The Maillard Reaction is a very important factor when considering how well beef should be cooked. It refers to a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugar and takes its name from a French chemist Louis Camille Maillard who discovered the process more than one hundred years ago.
Why should this concern us, you might well ask. The answer is that when we understand this process then we can cook the perfect steaks (or bread or coffee beans or whatever).
It takes place when the beef is subjected to a heat of between 140-165 degrees Celsius. It can vary according to airflow humidity ad a number of many other factors, but what is of importance to us is that it seals the surface of the meat and keeps in all the rich juices, the flavour. Of course, it does not make this surface watertight so if left for a considerable period of time, the meat would simply be charred to ashes.
The skill, therefore, is knowing what temperature to cook at and the length of time taken to cook.
Firstly, it is advisable to allow the meat to reach room temperature, so the meat will not be cold in the centre when cooked. To achieve the finest results I recommend only charcoal, charcoal which has been prepared properly from deciduous wood with no resin or oil. This will give you great heat and will stay hot for long periods of time, especially when starved of oxygen.
The next and very important aspect is the desired temperature. I have seen grills at over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, but they are extreme. A good temperature to quickly sear the meat is one of 350+ degrees Celsius up to 500°C.
The meat of 1.5 inches or 4 cm thick should be placed about two inches above the fire which should have no flames. Leave it for two minutes before flipping and a further to minutes on the other side.
Remove from the grill and let it rest in a warm place for half the total cooking time. The meat has been subjected to enormous stress and this “resting” allows the fibres to relax and the juices to be re-absorbed.
You will now have a steak that is caramelised with the Maillard Reaction, black and crispy on the outside and juicy and pink in the centre.
The combination of these two flavours and textures will reward your 600 taste sensors of your tongue to the highest degree, Wonderful, Amazing, Fabulous are some of the adjectives used.
We do NOT recommend cooking any steak as well done as this has had most of the flavour evaporated due to overcooking. Many people do not like to see blood on a plate but with the method of resting all juices are re-absorbed so that is not a problem. We advise for true steak-lovers the best “done-ness” is rare as described above. Any extra time on the heat will lessen the flavour but some will require medium or medium-rare. We do not wish to overcook any fine meat so stop at that degree.
One last point is seasoning. Some people insist that salt and pepper be liberally sprinkled on the meat before cooking. But I would argue that this commences the process of osmosis which removes moisture from the meat and with its flavour. Season after if you wish when the pellicle or crust is formed. Others insist on the use of olive oil, but frankly, I want to taste beef, not oil!