West Coast

TL;DR – This post is part of our first inspiration “On starting with the ingredient”. During the research stage I learned as much as possible about meat before starting on the concept.

If you are like me, just reading a recipe isn’t enough. You want to know the how and why. That’s what this is. The research of this post was used in our “On starting with the ingredient” inspiration.

My first stop for this post was Harold McGee’s On Food and CookingWhen it comes to recipe development, this is a vital resource. Read it or refer to it, but own it and use it. Here’s what I learned:

A quick discourse on meat

  • Why do we love meat? Our body has receptors for salts, sugars, amino acids, proteins and nucleotides. Or simply, meat has nutrients and energy
  • Meat plays in instrumental part in human evolution giving us a great source of nutrition, which allowed us to spend less time hunting and more time doing other things
  • In production, it takes 2:1 grain for chicken meat, 4:1 grain for pork, and 8:1 for beef
  • Lean meat has a breakdown of 75% water, 20% protein, and 3% fat

Risks with meat

  • As our civilizations become sedentary and industrial revolution allowed for better production, the harmful aspects (fat and fat-related aspects) became more prevalent
  • Demand for meat has pushed for changes in production to increase quantity and shelf-life. These changes have added chemicals/hormones while simultaneously decreasing the quality of most grocery store meat; organic isn’t just a hipster trend
  • Increase in quantity has pushed for younger and thus milder meats
  • Desire for less fatty foods as lead to leaner and thus dryer meats

(Food for thought: good meat vs. frequent meat?)

Muscle Tissue and Meat Texture

Muscle Fibers

  • When we look at meat we are primarily looking at muscle fibers, or bundles of muscle cells
  • Cooking makes this denser, dryer, and tougher
  • When carving meat, it is important to consider the direction of these fibers so that they break apart easily while chewing. Usual method is: cut across, chew with
  • Fibers are smaller in younger animals and as they grow they get stronger and tougher

Connective Tissue

  • The name is self explanatory, this is what holds and connects the muscle and bones
  • More muscle leads to more connective tissues
  • Connective tissue is not all living cells
  • There are two different types of protein: Elasin which can’t be broken by heat, and collagen which can be broken down and converts into gelatin (a lot of the flavor and body of stock). Young animals have more collagen , therefore more gelatinous when cooked

Fat Tissue

  • Fat tissue is connective tissue that stores energy and is found: under the skin, in well defined deposits in the body cavity such as the heart or kidney, and tissue the separates muscles (the phenomenon called marbling)
  • Fat melts when heated, lubricates tissue, and weakens connective tissue and mass of muscle fibers

Toughness is determined by: location in body, age of animal, and the type of activity.

Meat Color

  • White muscle is in parts or animals that exert force rapidly and briefly and is fueled by a carb called glycogen (i.e Chicken Breast)
  • Dark or red meat is in muscles that deal with prolonged efforts and are fuel by fat (i.e. Chicken Legs)

Flavor

  • The flavor of “meatiness” comes from muscle fibers. Muscle fibers are more or less consistent through animals and there for the flavor is similar
  • The “character aromas” or more distinct flavors comes from the fat because fat is the storage for the animal which will differ based on species, diet, and other factors
  • This is why you see “grass-fed” as a selling point for beef. Grass has more varied flavor compared to a grain diet
  • And older animal has more flavor because more flavor compounds have been stored over time

The perfect meat is contradictory. You want softness which comes from young animals, but you want flavor which comes from older animals.

From Muscle to Meat

  • Important to avoid stress when killing the animal as a panicked killing leads to lower quality meat
  • Immediately after a killing, the meat is soft (from 1-2.5 hours). After this time, rigor mortis kicks in and the muscles tense up leading to tougher meat
  • Aging meat allows the muscles to weaken (chicken ~2 days; pork ~2 weeks; beef ~month)

From Meat to Food

  • Raw meat has flavor but cooking intensifies, adds aromas, and releases compounds
  • An example of this is when you brown meat (known as the Maillard Reaction). The browning releases new compounds and changes other creating both new flavors and smells
  • Cooking meat follows this progression
    • Raw = chewy
    • Heating up = releases fluid which makes it juicy, become firm making it easier to chew
    • More heat = the juices start to dry out and the stiffness makes the meat dense
    • Long period of heat = Fiber bundles dry up and fry so the meat starts to break apart, collagen has become gelatin, meat can seem more tender but will be very dry and usually needs sauce or fat to be added back
  • Fat cooks slower, but oil will cut cooking time from the ability to reach a higher temperature
  • The bone insulates making the meat less thoroughly cooked but does impart flavor

Modifiers Outside of Cooking

  • Marinate – add flavor and moisten
  • Tenderizers – enzymes that will breakdown meat, activated with heat, slow penetration
  • Brining – salt and sugar bath that weaken meat but also forces water into the meat (osmosis) and therefore will make the meat juicier
  • Curing – similar to brining, but at higher concentrations and will actually “cook” the meat
  • Shredding, pounding, and poking – all do as the verb means

I wanted to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important so I hopped over to another reference to read what they had to say. This is my favorite reference/cooking book so far: Modernist Cuisine. They actually have two versions: the full one and a at home version that is cheaper. The pictures in this book, instruction, and recipes are amazing. We missed only a few small details

  • Tender cuts ignore collagen and you aim to cook to the right temperature depending on wellness preference
  • Cook slow at the least practical temperature and hold it there for tough cuts (therefore it is hard to get a rare tough cut meat)
  • When it comes to aging, pork is mainly unsaturated fats so aging doesn’t product the same results as aging beef does
  • Rest your meat after cooking

Cooking Techniques will be a separate post. TBD.

And now, back to the main post.