Which Temperature for the Enzymatic Phase?
If you have known me for a while or if you have taken part in one of my courses on the steakhouse cooking techniques, you have heard me tell this story at least a million times: have you ever seen the movie The devil wears Prada? Do you remember the scene where Anne Hathaway to get in thanks to Meryl Streep runs like crazy to make the most absurd errands for her? Do you remember when laden of packages, she passes directly through the kitchens of Smith & Wollensky (famosa Steakhouse in New York) to pick up a “to go” steak for her boss, then arrived at the office, discovers that without even telling her she went out for lunch and angrily throws it into the trash can? If you notice, just before being put on the plate by the restaurant chef, the steak is pulled out of an oven. Some call that method “newyorker” but frankly I do not think it has a real name. It is simply the most common system for cooking and serving steak in those parts. This at least until the Reverse Searing was born.
I keep on taking advantage of your sense of imagination to make you think how complicated it should be to give perfectly cooked steaks as you would expect from a Steakhouse, with a service speed considered acceptable in the States (therefore very fast) for the number of people who daily they crowd a local of that kind. The newyorker method (or whatever you may want to call it) in order to decrease the service time (that on those thicknesses it would be at least 10-15 minutes), calls for proceeding to cauterization and then to maintenance at a controlled temperature in the oven.
To a certain Christopher Finney it occurred that perhaps it was more convenient to reverse the phases: first maintenance and then cauterization at the time of the order, offering a fresher and more fragrant product. The surprise was to discover that that stop at controlled temperature starting from raw meat, activates some of the infinite existing enzymes (cathepsins) that proceeded to a partial demolition of the fibers. In essence, the final product was softer, more tender, yielding than the same raw material treated with the newyorker. This is how the Finney or Reverse Searing method, as it is more commonly known, was born, that means inverse cauterization or the inverse of what it happened before with the newyorker.
And here’s how the object of today’s post is born. Finney has made of his method a real reason for study and the whole first phase of Reverse Searing media life was based on the setting created by its inventor: initial maintenance at 200° F and then high temperature cauterization. Yes, you read correctly: 200° F, or about 94° C. The next phase, in which we started talking about Reverse Searing in Italy, coincided with some studies that claimed that the enzymatic activity reached its peak in the temperature range around 50º C and not 100. This automatically became the most ridden setting in our country. About me, I can say that over the years I have further lowered this threshold to 35º C, empirically detecting at these temperatures the best results in terms of increased tenderness of the meat, without however finding any decisive correlation with the degree of dry aging how I heard about. But let’s see them in detail:
Theories on the Field
The Finney Method – The original method involved inserting a probe into the steak and letting it rest at 100° C F until it has reached a temperature of less than 5 degrees to that corresponding to the preferred degree of cooking. It then proceeds with a rest until it does not fall further by 5 degrees, then grilling directly at high temperature. To give an example, if we want a steak at 55° C at the heart, we should keep it in the Reverse up to 50° C, then let it rest up to 45° C and then cauterize it.
Reverse at 50°C – The Reverse became in the following years a consolidated method and publications like Modernist Cuisine and similar began to go deeper into it, from which it would emerge how in reality the temperature range within which the Catepsins would work best would be around 50° C. As mentioned, this is the phase in which Reverse Searing was introduced in Italy. The steak is left to rest at 50° C until it reaches a level of important surface dehydration (in any case not less than 1 h) so to encourages cauterization in the subsequent phase of high temperature grilling.
Reverse at 35°C – The studies continue and it turns out that the Catepsins are not the only enzymes activated and responsible for the process. Moreover, one of the effects of the enzymes in question on the steak is to “break” the protein chains in amino acids, in a process similar to that which occurs during maturation and which involves the release of a series of peptides, responsible for the known enrichment of the aromatic profile, found both in a dry aged steaks and in a Reverse Seared steaks. The point is that it seems that among these additional enzymes, the Calpain appears but it does not activate at temperatures above 40° C. As said, the work of Calpain and Catepsine breaks down proteins into Peptides, which in turn are broken down into free amino acids through aminopeptidases. Of the latter there are different types and also in this case a temperature below 40° C is the one that activates the most. All this chemical treatise serves only to say that in a nutshell it would seem that temperatures below 40° C while not being the maximum yield of Catepsins, add the effect of more enzymes increasing the final tenderness, but above all they give a more aromatic and tasty meat.
Always if you know me, you know that I am very much for the “take it easy” way and I do not go crazy to transform the experience on the grill in the exercise of a formula of chemistry or even of applied physics. This for several reasons:
- I’m not a biologist, I definitely am not even remotely interested in becoming one and even less to look at it. I limit myself to consider the hypotheses that are submitted to me and to test them, not having any qualification so thorough to allow me to refute if the work of a cathepsin really works that way or not.
- We are talking about relatively new theories, true until we discover a new page of a still evolving story. Until the Finney discovery, no one could imagine the effects of the Reverse, but someone found some improvement results at 50° C, just to discover later that perhaps at 35° C could be even better, just to realize later that …. We are waiting for the next episode.
- Although codified, the application of these theories in concrete is influenced by too many factors, too many variables that can affect the result, even more so if we talk about a grill instead than a kitchen.
- The kitchen must be healthy fun, grown on a sufficient substrate of knowledge and experience. If the order of these factors is reversed, in my opinion much of the general sense of why we are here is lost.
