So check it out, I'm giving up meat for Lent. This isn't going to change the blog too much -- seafood doesn't count, Sundays don't count, and I'm making an exception for corned beef at St Patrick's Day -- but it'll affect me some, and I thought, hey, before Lent starts, I should use some of that Activa TG.
Activa TG is the main commercial kitchen preparation of transglutaminase, also known as meat glue. Transglutaminases bond proteins together, without adding flavor or changing texture in ways other than the creation of that bond. At the industrial level, transglutaminase is used for Chicken McNuggets, Spam, imitation crabmeat, salisbury steak TV dinners, the bigger brands of hot dogs (and kielbasa and a lot of other sausages) -- all of which are made the same basic way, by creating a paste of finely-chopped meat, seasonings and salt, and transglutaminase, which is then shaped and formed. As an additive, it can be used to make the mouthfeel of milk and yogurt creamier, and (I guess because of the protein content in wheat flour) it can help make pasta firmer.
Those uses have existed for decades. I mean, this stuff opened a door to a whole world of chopped-and-formed foods.
But in the professional kitchen, transglutaminase is much newer. Wylie Dufresne -- who seems to be the first chef to use it in the US -- makes "noodles" by extruding a transglutaminase-spiked shrimp paste into a hot water bath, bonds meat to fish, lines scallops together end to end, and so on. We're a long way from discovering everything you can do with it. It bonds protein to protein -- not sticks them together, in a way that'll make them fall apart again later, like wrapping bacon around something. It bonds them. This is both a very very simple thing, and something that opens up a world of possibilities, many of which (like those noodles) aren't obvious at first glance.
You can't buy transglutaminase in the supermarket. Even by mail order, you can only buy it in enormous quantities, which is beyond impractical for the home cook: not only is it very expensive, but transglutaminase is a live enzyme with a short shelf life once it's exposed to oxygen or moisture, and even if you used it for every meal every day, you would not be able to get through a full package of it before it dies.
But me ... I have a blog. So I got two 100g sample packs of Activa TG-RM.
The first idea I had for transglutaminase remained one of the best: chicken-fried steak.
I used steak tips cut into pieces, hammering a couple of them out with a tenderizer and leaving another one untenderized, just to see which worked better. Sprinkled Activa on pieces of chicken skin from a whole chicken and wrapped them around the steak pieces, and let it bond in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, I took the steak pieces through my usual chicken-frying procedure (in corn oil, though animal fat would be preferable): shake in a bag of self-rising flour with a little cornmeal and seasoned salt, rest for twenty minutes, shake again and drop into hot fat.
The result ...
Click through to see that close-up if you're reading this somewhere where it's cut off (like on the blog page): it's important. Notice what would look like, if this were conventional chicken-fried steak, unfried batter. It isn't batter. There is no batter, just a little flouring on the outside. Instead, the combination of bonding and frying has resulted in a layer of unctuous, luxurious, subcutaneous fat -- just like in duck. It's not uncooked, it just wasn't rendered out. The skin is still crackling-crisp.
The piece you see the cross-section of was one of the tenderized pieces. This is one of the untenderized:
The steak is cooked to about medium. (Rare would be difficult because of the frying.)
The flavor is different from conventional chicken-fried steak. For one thing, the steak is different -- these are sirloin tips, not mega-tenderized chuck. For another, there's no batter, just crispy chicken skin. You don't have any incidents of meat falling loose from its encasement.
I think cream gravy would be out of place here. This is a dish called chicken-fried steak, but it's not that chicken-fried steak. If I were to accompany this, I think the way to go would be some warmed pepper jelly, and some sauteed greens.
I was going to include the whole batch of transglutaminase experiments in this post. I've changed my mind. They can have their own separate post. It would be disrespectful to clutter this post with them. This, this is one of the best things I've done: this is my masterpiece: this is my Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones. Today, I am a cook.