If you're cooking a tough steak cut, such as a round steak, your meal will be much better if you first tenderize your steak. Tenderizing is especially important if you intend to cook your steak with a dry-heat method such as pan-searing, grilling, broiling or baking. Milk and other dairy products effectively tenderize meat when used like a marinade.
The Power of Milk
Exactly how milk and other dairy products -- buttermilk and yogurt, for example -- tenderize meat is unknown. Experts suspect that the high calcium content triggers a certain enzymatic action in the beef that begins to break down the proteins. This process is similar to the tenderizing effects of aging meat, so, while most marinades merely impart flavor, milk actually tenderizes the steak.
A Milk Bath
To tenderize steak, submerge it completely in milk; to use less, cover it halfway and flip it halfway through the marination time. Use a nonreactive dish, such as a container made of stainless steel, glass, plastic or ceramic, or use a tightly sealed plastic bag. Turn the milk into a flavoring marinade by adding some complementary seasonings, such as salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, basil, rosemary and tarragon.
Milk is relatively low in acidity as compared to most marinades and other enzymatic tenderizers. This allows for a lengthier soak without turning the texture of the steak to mush. Steaks around an inch or less thick only need about an hour or two of marinating time, while thicker steaks can marinate in milk for up to around six hours. Beef roast cuts benefit from as many as 12 to 24 hours.
If you don't want to use milk or any other dairy product, use another tenderizing method. Certain fruit juices and purees, including kiwi fruit, papaya, pineapple, honeydew and figs, contain enzymes that soften steak. However, because they're so acidic, keep marination times short. You can also manually tenderize steak by pounding it into a cutlet with a meat mallet, rolling pin, pan or other suitable item. Thermal tenderizing -- using low heat for an extended cooking time -- works well for beef cuts with lots of fat and collagen; this may be accomplished with dry- or wet-heat cooking methods.
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