Meat tenderizer in cooking is a term referring to something to make a tough cut of meat more tender to the bite.
The item referred to by the term can be a chemical “tool”, or a physical one.
Chemical meat tenderizers
A chemical meat tenderizer will have in it enzymes that break the “peptide bonds” in protein and in connective tissue.
Different compounds, mostly all natural, are drawn on for the enzymes:
- Bromelain is made from pineapple plant stems (it can also come from the fruit, but the fruit is economically valuable);
- Papain comes from papaya;
- Actinidin comes from kiwi;
- Ficin comes from figs.
It can come in powder or liquid form. Some powders can be sprinkled directly on the meat.
Some chemical meat tenderizers, if left on the meat too long, can make the surface of the meat squidgy and unappealing.
Some cooks recommend vinegar in braising liquids to tenderize meat.
Physical meat tenderizers
Physical meat tenderizers rely on pounding or collisions to break down the peptide bonds in meat.
Meat tumblers, typically used commercially, have spikes inside them to tenderize the meat.
Some physical meat tenderizers are a rolling cylinder attached to a handle. The cylinder is composed of a series of small blades that cut through the connective tissue.
The most usual physical meat tenderizer, though, is a meat mallet, with small spikes on one face on the mallet. This is dual purpose: it can be also used to thin meat out for dishes such as schnitzel.
When pounding with a meat mallet, don’t pound in one spot so much that you create a hole in the meat.