Dear Home Ec 101:
Okay, I’m new to cooking. Why do I need to pound the chicken breasts with a mallet or rolling pin? Like, why do I need to pound them at all?
~Are you really telling me to beat my meat?
I sure am.
Meat is nothing more than muscle. I know, I know, it isn’t a lot of fun to think about, but muscles are built of fibrous cells. These cells are held together in bundles by connective tissue. The amount of connective tissue depends on the type of animal and the location of the muscle. The more connective tissue, the tougher the cut of meat.
There are several ways to tenderize meat: mechanically, chemically, and through long slow cooking. Pounding meat with a mallet or rolling pin is a mechanical means of breaking down the muscle and connective fibers.
Is it crucial? Not always, if you are in a hurry your chicken fingers will be fine. However, if you are making a pasta with a light sauce, the overall experience will be lessened if combined with a tough bite of meat.
Give it a try sometime, it is a great way to release pent up aggression. I place dishtowels under the cutting board to absorb some of the shock and reduce the noise. I also cover the meat with plastic wrap or wax paper to minimize any “splatter effect.” If you choose to use a meat mallet, omit the cover as the teeth will shred the paper or imbed it in the meat. I use a rolling pin.
Please don’t forget to disinfect your cutting board and mallet when you are through with the beating. Cross contamination is always something to consider when working with raw meat.