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I've begun cooking Asian food in the past year or so, and in many Korean and Chinese beef recipes, I see instructions to soak beef in water. Just plain water, not salt water or anything. And every recipe seems to have a different time - from 5 minutes to like, multiple hours.

I inquired about this and was given various reasons for this step, including "to remove the blood (because it is simply undesirable", "To remove the blood, because it gives the meat a bad taste" or "To soften the beef".

I'm wondering:

  1. Does soaking meat in water really remove that much blood?
  2. How much of a flavor component is blood and why would it give it a bad taste (especially since i've never soaked beef before and I've like the taste just fine)?
  3. What is the action of solute-free water on a piece of beef immersed in it? Can it really tenderise it to any degree, or is there any osmosis occurring or other such physical/chemical action?
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2 Answers

Unless you are getting your beef directly from a farm or butcher's truck, most blood will long have vacated the muscle. As the muscle enters rigor mortis and is (this is true for America and Europe, traditions and techniques are different in some parts of Asia and Africa) hung for the prescribed seven to ten days it loses almost all of its capillary blood.

Dry aged (not as common) beef has this effect even more, if you purchased a supermarket filet with a "sanitary pad" in the bottom, the moisture you see there is juices, water and some protein, from collapsing cells, not blood. The same is true for any beef not cooked to shoe-leather consistency, the reddish "juice" is intra-cellular and not from blood vessels.

As far as flavors go, soaking your meat for any period of time below, let's say, two days, has very little effect. It was traditionally done to apply some osmotic power to the cut in order to dilute and remove salt left over from the drying process (this was before cooling was widely available, still done in many countries outside of Europe and America), but isn't usually necessary for meat you get in the meat aisle or from your local butcher.

As far as tenderizing goes, no. Enzymatic tenderizing (that is the stuff that happens when you age beef) goes on, of course, but you won't be able to tell much of a difference between the time you bought the muscle and the time you consume it. Water itself does not tenderize. Minutes to hours do nothing.

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This is the most awesome answer ever. Thank you very much. Maybe the soaking instructions are just a holdover from past traditions that necessitated it. –  Anne Nov 29 '11 at 10:56
    
Couldn't there still be blood in the muscle when it's been vacuum-tendered. At least here in Sweden, most meat is tendered in plastic vac packages rather than hung (unfortunately). –  Niklas Dec 5 '11 at 22:52
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So untrue. I soak chicken, turkey or beef and pork I think need tenderizing in anything available, including water. It tenderizes UNBELIEVABLY! The Chinese and Korean people know how to cook so well and have wonderful techniques and I am an American who grew up on American cooking but learned so much from these people in so many ways of cooking.

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