Meat is defined as a skeletal muscle tissue, it is distinguished from other parts of carcass such as offal’s, bone and meat fat. Meat structure is a composition of connective tissue or fiber, blood vessel, blood, rind, nerves, attached fat and skin in case of poultry.
Meat is a great source of many vital proteins, minerals, nutrients and vitamins. Some of this can only be obtained from meat source and nothing else. Some of the cuts of meat can be as healthy as chicken as they have lessor equal fat when compared with it.
From the chef’s point of view, meat is a very good source of food as its wide range of cuts can be prepared and cooked in many ways to suit any occasion, mood, budget or time. Any desired diet, flavor, taste or textured can be obtained from the choices that is available in meat i.e. Beef, Veal, Mutton, Lamb, Wild Boar, Ostrich, etc.
While including meat in your daily meal one should select the leanest of the cuts so as to make it a healthy and well- balanced diet, there are various option available like steak, chops, offal’s, mince, pork fillet & ribs, etc.
Effect on Health
All kind of meat are excellent source of protein and vitamins, they almost provide same vitamins and minerals but in different amount. So it is very important to eat all variety of meats in order to maintain a healthy supply of all the minerals and vitamins.
Meat also has fat content in it, which is the only negative contribution of this elixir in our diet, the bad reputation of meat among some is due to the saturated fat content, which has caused many foodie to omit meat from their daily diet. Healthy way to include meat in your diet is to opt for lean meat which has less fat content, this will help to keep fat intake within healthy limits, but still providing the minerals and vitamins.
Another way to avoid fat is to cut the meat along the seam so that any visible fat is discarded to produce lean meat cut for the use.
Composition of Meat
Meat is made of three major components i.e. Protein, Fat, Water and Carbohydrate.
About 75% of muscle tissue is made up of water, this is the main reason why there is shrinkage problem in meat, as the water is lost with time from the meat and it becomes hard and less in weight which can cause loss of profit to the retailer.
About 20% of the muscle tissue is made of vital and important protein. The coagulation of protein occurs when it is exposed to heat. Coagulation of protein is related to doneness of meat, when protein is coagulated to desired temperature, the meat is said to be done as it loses moisture and becomes firm.
Up to 5% of meat is accounted for fat, as I said earlier that fat is only the reason why sometimes meat is considered bad for the health because 90% of the fat content is saturated fat which is not good for health. Nowadays animals are bred and raised with low fat diet in order to keep check of the fat content of the animal.
Not all fat is bad as some amount of fat is desirable for the body as well as for the meat, the reason being.
Fat is the reason why the meat remain juicy and moist after cooking, as it help the meat from drying up.
Marbling is the fat deposited within the muscle tissue, which melts once exposed to heat as a result of which the meat becomes juicy and don’t dry up in the cooking process.
Barding is a process in which fat is added to the outer surface of the meat while grilling or roasting, this is done as the meat lacks natural surface fat, surface fat is responsible for meat from getting burnt in the process of roasting as the fat melts it provides a coating around the meat which helps in cooking.
Marbling fat which presents between the muscle fiber, melts in the process of cooking and providing required tenderness to the meat.
Fat also gives flavor to the meat as it is the primary source of flavor for any meat.
Percentage of carbohydrate is very less in meat, however it plays an important part in cooking of the meat, as it provides desirable appearance and flavor to the meat.
Maillard Reaction, It is a reaction which takes places when meat is browned by the process of roasting, broiling or sautéing. When proteins are heated to about 310°F (154°C), the amino acids in the protein chains react with the carbohydrate molecules and undergo a complex chemical reaction. The result is that they turn brown and develop richer flavors. This reaction is called the Maillard reaction, the Maillard reaction takes place only on the dry surface of the food. Because of its water content, the interior of the meat cannot get this hot.