All this to say that in my opinion no study can ever replace the empirical experience and that each of us must take a cue from every opinion and then try it on our own skin. So I wanted to organize an experiment in which to directly compare the effects on tendering, cauterization and taste of the three Reverse Searing temperatures.
The Rules of the Game
Let’s start with a single cut of entrecote of Argentine meat, from which we obtain 3 ribeye of the same thickness of two fingers. We let them rest for 100 minutes in a stabilized kettle at a different temperature: 35° C, 50° C and 100° C.
The intent is obviously not to make a correct cooking on steaks, but only to verify the effects on the meat of each temperature of Reverse Searing, ceteris paribus as they say in economics, or at the same conditions. We will make a single exception for the steak at 100° C in which we will insert a probe: in case the temperature exceeded too much 50° C at the heart it would be penalized by the softness. In the case, therefore, we will intervene before the start of the 100 minutes. We will not apply any kind of seasoning on the steaks and even the classic oil film before moving on to the next high temperature cooking phase.
We will use a Weber Q3200, extremely powerful in proportion to the size of the chamber, on which we will cook at a temperature of 300° C and use as a surface a cast iron plate that makes the heat the more homogeneous as possible regardless of where we gonna place the steak. The cooking time for all steaks will be exactly 60 seconds per side and between one cooking and the other we will buffer from the fat and brush the plate to avoid any “aid” in the cauterization. The photographs of the result will be made in one of those illuminated photo boxes that are used by photographers for sample photos, so that the resulting images are not affected by strange light effects or the position from which they are shot.
Actually there was no need to anticipate the cooking of the steak in Reverse at 100° C, because after 100 minutes it was still at 46° C in the heart. So we were able to proceed with the cooking in sequence, leaving the time between each for letting the cast iron plates to bring back to temperature. The effective stabilization temperatures of the kettles have been from 96° C to 98° C, from 51° C to 55° c and from 35° C to 40° C all time long. We will evaluate for each steak the pre-cooking dehydration, the pre-cooking tenderness, the cauterization level reached in 120 seconds of cooking, the tenderness / juiciness / taste after cooking.
This is what resulted:
The most dehydrated steak on the surface was naturally the one placed in Reverse Searing at 100° C, with an almost mahogany color and the fibers slightly in evidence, the fat became intense yellow. Not much far is the one at 50° C with a slightly lighter color and defined anatomical parts contours, the fat has become light yellow. Last comes the steak at 35° C which looks not so different than when we put it in Reverse Searing, with a slightly dry surface but only the the edges of the clod dehydrated in a clear way, the fat remained practically unchanged in its pure white. So far, no surprise compared to what we expected.
This is perhaps the parameter that interests us most and the one that most expresses the enzymatic capacity of the process, but it is a value that is difficult to measure and above all difficult to make perceptible to those who were not present. To do that we made the same test with the steak that we usually do with the slices of brisket to check how much cooking was effective on its collagen: place it on the index finger and subject it to its own weight, to see how much resistance it opposes. Let’s say immediately that the game has been played between the 50° C and 35° C steaks: the traditional Finney method has given a rather compact meat, not particularly yielding. Clearly on another level the other two steaks but between the two, the one in Reverse Searing at 3 ° C objectively had more points, as it emerges quite clearly also from the pcs.
Another interesting factor. Let’s start from an important assumption: the purpose of this test is not the search for an ideal cooking grade. The application of fixed times on the steaks without taking into account the temperatures involved some differences on the final cooking degree, of course. In our test, the final core temperature of the 100° C Reverse Searing steak was 51° C, while the other two surprisingly were one degree apart, respectively 36° C and 35° C. The thing that emerges quite clearly is that a big difference in terms of initial surface dehydration between the three steaks did not translate into an equally evident difference on the level of final cauterization, especially considering that the last two steaks they should have continued their cooking to reach at least 50° C in the heart. Even without considering this factor, among the 3 steaks probably the most homogeneous cauterization was that of the 100° C Reverse Searing, very similar is the one of the other two. In general, however, I would define the difference between the three steaks as not so perceptible.
Tenderness / Juiciness / Taste
We decided to cut each steak in two, then taking a central slice, so as to avoid the clod that is naturally the most juicy and soft part. What emerges at the first sight is that the Finney Method has partially recovered the gap with the two rivals in terms of tenderness, maintaining a good juiciness, tasting very neutral, if it has gained something in terms of aromatic profile is really very little. Although the gap is less evident than what the raw sensations let presage, once again the game is played between the other two solutions. Both were very tender and juicy. Once again, however, I must point out that the Reverse Searing at 35° C had some advantage points. I would have expected a few more differences from an aromatic point of view: both were certainly a step forward compared to the Finney method but I did not find any great diversity of taste intensity between the two.
We can conclude that the differences between the three results are in proportion to the differences in operating temperatures, with a distinct detachment of the Finney Method and more subtle differences between the other two, but which nevertheless objectively exist. In the introduction I explained how over time I have progressively moved towards lower temperatures than the 50°C Reverse but this happened a long time before reading what I reported in the “Theories on the Field”. It was simply a purely empirical consequence of the many cooking sessions of this kind carried out and that made me believe this conviction.
My opinion is that this kind of experience is an essential element of the formation process of each of us. Read everything you can, but then experiment and play. Formulate your idea and have fun questioning it the next time. Enjoy yourselves. After all, you’re here for this, aren’t you?