Introduction to Meat 101
There are three types of meat:
Red meat (beef, lamb, mutton and bison)
White meat (veal, pork, rabbit and poultry)
Dark meat (game)
A distinction is also made between butcher’s meat (beef, veal, mutton, pork and variety meats (offal), poultry and game.
TIPS FOR BUYING MEATS
The tenderness of meat varies depending on which part of the animal the cut comes from. The area around the ribs and loin (back) of the animal provides the most tender cuts. The rear end of the animal (thigh or leg) produces cuts of medium tenderness, while the toughest cuts come from the front end (flank, shank, breast, shoulder, neck and the ends of the ribs). The older the animal, the less tender the meat will be. Use tender cuts for short cooking methods, tough cuts for long cooking. Allow about 2-3.5 oz. of meat per person.
Choose meat that is fine-grained, firm and smooth to the touch. Beef should be a bright shiny red, mutton is a dark pink, lamb is a paler pink, pork pink and veal more or less pink (grain-fed veal is pink, milk-fed veal is white). Avoid meat that is dull or has an unusual color; it is probably not fresh.
TIPS FOR PREPARING MEATS
Some cuts of meat require more elaborate preparation in order to tenderize them and enhance their flavor, or to ensure they do not dry out during cooking.
Marinating consists of letting meat rest for a few hours in a liquid mixture that is usually acidic and flavored in order to improve its taste. The container in which the meat and marinade are placed should be well-covered and refrigerated.
Larding consists of inserting thin strips of fat in the piece of meat using a larding needle. This provides a lean piece of meat with sufficient fat so that it doesn’t dry out during cooking.
Barding consists of wrapping a wide strip of fat (a “bard”) around a piece of roasting meat to prevent it from drying out during cooking.
TIPS FOR STORING MEATS
Meat is highly perishable. Raw or cooked, it should never remain at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Various methods are used to extend its keeping quality. Meat treated in these ways must be of good quality and in good condition.
Smoking consists of impregnating the meat with smoke. It dries the meat and gives it a darker color and smoky taste. Smoked meats keep up to 6-7 days in the fridge and 1-2 months in the freezer.
Curing or salting consists in salting raw meat to reduce moisture content and enhance flavor. It can be combined with smoking or drying. The meat should be desalted before cooking.
Drying was originally carried out using the sun in the countries where the air is dry and hot. It is also done industrially using freeze-drying. Drying can be combined with smoking and curing.
Freeze-drying is a recent, fairly expensive method that turns the meat’s water content from an ice state into a gas state. Freeze-dried meat contains less than 2% water.
Irradiation uses radiation to kill the pathogenic bacteria present on meat. It is a relatively little-used method, as its health repercussions are not yet known.
Freezing must be carried out quickly to prevent large ice crystals from forming, which affect the quality of the meat. Wrap the meat well to prevent its drying out and its fat becoming rancid in contact with air. Defrost meat slowly, preferably in the fridge, to avoid the loss of juices that results in reduced flavor and nutritional value. Never refreeze completely defrosted meat unless it is cooked beforehand.
TIPS FOR COOKING MEATS
Remove excess fat before cooking. Monitor meat for dryness; add minimal fat or other liquid as needed. Degrease the sauce; place it in the fridge (a layer of fat forms on the surface that can easily be removed), or use paper towels placed gently on the surface to soak up the fat.
Tenderize meat; using a utensil to break its fibers, enzymes (certain foods contain these, including papaya, kiwifruit, fig and pineapple) or an acidic ingredient (vinegar, yogurt, cider, wine, beer, citrus or tomato juice).
Roasting consists of cooking meat in an oven or a closed barbecue; it suits tender roasts, thick meat cuts and poultry. Place meat on rotisserie grill or in oven, placing a container underneath to collect its juices. To make a sauce base, place meat directly on meat bones or trimmings. Season. Roast in 350° oven; semi-tender or tougher roasts, however, are the best cooked slowly at 325°. Once cooked, let meat rest for 5-15 minutes or wrapped in aluminum foil (shiny side facing the meat).
Broiling (oven) or Grilling (barbecue) consists of cooking meat under the broiler of an oven or on the barbecue; it suits tender cuts and poultry. If needed, tenderize meat. Make cuts in fat surrounding meat and season it if desired (only add salt at the end of cooking). Preheat oven broiler or barbecue on a high temperature. Place meat about 4-5 inches from heat source and cook a few minutes on each side, turning (using tongs to limit loss of juices) when droplets appear on the surface (no more than twice). Leave oven door slightly open and do not cover to barbecue. Do not prick meat, and wait a few moments before serving so the juices settle evenly.
Pan-frying this method suits tender or tenderized steaks, ground meat and poultry. Season meat and brown it in a pot with a thick base and sides using a small quantity of fat (omit if using a nonstick pan). Cook uncovered over medium-high heat a few minutes on each side; avoid stewing meat (heat too low) or letting it stick (heat too high). Turn with droplets appear on surface of meat (no more than twice). Add salt at the end of cooking, if desired.
Braising consists of cooking meats on a low temperature and using wet heat; it suits semi-tender and tougher steaks and roasts. Trim meat of fat and season with flour. Sauté meat in a little hot fat or oil on all sides to brown it. Season (salt after cooking unless meat is breaded or floured), insert thermometer if using a roast, and then add a little liquid. Cover and cook over low heat or in the oven at 325°. Degrease cooking liquid before serving. If it is not concentrated enough, bring to a boil and reduce.
Poaching is similar to braising but uses more liquid; it suits roasts or other pieces of meat that are tougher. Before poaching, if desired, flour and sauté meat on all sides over medium-high heat; only salt at the end of cooking. Immerse meat in a cold or just-simmering liquid. For richer stock, add salt at the beginning of cooking, don’t sauté the meat in fat or oil, and immerse it in a cold liquid. Add desired seasonings and simmer gently until meat reaches the desired tenderness. Degrease before serving.
Microwaving suits most meats. Use pieces similar in size and arrange in a circle inside the microwave, the thickest part toward the outside. Cook uncovered. Most meats can be cooked on the highest setting, but less tender cuts benefit from being cooked slowly. Baste the meats with marinade or various sauces to improve flavor and appearance. Check internal temperature at several points.
Doneness, when referring to meat, signifies two things:
First, the cooking temperature (gauged with a food thermometer) at which potential harmful pathogens on the meat are killed, making the meat safe to eat.
Second, the desired look, taste, and texture of the meat for the person consuming it.
Below are temperatures for different degrees of doneness. The amount of time it takes to reach a certain degree of doneness depends on the thickness of the meat, amount of fat and bone, starting temperature of the meat and pan, and other factors. Check the meat periodically. A thermometer works better for thick roasts than for thinner steaks and chops. Note: Roasts will continue to cook after being removed from the oven, so the temperature will rise slightly.
Beef, Veal, Lamb: chops, steaks, roasts
170° Well Done
Pork: chops or roasts
170° Well Done
(The USDA recommends cooking pork roasts to 160° for safety)
(This information was taken was the culinary textbook, “The Visual Food Lover’s Guide”)