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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/380

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

explanation; but am not, therefore, disposed to give up the riddle without attempting a solution.

Reverting to what I have already said concerning the action of heat on the constituents of flesh, it is evident that in the first place the long exposure to the boiling-point must harden the albumen. Syntonin, or muscle-fibrine, the material of the ultimate contractile fibers of the muscle, is coagulated by boiling water, and further hardened by continuous boiling, in the same manner as albumen. Thus, the muscle-fibers themselves and the lubricating liquor[1] in which they are imbedded must be simultaneously toughened by the method above described, and this explains the pertinacious fibrosity of the result.

But how is the apparent tenderness, the facile separation of the fibers of the same meat, produced? A little further examination of the anatomy and chemistry of muscle will, I think, explain this quite satisfactorily. The ultimate fibers of the muscles are enveloped in a very delicate membrane; a bundle of these is again enveloped in a somewhat stronger membrane (areolar tissue); and a number of these bundles or fasciculi are further enveloped in a proportionally stronger sheath of similar membrane. All these binding membranes are mainly composed of gelatine, or the substance which (as explained in No. 5) produces gelatine when boiled. The boiling that is necessary to drive out all the air from the tins is sufficient to dissolve this, and effect that easy separability of the muscular fibers, or fasciculi of fibers, that gives to such overcooked meat its fictitious tenderness.

I have entered into these anatomical and chemical details because it is only by understanding them that the difference between true tenderness and spurious tenderness of stewed meat can be soundly understood, especially in this country, where stewed meats are despised because scientific stewing is practically and generally an unknown art. Ask an English cook the difference between boiled beef or mutton and stewed beef or mutton, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred her reply will be to the effect that stewed meat is that which has been boiled or simmered for a longer time than the boiled meat.

She proceeds, in accordance with this definition, when making an Irish stew or similar dish, by "simmering" at 212° until, by the coagulation and hardening of the albumen and syntonin, a leathery mass is obtained; then she continues the simmering until the gelatine of the areolar tissue is dissolved, and the toughened fibers separate or become readily separable. Having achieved this disintegration, she supposes the meat to be tender, the fact being that the fibers individually are tougher than they were at the leathery stage. The mischief is not limited to the destruction of the flavor of the meat, but includes the

  1. I have ventured to ascribe this lubricating function to the albumen which envelops the fibers, though doubtful whether it is quite orthodox to do so. Its identity in composition with the synovial liquor of the joints and the necessity for such lubricant justify this supposition. It may act as a nutrient fluid at the same time.