Thursday, June 07, 2012

a tale of pre-salting

slices of veal porterhouse, pre-salted (dry brined for 6 hours), 
ala Molly Stevens in ROASTING. absolute perfection. 
gorgonzola topped polenta
saute of spring vegetables: 
(patty-pan squash, baby kale, onion, frozen cornman 2011 red peppers,   
 frozen 2011 Tantre Farm tomatoes)

In all honesty, the concept of veal wigs me out a little bit.  Baby cows?  Yeah, I guess.  But a perfect veal chop- Wow, nothing beats it.  Seriously, nothing.  It's got the buttery mouth-feel of... almost of bacon, and the flavor of the softest tender-est smooth-est not-harsh beef flavor.  It's not something I buy a lot, mostly because of the cost. Typically one single dinner at home is not worth that price.  However, a couple of days ago, standing at the Plum Market butcher counter, this veal was calling to me.  It was gorgeous.  Marbled, medium pink, a wonderful thing of beauty.  So I fell for the veal, like Ulysses to the sirens, and thank the Lord for that. 

But I could have spent all that money, and then botched them.  Thankfully, I've been doing a little research lately, on proper treatment of animals, alive, and animals, prepared as food.  I've read and re-read some of Molly Stevens book on roasting.  Chef Alex directed me toward the section on pre-salting.  Her narrative about this technique, also referred to as a dry brine, is fantastic, scientifically descriptive and interesting. Easy to understand and applicable to the home cook. 

Here's how it boils down: 
Salt is hydroscopic, a word used to describe the property of salt that causes it to attract molecules of water.  Knowing this is important because it equips you with the tools to properly season and prepare a piece of meat, that you have spent much money on. Even more valuable is the life of an animal, a much costlier payment than any dollar amount.  Cooking it properly is the best way to show respect for the life sacrificed, as far as I can see it. 

When you salt a porterhouse, for example, and let it sit on the counter, 20 minutes later you will typically find that beads of moisture will form on the surface of the meat.  This is juice from the meat that has been extracted by the salt via the magical power of osmosis.  You could cook it right away, and essentially you would quickly evaporate the liquid that has been pulled from the center of the meat. OR, and a very important OR, you could let it sit, salted, for a much longer time in a fridge, several hours or depending on the thickness of the meat up to 2 days.  And the chemical power of diffusion will take over.  The inside of the meat is less concentrated with salinity than the outside, so those levels try to equalize.  Essentially what happens is that the juices which once rested on top of the meat will get drawn back into the center of the meat. But now they will have the dissolved salts too, adding to the overall flavor and moisture.  

I wish I could explain to you how wonderful this technique worked for the veal porterhouse steaks.  The veal flavor was concentrated and perfectly salted, but not in a superficial kind of a way that is abrasive, and that can be scraped off with your teeth.  The flesh of the steak was seasoned more successfully than it would have been with only the topical application of the salt.  


Erica said...

Oh my, I seriously love when you get all bloggy. A++.

Kelly Y said...

Totally hungry now.