Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meaty Meat

How does one teach about the entire world of meat in one three hour session, when an hour of it is dedicated to lecture and clean up? One can not. On top of that, half the class was absent, probably due to a combination of being burned out of the two intense days it took to get Thanksgiving lunch out to 150 mouths and the pressures of the holiday season. One thing for certain -- they didn't flake because of the menu: they all love their meat.

Meat is edible animal product, typically muscle, fat and bone. Other animal products, such as skin and offal (organs), are edible but not "meat", and then there are certain animal products, like hair, leather and waste, which are neither meat nor edible.

The USDA recommends all meat be cooked to an internal temperature of 165˚. That would guarantee all meat to be at best well-done, at worst barely edible shoe leather. Meat loses flavor, texture, and color at these temperatures. If meat is sourced from a reliable (read: not dirt cheap), known vendor, is treated correctly, and cooked correctly, illness from meat (in this country) is very overhyped.

The exception to that is ground meat: Because the outside of the meat is where all the filth is -- and where it can be cooked away at temps well above 165 without destroying the meat, is broken up and mixed in, right to the middle and the sides. But won't ground meat be inedible if cooked well above 165˚? Well, not necessarily, because we can mix stuff in to help it retain what we like about it. Take this meatball recipe, for instance....

Yield: About 85 balls
Chopped Meat 10 lbs
Italian bread, chopped, soaked 2 loaves
Onions, finely minced 4 each
Romano, grated 3 cups
Parsley, with stems, chopped 1 bunch
Breadcrumbs ½ cup
Salt 4 tablespoons
Pepper 2 tablespoons
Eggs, beaten 4 each
1. Oil two hotel pans. Preheat oven to 550˚. Press chopped, soaked bread through colander to remove as much moisture as possible.
2. Loosen chopped meat in a large bowl by hand. Mix in soaked bread, onion, Romano and parsley. Mix by hand until just combined.
3. Add breadcrumbs, if needed, if mixture is too moist.
4. Add salt, pepper and eggs until just combined.
5. Roll lightly into 3 oz. balls – DO NOT OVERROLL.
6. Bake in oven until done, 10-15 minutes.

This recipe comes from the mother of the chef for whom I worked before my baby was born. While meat becomes gray, chewy, and dry if cooked at a high temperature in an oven, the feel of the ball is retained by the mushed bread and the mushed moist onion. Cheese and eggs also serve as binders and replace some of the fat that runs out of the meat during cooking. When these came out of the oven, they were very mushy to the bite; once they came close to room temperature, they firmed up to just the right consistency.

It's important in this recipe not to overroll and not to overmix, or your balls will turn into lead pellets when they cool.

And what's a meat ball without some nice tomato sauce...

Yield: 4 cups
EVOO ¼ cup
Onion, small dice 1 large onion
Garlic, minced 4 cloves
Thyme, chopped 3 tbsp
Oregano, chopped 2 tbsp
Carrot, grated 1 each
Basil, chiffonade 3 tbsp
Whole peeled tomatoes, milled 2 28oz cans
Salt to taste
1. Heat olive oil in saucepan. Soften onion, then add garlic for 1 additional minute.
2. Add thyme, oregano and carrot and cook until carrot is soft, about five minutes
3. Add tomatoes and basil. Simmer until thickened, about 30 minutes.

I adapted this recipe from Batali, a nice simple sauce. He just adds thyme, which I find a bit one-dimensional, and I mill my tomatoes while he hand-smushes them, which I find makes for a very watery/chunky sauce.

Sauteed meat is an a la minute preparation -- once it's out of the pan and rested for half the time it took to cook, it needs to be served. So we made a simple polenta before we got our steaks on...


Yield: 8 servings
Water 4 cups
Yellow corn meal 1 cup
Salt 1 tbsp
Parmesan, grated ½ cup
Olive oil 2 tbsp
1. Grease a 9 x 12 pan. In saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
2. In a bowl, combine 2 cups of cool tap water with cup of corn meal.
3. Slowly whisk water/corn meal mixture into boiling water. Add salt. Continue whisking until it comes to a boil.
4. Reduce to simmer. Cook polenta, stirring occasionally 35-40 minutes, until thick, creamy and no longer gritty.
5. Stir in Parmesan until incorporated. Pour into pan. Chill 30 minutes or until firm.
6. Cut into triangles. Reheat in oiled sauté pan, brown on each side.

Unfortunately, we were rushed and didn't have time to try to cook each steak to different degrees of doneness, which is more of an eye/feel/experience thing that can only be learned by doing. Basically, if you salt correctly, if your flame is at the right hotness, a nice brown layer will form on the surface of the meat, indicating deliciousness.


Yield: 1 serving
Steak 1 each
Salt to taste
Shallots, minced 2 tbsp
Red wine ¼ cup
Beef stock ½ cup
Butter 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
1. Heat sauté pan, add oil, medium high heat.
2. Rub down steak on both sides with salt right before cooking. Place steak in center of pan. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on size of steak. Cook to medium rare.
3. Set steak on resting rack.
4. Add shallots to pan, soften in pan while scraping up fond.
5. Add wine. Cook until au sec.
6. Add beef stock. Cook away half of liquid, or until thick.
7. Add butter. Add salt.
8. Serve steak with pan sauce pour over top.

Next week, we spend the day dedicated to my personal hero, Pizza...