Thursday, April 22, 2010

Meat, it's what's for the Lesson

Once again, we had 3 hours to teach the students about the entire world of red meat. I started with asking why people are vegetarians -- answers were "don't like the taste" and "they like animals." I broke it down into two categories -- ethical and health, and would not address the 1st, as this is a cooking class, not a philosophy class. If your going to work in a restaurant 98% of the time you're going to have to deal with meat.

Health is another story. Today we were working with chopped meat, one of the most dangerous meat products out there. I explained the process of unhealthy, overcrowded cow pens in industrial farms, how they are forced to eat grains instead of hay, the use of antibiotics to keep them well, and the act of slaughtering is so fast that when the carcasses are cleaned, some poo remains. If you have a solid piece of muscle (like the pork chops we would be cooking), it's a relatively simple task to clean the meat at some point in production -- all the bad stuff is at the surface.

But if you send the meat to the grinder, all the bad stuff is mixed up all the way through. There are limited ways to make the meat clean now -- you can treat it with ammonia, but that stinks and destroys the meat's flavor. You can cook it thoroughly to kill all bacteria, but the fat runs out and you have tough, crumbly cooked meat with little flavor.

So you can do what McDonald's does -- take this crappy, cheap ground meat and add fillers to soften and give flavor to the meat, typically soy product and bean gums. And to a certain extent, that's what we'd be doing today with our meatballs (recipes here) -- adding things to the chopped meat so that it would still be delicious after being cooked at a fiery 550 degrees.

We set to work on making the meatball mix, a traditional spaghetti sauce and a sheet of polenta. Like last semester, the polenta failed -- we didn't have to to saute it, and it just looked and tasted unappealing. This time we used a big enough pot, and the pasta cooked correctly, but we let it go for the minutes on the package and was a tad too soft -- should of cut back by 2 minutes. The sauce was great, but not enough of it. The meatballs, well, Louis from the restaurant where I got the recipe recommended doubling the bread, but the meatballs came out TOO soft and mushy, despite being well done.

Lastly, I had the students saute pork loin chops in a pan, getting a nice brown fond on the meat and the pan before resting the meat on a rack, then making a simple pan sauce in the pan with wine, shallots, stock, salt and finishing with butter. The chops and the sauce went down surprisingly well.

Next week, a new lesson -- pastry.

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