Structure of Meat
A) Muscle Fibers
Lean meat is composed of long, thin muscle fibers bound together in bundles. These determine the texture or grain of a piece of meat. Fine-grained meat is composed of small fibers bound in small bundles. Coarse-textured meat has large fibers. Feel the cut surface of a tenderloin steak, and compare its smooth texture to the rough cut surface of brisket or bottom round.
B) Connective Tissue
Muscle fibers are bound together in a network of proteins called connective tissue. Each muscle fiber also is covered in a sheath of connective tissue. It is important for the cook to understand connective tissue for one basic reason i.e. connective tissue is tough.
To cook meats successfully, you should know, which meats are high in connective tissue and which are low and what are the best ways to make tough meats tender?
1) Meats are highest in connective tissue if
They come from muscles that are more exercised. Muscles in the legs, for example, have more connective tissue than muscles in the back.
They come from older animals. Veal is tenderer than meat from a young steer, which, in turn, is tenderer than meat from an old bull or cow. (Young animals have connective tissue, too, but it becomes harder to break down as the animal ages.)
2) Meats high in connective tissue can be made tenderer by using proper cooking techniques.
There are two kinds of connective tissue: collagen, which is white in color, and elastin, which is yellow.
Long, slow cooking in the presence of moisture breaks down or dissolves collagen by turning it into gelatin and water. Of course, muscle tissue is about 75 percent water, so moisture is always present when meats are cooked. Except for very large roasts, however, long cooking by a dry-heat method has the danger of evaporating too much moisture and drying out the meat. Therefore, moist-heat cooking methods at low temperatures are most effective for turning a meat high in connective tissue into a tender, juicy finished product.
Other factors also help tenderize collagen:
Acid helps dissolve collagen. Marinating meat in an acid mixture, or adding an acid such as tomato or wine to the cooking liquid, helps tenderize it.
Enzymes are naturally present in meats. They break down some connective tissue and other proteins as meat ages. These enzymes are inactive at freezing temperatures, slow-acting under refrigeration, active at room temperature, and destroyed by heat above 140°F (60°C).
Tenderizers are enzymes such as papain (extracted from papaya) that are added to meats by the cook or injected into the animal before slaughter. Exercise care when using enzyme tenderizers. Too long an exposure at room temperature can make the meat undesirably mushy.
Older animals have a higher proportion of elastin than younger animals. Elastin is not broken down in cooking. Tenderizing can be accomplished only by removing the elastin (cutting away any tendons) and by mechanically breaking up the fibers, as in
Pounding and cubing (cubed steaks)
Slicing the cooked meat very thin against the grain (as in London broil)
Grading of Meat
1) Quality Grading
Quality grading is based on the texture, firmness, and color of the lean meat, the age or maturity of the animal, and the marbling (the fat within the lean). All these factors must be considered together. For example, old, tough meat can still have marbling, but it would rate a low grade because of the other factors.
2) Yield Grading
In addition to quality grading, beef and lamb are graded according to how much usable meat in proportion to fat they have. This is called yield grading. The meatiest grade is Yield Grade 1. Poorest yield (much exterior fat) is Yield Grade 5. Pork is yield-graded from 1 to 4, but most pork is sold already cut and trimmed. Veal, which has little fat, is not yield-graded.
Aging of Meat
1) Rigor Mortis
Soon after the slaughter, an animal’s muscles stiffen due to chemical changes in the flesh. This stiffness is called rigor mortis which gradually disappears. Softening takes three to four days for beef, less time for smaller carcasses like veal, lamb, and pork. This softening is caused by enzymes in the flesh.
2) Green Meat
Green meat is meat that has not had enough time to soften. It is tough and relatively flavorless. Because it takes several days for meats to reach the kitchen from the slaughterhouse, green meat is seldom a problem with commercially available meats, except when meat is frozen while still green. The problem is sometimes encountered with game killed for home consumption, if the hunter cuts and freezes the meat when it is too fresh.
