soon satisfy many requisitions made on them, it being a very expeditious mode of preparing dishes for the table, and one which can be employed when the fire is not sufficiently large for the purposes of roasting and boiling. The great point to be borne in mind in frying, is that the liquid must be hot enough to act instantaneously, as all the merit of this culinary operation lies in the invasion of the boiling liquid, which carbonizes or burns, at the very instant of the immersion of the body placed in it. It may be ascertained if the fat is heated to the proper degree, by cutting a piece of bread and dipping it in the frying-pan for five or six seconds; and if it be firm and of a dark brown when taken out, put in immediately what you wish to prepare; if it be not, let the fat be heated until of the right temperature. This having been effected, moderate the fire, so that the action may not be too hurried, and that by a continuous heat the juices of the substance may be preserved, and its flavour enhanced.

572. THE PHILOSOPHY OF FRYING consists in this, that liquids subjected to the action of fire do not all receive the same quantity of heat. Being differently constituted in their nature, they possess different “capacities for caloric.” Thus, you may, with impunity, dip your finger in boiling spirits of wine; you would take it very quickly from boiling brandy, yet more rapidly from water; whilst the effects of the most rapid immersion in boiling oil need not be told. As a consequence of this, heated fluids act differently on the sapid bodies presented to them. Those put in water, dissolve, and are reduced to a soft mass; the result being bouillon, stock, &c. (see No. 103). Those substances, on the contrary, treated with oil, harden, assume a more or less deep colour, and are finally carbonized. The reason of these different results is, that, in the first instance, water dissolves and extracts the interior juices of the alimentary substances placed in it; whilst, in the second, the juices are preserved; for they are insoluble in oil.

573. IT IS TO BE ESPECIALLY REMEMBERED, in connection with frying, that all dishes fried in fat should be placed before the fire on a piece of blotting-paper, or sieve reversed, and there left for a few minutes, so that any superfluous greasy moisture may be removed.

574. THE UTENSILS USED FOR THE PURPOSES OF FRYING are confined to frying-pans, although these are of various sizes; and, for small and delicate dishes, such as collops, fritters, pancakes, &c., the sauté pan, of which we give an engraving, is used.

Cooking by Gas.

575. GAS-COOKING can scarcely now be considered a novelty — many establishments, both small and large, have been fitted with apparatus for cooking by this mode, which undoubtedly exhibits some advantages. Thus the heat may be more regularly supplied to the substance cooking, and the operation is essentially a clean one, because there can be no cinders or other dirt to be provided for. Some labour and attention necessary, too, with a coal fire or close stove, may be saved; and, besides this, it may, perhaps, be said that culinary operations are reduced, by this means, to something like a certainty.

576. THERE ARE, HOWEVER, WE THINK, MANY OBJECTIONS to this mode of cooking, more especially when applied to small domestic establishments. For instance, the ingenious machinery necessary for carrying it out, requires cooks perfectly conversant with its use; and if the gas, when the cooking operations are finished, be not turned off, there will be a large increase in the cost of cooking, instead of the economy which it has been supposed to bring. For large establishments, such as some of the immense London warehouses, where a large number of young men have to be catered for daily, it may be well adapted, as it is just possible that a slight increase in the supply of gas necessary for a couple of joints, may serve equally to cook a dozen dishes.

Roasting.

577. OF THE VARIOUS METHODS OF PREPARING MEAT, ROASTING is that which most effectually preserves its nutritive qualities. Meat is roasted by being exposed to the direct influence of the fire. This is done by placing the meat before an open grate, and keeping it in motion to prevent the scorching on any particular part. When meat is properly roasted, the outer layer of its albumen is coagulated, and thus presents a barrier to the exit of the juice. In roasting meat, the heat must be strongest at first, and it should then be much reduced. To have a good juicy roast, therefore, the fire must be red and vigorous at the very commencement of the operation. In the most careful roasting, some of the juice is squeezed out of the meat: this evaporates on the surface of the meat, and gives it a dark brown colour, a rich lustre, and a strong aromatic taste. Besides these effects on the albumen and the expelled juice, roasting converts the cellular tissue of the meat into gelatine, and melts the fat out of the fat-cells.

578. IF A SPIT is used to support the meat before the fire, it should be kept quite bright. Sand and water ought to be used to scour it with, for brickdust and oil may give a disagreeable taste to the meat. When well scoured, it must be wiped quite dry with a clean cloth; and, in spitting the meat, the prime parts should be left untouched, so as to avoid any great escape of its juices.

579. KITCHENS IN LARGE ESTABLISHMENTS are usually fitted with what are termed “smoke-jacks.” By means of these, several spits, if required, may be turned at the same time. This not being, of course, necessary in smaller establishments, a roasting apparatus, more economical in its consumption of coal, is more frequently in use.

580. THE BOTTLE-JACK, of which we here give an illustration, with the wheel and hook, and showing the precise manner of using it, is now commonly used in many kitchens. This consists of a spring inclosed in a brass cylinder, and requires winding up before it is used, and sometimes, also, during the operation of roasting. The joint is fixed to an iron hook, which is suspended by a chain connected with a wheel, and which, in its turn, is connected with the bottle-jack. Beneath it stands the dripping-pan, which we have also engraved, together with the basting-ladle, the use of which latter should not be spared; as there can be no good roast without good basting. “Spare the rod, and spoil the child,” might easily be paraphrased into “Spare the basting, and spoil the meat.” If the joint is small and light, and so turns unsteadily, this may be remedied by fixing to the wheel one of the kitchen weights. Sometimes this jack is fixed inside a screen; but there is this objection to this apparatus — that the meat cooked in it resembles the flavour of baked meat. This is derived from its being so completely surrounded with the tin, that no sufficient current of air gets to it. It will be found preferable to make use of a common meat-screen, such as is shown in the woodcut. This contains shelves for warming plates and dishes; and with this, the reflection not being so powerful, and more air being admitted to the joint, the roast may be very excellently cooked.

581. IN STIRRING THE FIRE, or putting fresh coals on it, the dripping-pan should always be drawn back, so that there may be no danger of the coal, cinders, or ashes falling down into it.

582. UNDER EACH PARTICULAR RECIPE there is stated the time required for roasting each joint; but, as a general rule, it may be here given, that for every pound of meat, in ordinary-sized joints, a quarter of an hour may be allotted.

583. WHITE MEATS, AND THE MEAT OF YOUNG ANIMALS, require to be very well roasted, both to be pleasant to the palate and easy of digestion. Thus veal, pork, and lamb, should be thoroughly done to the centre.

584. MUTTON AND BEEF, on the other hand, do not, generally speaking, require to be so thoroughly done, and they should be dressed to the point, that, in carving them, the gravy should just run, but not too freely. Of course in this, as in most other dishes, the tastes of individuals vary; and there are many who cannot partake, with satisfaction, of any joint unless it is what others would call overdressed.

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