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What’s Your Beef?! Meat-It’s What’s for Dinner

What’s Your Beef?! Meat-It’s What’s for Dinner
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Chef Class Week 13 Photos by Cathy Arkle

Tonight started 2 weeks of ‘Meat’-beef, pork, lamb and veal. I had a picture in my head of Tim Allen grunting like a caveman while grilling a 72 oz. Porterhouse steak when I walked into class. Men do tend to love their red meat. I do, too, every so often. Red meat has amino acids that chicken and fish don’t have and is high in iron, so women shouldn’t be afraid to order a nice filet mignon every month or so.

This evening’s class, like that of poultry, dealt with the anatomy of the animals and dry cooking techniques like grilling, frying, broiling and roasting. I’m really hoping they don’t test us with an outline of a cow or a pig and instructions to “fill in the cuts…” There are a lot to know!

We first went over how a cow is fed. Many of us want to buy meat from cows that are “grass fed.” Actually, ALL cows are grass fed; either allowed to graze or fed hay. Then, they’re given corn and grain to fatten them up before they end up on our plates. Corn increases fat content.

Marbling increases with fat content, obviously. Cows that are grass fed from start to finish have less fat and taste a bit different. They’re more muscular, so they’re naturally leaner. For all cows, pigs, lamb and sheep, the tenderest area is around the loin. (Makes sense to me!) This region starts from behind the shoulder and goes to the rump. These are the best cuts of meat for high heat, dry cooking.

The ribs have good marbling, so rib-eye and prime rib (or standing rib roast if you want to get fancy) are very tasty options and because they’re bone-in and have lots of flavor.

Next is the center loin or short loin, where the tenderloin is from. This area is known for extremely tender meat with very little connective tissue. You’ll see a very thin skin around this area. It’s called “silver skin” and can be easily removed if desired. Filet Mignon is cut from the tenderloin. This cut is great for pan searing. The center cut from the loin is the Chateaubriand. It’s like the filet, only bigger and is usually prepared for 2 people.

Now the two favorite cuts of men who grill everywhere; the T-bone and the Porterhouse steaks! The T-bone is actually 2 different steaks connected by a T shaped bone. It’s half tenderloin/half NY strip steak. The porterhouse is almost the same, but has a little more tenderloin and a little less strip, as its cut from the rear end of the short loin. The short loin is considered the best section for meat and also includes strip steaks and roasts and sirloin and related cuts like tri-tip.

The plate and flank sections are around the belly of the animal. This is where you get skirt steak, good for Carne Asada and flank steak, which is leaner than skirt. Both are great grilled and benefit greatly from marinades which tenderize the meat before cooking. Because these cuts are less tender, the grain will show more. Make a note to slice against the grain when serving.

Hangar steaks are considered a ‘butcher’s cut.’ They get their name because they literally hang from the kidneys. Butchers like to keep this for themselves, as it’s tenderer than people realize and is very tasty grilled or pan seared. Flat Iron steaks are also a butcher’s cut. It’s a small section of the shoulder muscle and is named because it’s shaped like a flat iron. This cut is also perfect for pan searing and grilling.

The Round section is a bit tougher than the others. Top round steaks and roasts are better cooked to medium-rare doneness so they don’t get too tough. These cuts of meat are perfect thinly sliced for cutlets or rolled meat dishes. Pounding the cutlets helps to tenderize the meat. Bottom round is better for braising and stewing, which I’ll talk about next week.

May then talked about temperatures for meat. It’s actually not as high as I thought it should be. I know meat still cooks even after you take it out to rest, but the temperatures she gave us might surprise you. As you take it off the heat, this is how the degrees should break down: Rare: 115-120, Med-Rare: 125-130, Medium: 135, Med-Well: 140, Well: 145. You can also check how done a steak is by feel. This is pretty nifty. If you touch the area below your thumb with your other hand-that’s what raw meat feels like. Now, take your thumb and touch it to your index finger and feel that same area. A little tighter, isn’t it? That’s what rare feels like. As you touch your thumb to each successive finger, it feels tighter and corresponds to the feel of more well-done meat. It takes a little practice, but I thought it was interesting.

We then learned about aging. Meat always gets aged during transport. That’s called ‘wet aging.’ However, the term ‘dry aging’ is what we’ve come to know for tastier, richer meat. This beef is hung in a temperature and humidity controlled chamber for up to 6 weeks. It shrinks because of water loss so the fat concentrates. Hence, a richer cut of meat. This process stops rigor mortis. Who needs that in a cut of meat?!

Did you know that grading meat is optional? Farmers can choose to have it done or not. That makes me a little nervous, frankly. When they ARE federally inspected, the inspectors look at the rib sections for quality of marbling, texture and color. “Prime” cuts are usually saved for high end butchers and restaurants. What we get in stores is the most common grade, “Choice.” The last 2 on the list, “Good” and “Utility” are saved for frozen and canned foods like soups and stews.

We touched on veal, which is a just young cow. There’s a lot of controversy about veal, as they’re often confined and not treated well while they’re living. If you want veal, look for pasture raised or free range veal. It’s a more humane way of treating the calves. It’s still a very tender meat that way.

Lamb, mutton and pork were the last meat types discussed. Lamb can be up to a year old. Anything older is considered to be mutton and is less tender. Pork cuts are the same as from a cow, but pigs are actually leaner than they used to be, so never cook any kind of pork over 140-145 degrees. If I cook anything from a pig, it’s the tenderloin, the leanest section. Pork is still fattier than other meats, so watch your intake. It DOES lend some nice flavor to meat sauce, however!

Here’s my assignment for this week’s class. Once again, I was assigned something to fry. Now I think May is just being mean!! The Spatzle takes a little time and patience to cook, although it’s kind of fun. Do it in batches. Oh! Cathy made great tri-tip soft tacos. They’re on Cathy’s Blog!

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