What cut of beef should I use for a slow-cooked dish? J. F. Thompson
It's all about collagen. This stuff is not exclusive to the cast of The Real Housewives of Melbourne. It is found in skin and connective tissue of all animals and it breaks down into gelatin when boiled, resulting in a juicy, tender dish with unctuous mouthfeel. You also need some fat. Even if you skim some of it off when cooking, you need some fat to carry the flavour. I love chuck steak. It comes from near the shoulders of the beast and has done a lot of work over the life of the steer. It also has a good amount of fat. I also like to use round, oyster blade, skirt and shin. Do not use topside steak. This is perfect for a beef rendang, where the dry texture is a foil for the rich coconut sauce, but will be too stringy for other slow-cooked dishes. Be wary of diced beef sold in a plastic box at the supermarket. This can contain less-than-ideal cuts for slow cooking and can be extremely lean. Have a chat to your butcher and let them know what you're cooking and ask their opinion.
I want to experiment with MSG, but I am concerned about the health effects. M. Callahnan
I am one half of The Hungry Gentlemen with wine writer Max Allen. We do food shows explaining how we experience flavour. One of the props we give people is a tiny plastic bag filled with monosodium glutamate or MSG – a white powder. I am told they look identical to the bags drug dealers use to distribute their nefarious wares. I accidently left some in my hand luggage while travelling, something I only discovered while 30,000 feet over central Australia. Sweating like Ned Beatty in Deliverance, I carefully removed the little baggies and dumped them in the plane's bathroom waste bin. Monosodium glutamate gets a bad wrap. It may not be natural but it's not the hideous chemical it's made out to be. A 1995 report for the US Food and Drug Administration found there was a small possibility some people may be sensitive to this common food additive – it's in everything from snack foods to frozen goods and is used extensively in Asian cuisine. Further trials on humans found MSG did not cause physical reactions in those studied. MSG can be bought in Asian grocers and only a tiny amount is needed to make a dish taste delicious. I personally don't use the stuff. I prefer to add naturally occurring glutamic acid found in soy sauce, fish sauce, Vegemite and parmesan cheese. Anchovies contain a lot of glutamic acid and inosinate – another naturally occurring flavour enhancer. That is why Caesar salad is so delicious – it contains both parmesan and anchovy.
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