Everyone is who eats meat knows how they like it cooked. Whether you prefer it rare and pooling with bloody juices, or as grey as shoe leather, cooking meat is fraught with perceived difficulties. There is no doubt that it is very hard to gauge how ‘done’ meat is, without cutting into it and having a look. Lots of books give guidelines as to how long you need to cook meat to achieve rare, medium and well-done. The problem is that there are so many factors that affect how meat cooks, such as thickness of the meat, temperature of the pan etc, that these are not always accurate.
Two things are always the same, whatever type of meat you are cooking:
- Bring your meat to room temperature before you cook it. It will not go off. Fridge-cold meat will not cook properly or evenly. Ever.
- Rest your meat. I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. When you have finished cooking, take your meat out of the cooking pan, place on a warmed plate and cover loosely with foil. Then just leave it for at least half the time you have cooked it. Longer if possible. It will not go cold. Resting allows the meat to relax and the juices inside to disperse and ensure a really juicy piece of meat.
The very best guide to whether meat is done is by texture and feel. Rare meat feels very soft, medium-rare is firmer and well-done feels very firm. With practice, there is no need to cut into a steak to see if it has cooked enough. Not only does this spoil the look of the steak, but all those amazing juices inside the meat that ensure the meat does not taste dry are lost.
This is where the Rule of Thumb comes in. This method is as simple as it sounds, but also incredibly accurate. It is based on how the fleshy base of the thumb feels as it is moved along to different fingers on the same hand and comparing it to how the meat you are cooking feels. With practice, this will become the only way you will assess cooked meat and you will be right every time.
- Uncooked. When the hand and the thumb is relaxed, the base of the thumb feels soft and quite flabby. This is how uncooked meat feels when pressed.
- Rare. When the thumb is held against the base of the index finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb feels softly springy. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is rare.
- Medium-rare. If the tip of the thumb is moved to the base of the middle finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb becomes firmer. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is medium-rare.
- Medium. If the tip of the thumb is moved to the base of the ring finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb firms even more and feels quite springy to the the touch. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is medium.
- Well-done. Finally, when the thumb moves to touch the base of the little finger, the fleshy area at the base of the thumb becomes firm and has no spring to it. This is the texture of meat that is cooked so it is well-done.
This method is just for small joints and steaks. Large roasting joints, such as rib of beef must be assessed by time, oven temperature and, best of all, a meat thermometer, as touch is not accurate enough to assess ‘doneness’.