The Maillard Effect

Most agree, food always tastes better outside, especially on a lovely sunny day surrounded by friends & family, but there might be a little bit more to it than just that.

meat on fireBarbecue in full flow

When we think about cooking outside there are a plethora of ways & means to do this. Everyone is catered for from the lean minimalist camper who counts the grams, right through to the barbecue king who puts on a show of culinary delight of sound, flavour & smell to wow his audience, usually equipped with a fiendishly large barbecue. A host of other cooking methods caters for everyone else in between, myself included.

browned game in potBrowned game into the pot

On our catered courses we are often complemented on the quality of the food we serve our customers, sometimes through sheer surprise more than anything, that something so tasty can be created in the woods over a few burning logs. Well as much as we love to hear this we can’t take all the credit here. Some of it is due to the apparatus we use & how we prepare & cook the food as well. Those that have been on one of our courses will know we use Dutch ovens most of the time on an open fire and with good reason. Apart from being easy to maintain, they do impart their own special flavour into the food with the seasoning that impregnates the surface with each previous meal giving the food its own unique signature.

pancakeChemistry in action

It’s not all about the Dutch oven though, as there is a little bit of chemistry going on with the way we choose to cook with as well. A reaction occurs with food when we introduce it in its raw state to a searing hot oiled griddle or pan. The aroma that it gives off is intoxicating filling the camp area with the aroma and promise of tasty food. It is not the food alone that is responsible for this reaction. Imagining the same food simply boiled compared to grilled or fried. It is the same food and yet the grilled one not only looks more appetizing than the aneamic looking boiled alternative, it also tastes better too.

cooking on fire Bread & curry, the Maillard effects works on both

So what is happening here? Well when raw food is placed in contact with a high heat at about 150 degrees centigrade, it dries out the surface of the food and starts a chemical reaction between the sugars & amino acids in the food. This reaction creates lots of flavour compounds & transforms the surface of the food to a deep brown colour. Each food type has it’s own set of sugars & amino acids & so when this reaction occurs it produces its own unique flavours.

Eating by the fireEnjoying the Maillard effect

Too much heat though & the Millard effect ceases & pyrolysis takes over & charring starts to occur. Charring leaves a bitter taste  to the food which in small doses can enhance flavours, but if left unchecked will lead to burning, which soon becomes unpalatable and irreversible, the end result of many a sausage of an unattended barbecue.

If there is a little water held in your meat it will be drawn out and appear in your pan. This can prevent the Maillard effect occurring as it drops the temperature of the cooking surface so it is important to strain this away which will allow the temperature to raise once more to for the reaction to occur once again. Once the meat has browned you can make an intoxicating gravy with what remains in the pan. Just add a little water, or a liquid of your choice and reduce. Add this over the cooked meat or into the stew to add another depth of flavour to your food.

Now sit back and enjoy your food in the great outdoors, with the understanding why it taste so good.

Related posts