How to Tenderize Meat

A good pounding for good eating.
How to Tenderize Meat

Flattening meat with a hammer is the most fun you can have in your kitchen — and it makes for better meals, too.

You might recall the line in Stripes when John Candy says, “My friends call me Ox. You might have noticed that I've got a slight weight problem…I went to this doctor. Well, he told me I swallow a lot of aggression...along with a lot of pizzas!"

Tenderizing Without Pounding

If you’re not in the mood to unleash your inner Thor in the kitchen, you can tenderize meat with pineapple juice. It has a natural enzyme that breaks down proteins and connective tissue.

One warning: You have to use fresh pineapple, not canned juice. The heating process during canning destroys the necessary enzymes.
  • Mix 1/4 cup finely minced fresh pineapple with 1 tablespoon of your favorite spice rub. Particularly good here are jerk and Southwest seasoning blends.
  • Smooth this mixture over the meat.
  • Refrigerate for up to 3 hours (more and the enzymes will start to digest the meat) before cooking.

We suggest that instead of swallowing your aggression, you take it out on the meat you eat, with a hammer! We know — awesome, right? Here’s why you should do it:
  • It creates a thin cutlet that cooks superfast. You can use a larger cut of meat and turn it into a paillard (French, pie-YAR), a plate-size, flattened piece of meat. Or you can use thinner strips and pound them down to make scaloppini.
  • It tenderizes a tougher cut of meat by breaking up some of the fibers and stretching them out. You can’t tenderize the long stewers like brisket or beef chuck, but you can whack away at the moderately tough cuts like a beef top round.

Pound with this
Every good meat-hammer has a flat side and a spiky one. The flat side is for making the thin cutlets — the paillards and scaloppini. If your life is devoid of a meat hammer, you can use the bottom of a skillet, the bottom of an empty wine bottle, the bottom of a heavy pot or even a foil-covered brick.

The spiky side of a meat mallet is the punisher — aka, the tenderizer. It pokes holes in meat, tears apart the fibers and allows the meat to become more tender over the heat. There is no substitute for that spiky side.

What to pound
Size matters, so don’t whack shrimp.

And while we’re on the subject, consider this a rule: Nothing from the sea or garden gets pounded. Instead, whack away at large boneless, skinless cuts of meat such as turkey, chicken, pork, beef or wild game.

To make paillards or scaloppini, use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, turkey cutlets, veal cutlets (like veal top round) or center-cut, boneless pork loin chops.

A whole boneless, skinless chicken breast pounded down becomes a paillard; a boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch-wide strips becomes scaloppini. Same goes for the other cuts mentioned above.

Cuts that could use the tenderizing punishment include serving-size pieces of lamb sirloin steaks, beef top round, beef bottom round (when pounded, it becomes cube steak) or any boneless, gamy chop (like venison or elk).

How to pound

  • For paillards and scaloppini, place the meat between two sheets of plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is big enough to accommodate the fact that the meat will get bigger as you pound it.
  • Don’t go nuts. Use a rhythmic but gentle banging, working the hammer down and to the side repeatedly, starting from the middle out.
  • Use fresh plastic wrap for successive batches.
  • To tenderize larger cuts, place them on your cutting board and pound away with the spikes on both sides of the meat until there are a lot of holes, almost like chopped meat that’s still held together. With these cuts, you can go a little nuts. Put the hammer to them, baby!

When to pound
You can tenderize meat up to a day in advance. Keep any pounded or tenderized cuts wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge on a plate.

How to cook it

  • Grill paillards over high heat (just a couple minutes in all because they’re so thin) or sauté them in a skillet with a little butter or olive oil. A squeeze of lemon juice at the end is a great finish.
  • Sauté scaloppini in a skillet. No breading is necessary — just melt a little fat and add the thin strips. They’ll cook in a minute or two, turning once.
  • Grill tenderized cuts like lamb sirloin, beef sirloin or cube steak over high heat or broil them 4 to 6 inches from the heat source under a preheated broiler until cooked through, up to 6 minutes, turning once.

Serve a green salad on the side and you’re good to go.

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