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I'm making one of my many types of long-cook meal, this time Hungarian Goulash, using beef skirt.

All is at a simmer, which I would keep up for four hours. However, only three hours into this, I must go out for two hours. I don't want to leave it unsupervised for a total of five or more hours, in case the meat turns to that unappetising 'wood-chip' texture - there's a break-point between 'done' & 'over-cooked' at about the 4-hour point and I want to catch it at the optimum, not past it.

What happens if I switch it off now & pick up again when I get back?
Assume for this that the temperature won't drop into the danger zone in the intervening period.

Will the cooking pick up where it left off, once it's back to temperature, or will it change state somehow after cooling?

As an extreme example, I'm thinking of potatoes if you heat them just until they clarify, then switch off & allow to cool, they will then never cook to fall-apart soft. [Neat trick for patatas bravas, but not suitable for everything.]

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  • Don't underestimate the carry-over cooking that will happen once you turn the heat off.
    – moscafj
    Oct 27, 2022 at 13:22
  • I'm trying to factor all this in too, as well as the point at which I drop my potatoes & carrots to get the last 40 mins. I just don't have a mental history to think back through for a reasonable comparison; I do this type of long-cook when I know I'm going to be here to supervise, otherwise it does the full stretch in a slow cooker instead. In fact, this is really a question for 'next time' because I'm just going to have to go with guesswork today ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 27, 2022 at 13:26
  • Any way to stick a thermocouple in your stew today during the "trial" phase? You could measure the residual heat once you turn off the gas and perhaps roughly calculate the answer to your question.
    – moscafj
    Oct 27, 2022 at 14:02
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    @moscafj - I don't posses any kind of food thermometer, but I just about got away with it - more info under the answer. :)
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 28, 2022 at 11:30

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I think particularly for stews, where the meat is submerged in a braising liquid, the only thing to be concerned about is the danger-zone temprature you identified. For my own sanity, I'm gonna assume you're eating it all once finished rather than cooling it off and reheating it (and therefore passing it through that danger zone one more time than is necessary).

Assuming it's magically cooled down to room temp, there's very little that's going to change in the meat that hasn't already happened in the first couple of hours of braising; especially if you're returning to it relatively soon.

If it's a single hunk of meat rather than pieces, you might want to consider flipping it to give the un-submerged side some chance to soak up juices, as it may have dried out slightly; but I wouldn't call that a change in state, exactly.

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    As it turned out, by the time I got back it hadn't cooled massively - I don't have a thermometer but it was still too hot to put a finger in (ikr;) I dropped my potatoes & carrots, brought it all back to the boil & gave it a final 45min simmer. The meat was slightly over, but not enough to upset anyone. It was in cubes & being goulash had a lot of gravy so it was all submerged nicely. My Hungarian-parentage partner gave it the thumbs up & went to tell her mother my recipe… which made me feel rather happy/relieved about the whole episode;))
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 28, 2022 at 11:29

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