We’ve all heard the phrase ‘rest the meat’. But what exactly does it mean – and more to the point, why should we be doing it?
Resting simply means removing the meat from a hot oven or pan, and placing it somewhere warm for a while before serving it. Yes, it’s frustrating when you’re starving hungry, and the whole kitchen smells delicious, but it will be worth your while, honest! There are a couple of main reasons why …
In a large piece of meat, such as a big roast, the outside heats up faster than the inside. It takes some time for the heat to travel through to the centre of the joint – this actually carries on happening after it’s removed from the oven, and is known as ‘carry-over’ cooking.
For this reason, a big chunk of meat should always be removed from the oven a little bit before it’s cooked all the way through, otherwise it can end up being dry and tough. A meat thermometer is a godsend here – you can remove the meat to rest while the centre of it is still a few degrees below what it will eventually reach. Resting here just allows the temperature to even out throughout the joint.
The second reason is the one you’ll hear about more often. It applies to all meat, large roasts or single steaks. Remember, meat is basically muscle. It’s made up mostly of protein and liquid. When it’s added to a hot pan or oven, the fibres in the muscle contract with the heat. This causes internal pressure to build up, forcing the liquid into the centre of the meat. If you cut into it straight away, the juices – where a lot of the flavour is concentrated – will leak out all over the plate.
By letting it sit somewhere warm for a while first – about 10 minutes for a steak, anything up to an hour for a really big roast – the muscle fibres relax again, the internal pressure reduces, and all those lovely juices stay put where they belong. And because the fibres have relaxed, the meat becomes more tender to the bite, as well as staying juicier. Sounds like a win-win situation to me!
So there you have it. Next time you want to tuck in straight away – stop! Control your drooling for a wee while, treat your meat with respect, and when you do take that first bite, it will be juicy, tender and fabulous. Good things come to those who wait!