Enzyme action continues in muscle tissue even after meat is no longer green. This tenderizes the flesh even more and develops more flavor. Holding meats in coolers under controlled conditions to provide time for this natural tenderizing is called aging. Beef and lamb can be aged because high-quality carcasses have enough fat cover to protect them from bacteria and from drying. Veal has no fat cover, so it is not aged. Pork does not require aging. Aging does not mean just storing meat in the refrigerator. There is a difference between aged meat and old meat. Conditions must be carefully controlled so the meat becomes naturally tender without spoiling. There are two primary methods used for aging.
a) Wet Aging
Today, most wholesale meat carcasses are broken down into smaller cuts and enclosed in plastic vacuum packs. The air- and moisture proof packaging protects the meat from bacteria and mold, and it prevents weight loss due to drying. (However, Packet-aged meats often lose more weight in cooking than do dry-aged meats.) Vacuum-pack meats must be refrigerated.
b) Dry Aging
Dry aging is the process of storing meats, usually large cuts, under carefully controlled conditions. The meat is not packaged or wrapped, and it is exposed to air on all sides. Temperature, humidity, and air circulation are precisely controlled to prevent spoilage. Ultraviolet lights are sometimes used in aging coolers to kill bacteria. Dry-aged meat can lose up to 20 percent of its weight through moisture loss, depending on the size of the cut and how long it is aged. Consequently, dry aging is a more expensive process than wet aging.
Basic Cuts of Meat
Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb or Mutton are rich in protein and other minerals, but the amount of it is different for different cuts. While making any dish with meat, the best of it can be obtained by using the proper meat cut.
The carcass is the whole animal, minus the entrails, head, feet, and hide (except pork, from which only the entrails and head are removed). Whole carcasses are rarely purchased by food-service operators because of the skill and labor required in cutting and because of the problem of total utilization.
Sides, Quarters, Foresaddles, Hindsaddles
These represent the first step in breaking down a carcass. Again, these larger cuts are no longer frequently used in food service. Fewer establishments cut their own meats.
1) Beef is split first through the backbone into sides. Sides are divided between the 12th and 13th ribs into forequarter and hindquarter.
2) Veal and lamb are not split into sides but are divided in half into foresaddle and hindsaddle. For veal, the cut is made between the 11th and 12th ribs. Lamb, on the other hand, is split either between the 12th and 13th rib or after the 13th rib, depending on the cutting style
3) Pork carcasses are not divided in this way. They are cut directly into primal cuts.
These are the primary divisions of quarters, foresaddles, hindsaddles, and carcasses. These cuts, called primal cuts, are still used, to some extent, in food service, because they
1) Are small enough to be manageable in many food-service kitchens.
2) Are still large enough to allow a variety of cuts for different uses or needs.
3) Are easier to utilize completely than quarters or halves.
Each primal may be fabricated, or cut up and trimmed, in several ways. Primal cuts are always the starting point for smaller cuts.
Primal cuts are fabricated into smaller cuts for roasts, steaks, chops, cutlets, stewing meat, ground meat, and so forth, according to individual customer requirements. The amount of trim and exact specifications can have many variations. Portion-controlled cuts are ready-to-cook meats cut according to customer’s specifications.
The Fantastic Four
Beef comes from a steer or a bullock, reared to 18 months old or from heifer not required for breeding any more. The meat should be open-grained and moist with a good red color. If it is a darker, reddish-brown, it will have been hung or aged for at least 2 to 3weeks and will have a fuller, beefier flavor.
Sheer, Heifer, Bullock, Ox and Cow
These are all terminology used to describe the sex and age of cattle, the male is first a bull calf and if left intact becomes a bull; if castrated he becomes a steer and in about two or three years grows to an ox. The female is first a heifer calf, growing into a heifer and becoming a cow.
Sirloin, foreribs, topside and thick flank (top rump) are the traditional beef joint. Lean and tender fillet can also be roasted, either whole or cut into smaller joints.
Brisket and silverside are joints that become tender and succulent with long and slow cooking, so they are ideal for a pot roast and gravy cooking.
