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Food Prep 101: Meat shouldn’t be a mystery
March 6, 2013 - Anita Hanaburgh
Did you read last week’s column? Vegetables cooked in an acid will D.) take a long time to soften. Today, let’s look at meat. There are many different cuts of meat and many different ways to prepare meats, and it is a mystery to most of us.
Let’s cover some basics. Meat is the edible part of an animal. It can be the flesh, the organs, even the skin. We eat the “meat” of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals, but when we think of meat, most of us think of mammals — beef, lamb and pork, which we shall look at today.
Meat is a great source of complete proteins, which are essential for the building and repair of human tissues. It also is rich in zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium and B vitamins, especially Vitamin B12, found only in animal products. Meat contains saturated fats that provide stored energy but can cause hardening of the arteries and heart failure if consumed in excess.
When preparing meat, the mystery is to maintain tenderness and juiciness.
To know how to keep meat tender and juicy, we have to understand the basic parts that make up meat:
Muscles: The main part of the flesh, which we eat, is made up of bundles of tender muscle fibers surrounded by a thin or thick sheath of connective tissue.
Connective Tissue: This includes tendons, which are strong tissues that connect the muscles to the bones. These can’t be tenderized. They should be removed or ground up. Collagen surrounds the muscles and is abundant and tough in active muscles and tender in lazy muscles.
Fat: Fat is stored in muscle tissue. When heated, it melts and lubricates the muscle fibers in the meat, helping to keep it moist and add flavor. Fat appears in a heavy outer layer around the meat or in the form of intermuscular marbling, the white lines throughout the flesh. The more marbled the meat, the more tender it will be, but cuts with too much fat can taste awful.
Myoglobin: This is the flavorful iron-rich protein that gives raw meat its red color. It is what we commonly call blood, but the actual blood is mostly drained out after butchering. When exposed to air, it keeps it red color, but when heated, myoglobin turns pink, then grey.
Keeping all that in mind, tenderness and juiciness are affected by:
1. The cut of meat you choose; i.e., the amount of fat and collagen contained in particular cuts. The more action, the tougher the connective tissue. One way to remember is to look at your own body. Where is there action, where is the fat? In beef, Porterhouse steak is the most desirable cut, located in the center of the ribs /back. It contains the tenderloin — the tenderest, and the strip — the juiciest. Chuck has a lot of collagen and also a lot of fat, so it doesn’t dry out when cooked long.
Round cuts are trickier to cook as they have a medium amount of collagen and fat and will dry out if overcooked. Lamb cuts are similar to beef. Pork cuts are fattier, with less connective tissue, therefore mostly tender.
2. How long the meat is cooked and by what method. The more collagen there is in a piece of meat, the tougher it is. Collagen is soluble in water, and when it is cooked slowly, it becomes gelatin, therefore tender. The longer meat is cooked, the more juice it loses, and the tougher it becomes, so a balance is called for. Tough cuts with lots of connective tissue require moist heat methods such as stewing or braising to keep them from drying out while the collagen breaks down. Tender cuts that are well-marbled with little connective tissue can be cooked with quick, dry-heat methods, such as roasting, broiling, pan-frying and grilling.
3. The animal’s age at slaughter.
4. Use of tenderizers. Some acids and fruit enzymes help break down collagen but will only penetrate a small distance unless injected commercially. You can make collagen less tough by marinating, pounding or grinding the meat.
5. The grade of beef. “Prime” is the best and available to restaurants. Most of the beef purchased in grocery stores is “choice,” the second-best grade, or “select.” “Cutter” and “canner” are used in pot pies or processed meats.
Task to Try:
Pan Fry A Strip Steak
Pat two steaks dry and season with plenty of kosher salt and set aside for two to three minutes.
Meanwhile, set a large skillet over high heat and add a drizzle of grape seed oil or canola oil, as they have a high smoke point. When the oil is smoking, place the steaks in the pan to sear on one side. Cook for two to three minutes until you have a nice sear on the steak.
Add two tablespoons of butter to the pan. Tilt the pan, and using a spoon, baste the steaks with butter.
Add 1 teaspoon of thyme, garlic and rosemary to the pan to flavor the melted butter. Continue to baste and cook for seven to eight minutes, depending on doneness desired. (Tender cuts should never be cooked well done!) Turn once for a quick brown. Remove steaks to a plate to rest and keep juices.
To Learn More
We have barely touched the surface of meat cookery. You can continue your education online by checking out the charts at this site: www.virtualweberbullet.com/meatcharts.html.
Or learn about preparing roast beef here:?www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsHGYfIHS8o.
Dressing or sauce should be applied to a salad when? A.) before the tomatoes, B.) just before serving, C.) after they are warmed to room temperature, or D.) all three.
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