It’s Monday morning after Easter and both my regular clients in DC are on Spring Break which gives me time to spring clean my home this week and maybe work on my blog a bit! Restless days have me reaching for my laptop to pen a new post and I blog whatever’s on my mind, which today is meat tenderizers. Just made a batch on the weekend and had a friend ask me for the recipe. Even as I was about to send her the link, I realized my old meat tenderizer post was my very first blog post in 2011 and was so ancient I used a smile box recipe card which may not work on the newer laptops so it’s time to recreate the recipe.
Meat tenderizers are as ancient as the when the world began. Our Paleo forefathers ate meat and tenderized the meat they ate. The most ancient form of tenderizing meat was the good old-fashioned ‘pound the meat” technique. Here, raw meat was laid out on rocks and pounded repeatedly with a mallet or heavy object till all the tendons and muscles in the meat broke down making it easier to cook. Then, some Paleo hunter probably accidentally dropped a papaya into the meat cauldron while making meat stew and noticed how tender the meat became! Paleo shout and Neanderthal dance … a new method was discovered! The modern hammer type of ‘Meat Mallet’ has spikes on it’s base which helps break down the meat fibers as you pound the meat. No pounding on rocks these days, but chefs use kitchen blocks or butcher’s blocks to pound the meat. Anyways, growing up in India, summers were spent in my grandma’s home in Chennai which was surrounded by papaya trees! I used to watch my uncle cook and noticed how he would go and pluck a small green papaya off the tree, chop it and add it to the meat! With my curious mind, I asked him why he did that and he said he was not sure exactly why, but that the papaya made the meat soft. Of course, later, when I studied nutrition, we learned about bromelain in pineapple and papain in papaya which were rare enzymes that could tenderize protein. It made perfect sense as to why meat got soft with the addition of papaya. Also, could give some weight to an old wives’ tale in India that pregnant women should not eat papaya, since well, if papain can tenderize protein, a fetus is protein, but anyways that’s a different story. Commercial meat tenderizers are easily available and I admit I have used them in an emergency but I find the natural papaya one that I make to yield better results. If you read the ingredients in commercial meat tenderizer, papain is an ingredient along with a host of other preservatives I don’t understand and would prefer to avoid. Meat tenderizers can also be used for lentils or beans and would make the lentils soft in record time.
Benefits of using meat tenderizers
Meat tenderizers enhance and improve flavor by helping release natural flavors in the meat. The greatest benefit is cutting down on cooking time. Cooking meats using high heat esp. while grilling can lead to building up of carcinogens. The science behind overcooking meats in high temperatures is that a chemical compound called PhIp and HCA‘s (hetero cyclic amines) are released under increased heat and have been connected to cancers. When you marinate a meat with meat tenderizer or use it when you cook meat you improve the flavor and cut down on cooking time which is a good thing. To read my post on ‘Safe Grilling Tips to Decrease Carcinogens’ click here!
You pick up the rawest, greenest papaya you can find keeping in mind that the more green the papaya the more papain it contains. You chop it, blend it with lemon or vinegar to give it some staying power and bottle it. You could peel and deseed it but I usually don’t especially since the seeds in the papaya are very tender. If the seeds look dark I remove them since they tend to be bitter but the pale seeds are fine. I add some turmeric, ginger, garlic and green chili to my paste since these add aesthetic value to the tenderizer and enhance flavor but you can just make plain green papaya and lemon tenderizer if you want. I throw in any herbs I have and this time I had some dill so I added that to mix. I usually blend up half a papaya and cut the other half into cubes and freeze for later use. Freezing green papaya keeps the papain intact. My meat tenderizer is usually good for two weeks and I get two 8 oz. jars with half a papaya. I keep one jar in the fridge and freeze the rest in ice cube trays as pictured below. I store the cubes in a Ziploc and throw in a couple of cubes when I need to cook with it. I use it in my meat marinates and anytime I cook meat! Works like a charm to tenderize even the toughest meat including venison which is known to be one of the tougher meats.