Sirloin, rump and fillet steaks are tender enough for quick cooking methods such as grilling, griddling, barbecuing and frying. Steak can also be cut into cubes for kebabs, rump steak is particularly good because it is firm and will stay on skewers while cooking or into strip for stir frying.
Shin, leg, neck and clod (from the neck) are tougher cuts, being muscular or weight bearing in the animal, so they need long and gentle stewing to make them tender.
Back or thick ribs, chuck and blade, are not as tough as stewing cuts such as shin, but too tough for grilling and griddling, they are ideal for stews and casserole. This is also sold as braising steak.
Veal is the meat from young calf of 18 to 20 week old. It should be very pale cream or delicate pink in color with virtually no fat. This leanness is good from the nutritional point of view, but it does mean that some recipes for veal need to incorporate a liquid or sauce to make them moister and juicy. Veal has a very nutritional profile to beef, although it provides only half the amount of iron.
Leg is a prime lean cut for roasting, a boned and stuffed leg is even better because the stuffing helps to make the meat moist and tasty.
Fillet and topside, both cuts from the leg can be roasted successfully as joints but are often cut into slices across the grain and beaten thin to make escalope’s and schnitzels.
Rump is usually cut into medallions or escalopes. Being thin cuts, these are perfect for very quick pan frying.
Loin makes an excellent roasting joint on the bone, or boned, stuffed and rolled. Chops and cutlets are lean and tender, and can be roasted, grilled, pan fried or braised.
Shoulder, when boned and stuffed makes a good roasting cut, but the meat is more usually removed from the bone, trimmed of fat and cut into cubes for use in pies and stew. With long, gentle cooking it becomes very tender.
Shin, from the legs is good in stew, the best known being the Italian osso buco.
Lamb is the only meat among all the four which has benefited the most from the new cutting and preparation method. The excess fat is now removed from the meat before being sold and prepared new cuts are ideal for quick meals.
Early in the season, the meat from young lamb is a paler pink than that of older animals and it has a finer grain.
Leg, loin, best end of neck and shoulder are all excellent joints for traditional roast on the bone. The leg can also be boned and buttered, or opened out flat, and then grilled or barbecued.
Loin is often boned stuffed and rolled for roasting. Best end of neck cab be roasted as a whole rack of 6-7 cutlets or, for a special occasion, two racks can be joined either as a guard of honor or a crown roast.
Neck Fillet, best end of neck cutlets, steaks cut from the top of the leg, and chump, loin and double loin chops are all excellent for grilling. The same cuts can also be cooked on a ridged cast-iron grill pan or in a non-stick frying pan using a little oil.
Loin and chum chops are also good for roasting, as are lamb steaks, either on or off the bone. Lean and tender neck fillet and boneless leg steaks are perfect cut into cubes for kebabs or thin strips for stir fries.
The Meat of the pig is sold fresh as pork, used in fresh meat products such as sausages, preserved as bacon, ham and in salami-type sausages, also used cooked in pies.
Due to modern selective breeding techniques, pork is now leaner than it used to be, there is less fat within tissues of the meat and the layers of the back is very thin, which makes it a very healthy choice. Fresh pork should be smooth and pink, not at all grey or damp looking.
Leg, shoulder (hand and spring) and loin are the most popular lean cuts for roasting. Any fat on the joint can be removed before cooking or left on so it bastes the meat in the process of roasting. Leg and loin can also be boned and stuffed before roasting.
Fillet, also called tenderloin, is very lean and tender. It can be roasted whole, but it is most often cut into thin slices or strips for pan fries and stir fries and into cubes for casseroles and kebabs.
Loin and chump chops cab be roasted, or they be grilled or pan fried. The meat is lean and can dry out easily, so it is a good idea to coat it with glaze or baste it during cooking, or use a moist cooking method such as braising.
Leg and shoulder (hand and spring) make good pot roasts ending up deliciously moist and tender.