I GOT BEEF: nice to MEAT you!
Submitted by Casey Kemp on Feb. 6, 2014
Food & Beverage
Food & Beverage
This is a quick tutorial tackling a massive topic: cows. In this town they are all over, so you know they\’re big! Most are also grass-fed and finished, like Clint Victorine\’s Pacific Pastures and Eel River Organic Beef (a topic I covered in a previous post). Let’s look out on the pasture to see what the cows are bringing home.
Now you might think that it is too hard to learn all the parts of a thousand pound creature. In fact, you might be tempted to GRAZE right over it, but trust me: this is going to be simple! You can learn some key concepts to kitchen preparation by studying a bit of anatomy. When you visit the meat counter just find out what general region each piece of meat comes from. Ask the butcher; Google it; and start to understand what cut is used for which purpose.
The shoulders, rump and legs do all the cows’ heavy lifting, so they become tougher as they are used frequently. The closer a cut of beef is to the extremities of the animal (i.e. horns or hooves) the tougher it is going to be.
Tender pieces hang out in the middle; those are prime cuts like Filet Mignon, New York, Ribeye and Sirloin steaks.
Equipped as you are, with a rough anatomy lesson, let’s begin to apply cooking techniques. I\’m going to match up two basic heat applications with the two types of meat we just covered (tough v. tender) to keep things simple.
Tough cuts want to be cooked \”low and slow,\” that means a long time at a low temperature. This process renders out fat so that the lean meat is juicy and falling apart. Oftentimes, this is achieved with an all-day barbeque or smoker that takes a lot of time but renders out the fat entirely so lean meat is literally falling off the bone. This technique is best applied to tough cuts like a shank (i.e. leg), ribs or rump.
My favorite tough cut is the chuck, which comes from the shoulder. It is well marbled, which means a lot of those healthy grass-fed fats. As the fat is rendered into liquid stock it imparts flavor and moisture, while the lean meat pulls apart into a lovely shredded or “pulled” beef texture. It’s easy and foolproof. You can’t overcook a chuck and all the while you are developing afeel for how meat responds to heat. You can use a crock pot, the oven or even cover it on the stovetop.
First the meat tightens up and contracts. After some time though, the piece starts to relax again. (Now things are getting good.) Keep on cooking and you will find that pieces get easier and easier to pull apart. Before long they are falling off the bone and melting in your mouth! When finished, the fat has disappeared entirely and the only thing left is succulent strings of beef with a wonderful au jus. You can make stew, tacos/fajitas or just a big BBQ sandwich! (Don’t forget the coleslaw.)
On the flip side, tender steaks like a “hot/quick” treatment. They can be seared with a short, blistering dose of heat from the grill and served rare on the inside. It is always best to let the meat you are about to cook sit on the counter for a while and come to room temp. I also take this opportunity to apply a littleTed and Barneys (another local product), which is a seasoning that I use on every piece of meat that I cook (because it’s genius). Heat the pan and sear steaks for a minute or two on each side. Now, you can finish them in the broiler at four minutes a side.
Once you’ve learned the concepts inherent in each method, you can mix and match those processes to effectively “freestyle” food preparation with wonderful results! Searing a steak seals in its’ juices. Finishing that steak in a 200 degree oven for ten-twenty minutes (instead of a broiler for four) transitions you to a gentler “low and slow” approach. I especially recommend this option for pork chops, since they tend to dry out faster than beef.