The other day, I wrote about how to cook The Perfect Steak. The article received fantastic feedback from readers, so thank you to everyone for commenting. I would like to address some of the comments though, namely those regarding ‘searing meat to seal in the juices’.
Whether you follow TV chefs, cook books or old family recipes, almost all of them suggest that, when cooking steaks, roasts, stews or other meat dishes, searing meat seals in the juices. Unfortunately though, this idea is a complete myth that has pervaded the culinary world for hundreds of years. I’m sorry to say, but there is just no such thing as sealing in the juices.
Myth That Lives On
The myth was first introduced to the food world in 1850 by German chemist Justus von Liebig. Liebig believed that meat juices contained nutritionally valuable compounds so minimising their loss was important. He published a book called “Researches on the Chemistry of Food”, in which he purported that searing meat quickly at high temperatures would prevent moisture loss.
Liebig’s ideas proved very popular at the time and the myth spread around the world. Experiments in the 1930s disproved this idea but the myth purveyed and lives on til this day.
Higher Temperature, More Water Loss
Quite contrary to Liebig’s idea, the temperature of the meat is proportional to the amount of water lost. When meat is heated, muscles fibres contract to expel water. The crust that we see on sealed meat is from browning reactions, which does nothing to prevent moisture loss. It does not form an impenetrable barrier to water and if anything, represents the driest portion of the meat.
Evidence of this is the sizzling sound the meat makes when placed in a hot pan sealed side down. This sound is due to water escaping the meat, hitting the pan and evaporating off.
Searing the meat is still an important part of the cooking process, just not for the reason of sealing in moisture. The crust formed at high temperatures produces a lot of flavour, boosting the meaty taste and making us salivate. It also creates a textural difference between the inside and outside of the steak.
I hope that one day this myth is well and truly expelled from our culinary classes. I have noticed recently less and less promotion of this ‘sealing juices’ idea but it still exists. The best thing you can do to debunk this myth is to share your knowledge. One day, truth shall prevail!