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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?
25

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.

  • 1
    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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In the west beef are not as "fresh" as in asia. The meat in the supermarket in the west most likely have been hanged and drained of any blood for several days. (Hence, there's no need to wash the blood)

In asia, at least the part where I live, the meat that I buy at 6 in the morning is coming from a cow that's slaughtered at 4.

In fact, there's a dish here that requires pre-rigor mortis meat (locally we just say to get the morning meat, meaning as fresh as possible). I've tried making this dish with the post rigor meat in the west and never quite get the right taste or texture. (I've successfully made it in Asia before)

Conversely, the pre-rigor meat here is not suitable for steak. It has a distinct beefy/cow-ey smell to it, it's very off putting to be consumed as steak. The western steak houses (the authentic and expensive ones) here usually get their beef imported from Aussie or NZ.

0

I was always told it’s to make the beef broth more clean tasting. I have skipped the step on one or two occasions and just skimmed the scum off the liquid, but I do find that soaking the meat beforehand does produce a clearer and better tasting broth. So when I make Korean Radish soup with beef broth base, I always soak the meat first. The radish is really light and delicate in taste so soaking the meat makes the broth taste less “intrusive,” in my opinion. Or it could be that that’s the way my grandmother always made her radish soup so I just follow. Her’s is incredible.

-3

I soak chicken, turkey or beef and pork I think need tenderizing in anything available, including water. It tenderizes UNBELIEVABLY!

  • 1
    I find this hard to believe. Have you done side by side comparisons? what cooking methods do you use after the soaking? – rumtscho Feb 10 '16 at 23:08

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