Guide to Understanding Meat and Poultry
BONING UP ON MEAT
Don’t rely on colour
A bright red cut of beef or lamb may look more appealing than a dry, browner piece, but in fact there’s little difference. Red flesh has simply been more recently cut from the carcass. After cutting, the pigment in the meat will slowly turn it from red to brown. The variations will disappear during cooking, in any case.
Never take a chance on pork that may be past its best. Fresh meat will be pink in colour, with a smooth texture, little or no gristle, and firm, white fat. The bones should be a pinkish-blue colour.
Red meat needs to be hung to improve its tenderness and flavour. A good butcher should be able to tell you how long his meat has been hung. For beef, this should be at least ten days; for lamb, four.
Going by the fat
Choose cuts with an even marbling of visible fat throughout the meat and a minimum of surrounding fat -especially if you are going to trim it off. The colour of meat fat varies according to the age and breed of an animal, but in general it should be firm, dry and cream-coloured.
Breast of lamb
Breast may not look like much when you buy it – a long, thin cut streaked with fat – but in fact it’s one of the most versatile and economical cuts of lamb. Roast or pot-roast it on the bone, cut it up for a casserole (above), or remove the bone and stuff and roll the joint before roasting.
- Look for a plump breast, undamaged skin, pliable legs, and a supple breastbone. Fat should be creamy-white to yellow in colour.
- If you find ordinary chicken bland and flavourless, you may prefer the taste of a corn-fed fowl – look for yellowish skin and flesh and a label that says the chicken has been fed on corn.
- Some people choose to buy ‘free-range’ poultry for humanitarian reasons or because they prefer the taste or find that there is less fat on these birds. Before you spend the extra money, however, look on the pack for information, or ask your supermarket manager or butcher to explain what the ‘free-range’ label means. Different producers may adhere to different standards.
Slower cooking methods such as braising or stewing will bring out the best in cuts such as beef brisket and chuck steak; scrag, breast or middle neck of lamb; and neck end or collar of pork.
A crown roast makes a festive centrepiece for any celebration dinner. It consists of two best ends of lamb joined together in a ring, with a savoury stuffing in the centre. You’ll have to give your butcher a day’s notice to prepare it, though.
Expensive topside, rump and fillet are not the only lean cuts of beef.
- Shin – meat from the foreleg or hindleg – is economical and has little fat, but you’ll need to cook it slowly in a casserole or stew to soften the connective tissue.
- Silverside is also lean. Buy it unsalted for roasting, or salted for boiling. If buying the salted sort, ask the butcher whether it needs to be soaked before cooking.