Food Composition and Taste

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Well-done? Medium rare? Rare?

Eating steak at a high-end restaurant isn’t something many people do on a regular basis, so when you do get the opportunity, you should be ready. In this post, we’ll go over the differences between the levels that the meat can be cooked: from very rare to medium rare, to well done.

We’ll start off with a table that shows the basics of each level:

Term (French) Description Temperature range
Extra-rare or Blue (bleu) very red and cold 46–49 °C 115–120 °F
Rare (saignant) cold red center; soft 52–55 °C 125–130 °F
Medium rare (à point) warm red center; firmer 55–60 °C 130–140 °F
Medium (demi-anglais) pink and firm 60–65 °C 140–150 °F
Medium well (cuit) small amount of pink in the center 65–69 °C 150–155 °F
Well done (bien cuit) gray-brown throughout; firm 71–100 °C 160–212 °F

Chemical composition:

Meat is generally made up of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and water (moisture). On average, three-quarters of meat is water. However, this number can change significantly after cooking; the more the moisture is evaporated off, the harder the meat will become. The rest is mostly protein and fat, while carbohydrates make up only a small percentage. At around 140 °F, fat in the steak begins to dissolve and dissipate. This is crucial because it releases the flavor into the meat.

Meat Texture:

Meat texture is highly dependent on the extent of proteolytic changes, or changes related to breakdown of protein, that occur during cooking. High cooking temperatures, as used for well done steak, can reduce tenderness. Long cooking times with a slightly lower temperature can tenderize meat that contain large amounts of connective tissue by converting them into gelatin. The chemical composition of meat is also extremely important in determining texture; large amounts of fat will make the meat more tender since fat is softer than muscle. The pH of the environment in which the meat is cooked in has also been determined to have a clear relationship with meat texture. High pH values favor proteolysis, helping to break down the muscle fibers in the meat and making it more tender.

Meat Quality:

Meat quality is a subjective topic, but it can assessed objectively in a few ways. For example, tenderness is usually the most desirable. This is reflected in the fact that fillet steak is both the most tender and the most expensive cut of beef. In addition, juiciness can range from dryness to succulence. Dry meat can be the result of reduced “water-holding capacity” as a result of chemical changes due to heating or low  levels of fat. Flavor is usually determined by the water-soluble constituents of the meat, while the odor is usually determined by the fat-soluble, volatile components.

To finish off this post, we’ll present a picture of the different cooking levels of steak to help you decide which one you’ll order:

Author: Jonathan Yu