Choosing the right cuts of meat!
How do you choose which cut of meat is best suited for the dish you want to prepare? What is it that you should look for?
Two of the most important people you should get to know, are your butcher and your fishmonger. You should have a form a good relationship with them so that you can trust them. They can help you make the right choices and offer you top quality products that will also improve the quality of your cooking!
You should also know a few things about meat…
Meat is mainly composed of water, protein and fat. In essence, we are talking about the muscles of an animal.
Some of the muscles are larger, some are smaller, some are joined together to make up a limb, like the leg. Others are very large so we buy them whole.
Some muscles are more active, like the leg muscles and others are less active, like the as the back muscles. The fillet is one of the softest because the muscles it is made up of are quite inactive.
The more active the muscle is… the more cooking it needs to soften and become nice and tender.
A young animal always has softer meat because the muscles have not been as active as the muscles of an older animal. It is much more tender and doesn’t need to be cooked for long.
When 2 or more muscles are connected, like the shank, which is the portion of meat around the leg bone beneath the knee, there is connective tissue surrounding it.
This connective tissue needs a much longer time to cook and is perfect for making soups or stews. If you cook it quickly it will remain very tough.
A little information about fat…
The more fat a piece of meat has… the softer it is. Leaner meat is generally tougher.
Let’s take the steak. It contains quite a bit of fat and this is why it is so soft even though it is cooked for such a short time.
In beef, fat is distributed throughout the muscle, where in pork the fat is found gathered around the muscles.
Let's move on to see if there are any differences between animals fed with corn or maize and those fed with grass.
Animals fed with corn usually grow up in a constricted area. They are not allowed to move much and are given antibiotics and hormones to grow quickly and not become sick from their diet.
This makes their meat softer because they are inactive and have more fat.
Animals fed on grass are allowed to graze and move around in nature. They are active so their muscles are more worked out and they have less fat.
This makes their meat tougher.
Even though the meat is tougher, their meat is tastier. They are healthier since they are not given antibiotics and hormones.
Of course all of this means that this type of meat is more expensive, since it takes longer for the animals to grow until they reach the desired weight to make them suitable for slaughtering.
Red meat in general, is among the most nutritious foods on the planet.
The most widely known red meats are…beef and pork.
Which one is more nutritious? And which one has less fat?
Which of the two should we choose and why?
From a caloric point of view, both have about the same amount of calories. Pork might actually have slightly fewer calories.
As far as protein is concerned, they both contain about the same amount but the actual proteins are made up of different amino acids.
The fact that the fat in pork is gathered around the muscles makes it easy to remove, whereas the fat in beef is distributed throughout the muscles and cannot be removed.
Pieces of meat attached to bone are always tastier than pieces without any bone!
Pieces of meat with a lot of connective tissue should be made in to stews or soups. Meaning they should be boiled or cooked for a long time in order to get the best results.
Moving on to types of cuts and how to cook them….
A little more in detail:
Head: Ideal for roasts or stews.
Neck or jowl: This is the cut that is usually to make Greek souvlaki! It is generally a very tender and tasty meat.
Ribs or Boston butt: Pork steaks with bone are more delicious than beef steaks, because they contain a lot of fat! They are ideal for the pan, oven or grill.
Fillet or tenderloin: Definitely the most delicious cut. No wonder why kids like it best! It has no fat or bone and is very tender. Best if grilled or roasted.
Belly: It is a thick piece of meat rich in fat. It is certainly very tasty and best if grilled.
Picnic Shoulder: Rich in fat, ideal for braising, or the bbq! This is the perfect cut to use to make your favorite gyros or schnitzel and of course ground beef!
Head: Needs to be cooked for hours and is very flavorful. The cheeks add so much flavor to stews and soups.
Neck: It is quite a soft piece of meat, ideal for stews and soups. It has quite a bit of fat so it can be cooked in many different ways but it is not suitable for the grill.
Chuck: This cut is usually grilled, broiled or cooked with liquid. Great for pot roast. The bone-in chuck steak or roast is one of the more economical cuts of beef. It is particularly popular for use as ground beef, due to its richness of flavor and balance of meat and fat. The chuck contains a lot of connective tissue which partially melts during cooking. Meat from the chuck is usually used for stewing, slow cooking, braising, or pot roasting.
Brisket: Ideal for pot roasts or corned beef. Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest. This requires a significant amount of connective tissue, so the resulting meat must be cooked correctly to tenderize the connective tissue. Slow and moist cooking methods are most common, utilizing spice rubs or marinades, then cooking slowly over indirect heat from charcoal or wood. Other methods of preparation usually include braising or boiling for long periods of time, such as pot roast or corned beef, and sometimes spicing for making pastrami.
Beef short ribs: They are chunks of meat from along the ribs that are highly marbled with fat. Improper cooking can lead to tough texture.
Sirloin: Is a steak cut from the rear back portion of the animal, continuing off the short loin from which T-bone, porterhouse, and club steaks are cut. The sirloin is actually divided into several types of steak. The top sirloin is the most prized of these. The bottom sirloin is less tender and much larger.
Flank: The flank is cut from the abdominal muscles. It is broad, long and flat with heavy striations or grain in the meat. As such it is much tougher than the other beef cuts, and therefore moist cooking methods such as braising are often used.
Shank: The shank is the upper leg. Due to the constant use of this muscle by the animal it tends to be tough, so is best when cooked for a long time in moist heat, such as a braise. As it is very lean, it is widely used to prepare very low-fat ground beef. Beef shank is a common ingredient in soups and stock.
All of this information is very important to help us choose the right cut of meat and cook it in the right way. I hope it is helpful to you.
Happy grilling, stewing, roasting, braising, boiling or whichever way you choose to prepare your carefully chosen cuts of meat!
Happy Mardi Gras!