Tips on Buying Meat
Many years ago when you went into your local butcher you could have steaks, chops, roasts and mince, and that was it. With the low cost of air travel now, we are all exposed to foods that we would never have dreamed of in those days. You could cook mince one hundred days in a row now without using the same recipe twice. And with people from so many other countries coming to live here your local Craft Butcher is responding to his new customers needs by adapting his cutting.
Dishes like hearts, liver, oxtails which we Irish stopped using during the Celtic Tiger years are becoming very popular.
Our recent BBQ competition saw some exotic dishes such as Lamb Burger with Feta Cheese, Spinach & Pine Nuts and Pepper Burger Paprika. Those dishes shared Joint National Champion honours. Or what about Butterfly Leg of Lamb with Anchovies, Rosemary & Garlic? If there's a cut of meat you have tasted while abroad, why not ask your Craft Butcher to cut it for you?
Our theory is that any piece of meat, if cooked properly, can be a masterpiece. But with the plethora of regional names etc., we are not always talking about the same cut. Also, some of the slower cooking methods are being ignored in this fast food age, and need to be revived.
The first thing to be aware of is that the names of meat cuts vary from country to country, and in some cases, region to region.
In French, the word entrecôte denotes a premium cut of beef used for steaks.
Traditionally it came from the rib area of the carcass, corresponding to the steaks known in different parts of the world as rib, rib-eye, club, Scotch fillet, or Delmonico.
The term is now also used for the sirloin cut known as contre-filet, being the portion of the sirloin on the opposite side of the bone from the filet, or tenderloin. Around the world, a steak cut from the contre-filet may be called a sirloin steak, a Porterhouse steak (as the term is understood in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand), a strip steak, a striploin steak, Rib-eye steak, club steak, a Delmonico steak, or a New York steak when separated from the bone. Or with the bone attached, may be called a T-bone steak or a Porterhouse steak (as the term is understood in the United States and Canada) when left on the bone with the fillet.
Striploin can be confusing. If you ask for a sirloin in a restaurant you will get striploin. If you ask for sirloin in a butcher's shop you will get rump. In the United States and Canada it is also known as striploin, shell steak, Delmonico, Kansas City strip or New York strip steak. Cut from the strip loin part of the sirloin, the strip steak consists of a muscle that does little work, and so it is particularly tender, though not as tender as the nearby ribeye or Fillet (fat content of the strip is somewhere between these two cuts). Unlike the nearby Fillet , the strip loin is a sizeable muscle, allowing it to be cut into larger portions.
When still attached to the bone, and with a piece of the fillet also included, the strip steak becomes a T-bone steak or a Porterhouse steak, the difference being in that the Porterhouse has a larger portion of fillet included.
Sirloin in Ireland comes from the Rump. There can be confusion (see above) whether bought in a restaurant or a butcher's shop.
Beef topside is a boneless cut with a fat cap on one side and it is situated near the sirloin and as its name says it is actually situated on the top. Beef topside is also called round or London Broil steak. Topside of beef is often used for stews, casseroles and pies. Beef topside can be cooked with or without its fat cap, but it is considered to be more delicious when it is cooked with the fat. The most common cooking method for beef topside is pot roasting. Beef topside pot roast is cooked with onions, tomatoes, vinegar, soy sauce and bay leaves and it is seasoned with salt and black pepper. Occasionally the excess fat is trimmed and cut into pieces in order to be used for frying. When the fat is melted it is used for frying the other ingredients as it gives a delicious taste to the mixture. Beef topside is generally roasted intact, but it can also be cooked sliced for stir-fry, stews, and soups. Beef topside is generally marinated with spices such as garlic, thyme, and peppercorns at room temperature before grilling it.
There are several cuts, all different, that go under the name flank steak. In Ireland, it is a cut from the abdominal wall of a heifer and when prepared and cooked properly is a beautiful piece of meat. It is best marinated overnight, using oil, a flavouring (garlic, pepper) and acid (balsamic vinegar, lemon juice) to tenderise.
Brisket in Ireland was traditionally used in corned beef, but the Celtic Tiger changed peoples eating habits. It is a cheaper cut and when there is money to go around, people will buy more expensive cuts. The art of cooking cheaper cuts was disappearing, but economic reality has caused a reversal of the trend. With less disposable income, cooks are taking a fresh look at pot roasting, stews, casseroles etc as a way of stretching the food budget. In the USA brisket is used for barbecuing. The meat (called brisket strip), is marinated, sometimes for two days, to give it flavour and to tenderise it.
The shoulder of beef is a cut you won't see very often these days. As in the case of brisket, it too became unfashionable during the Celtic Tiger years. It has a robust flavour and is well suited to long, slow cooking. Stews, casseroles, curries are perfect uses for the shoulder and the slow cooking tenderises it and allows the flavours of the other ingredients to mix.
Pot Roast is a method of cooking that uses the cheaper, less tender cuts to best effect. It should be browned on a hot pan before going into the oven. The meat is then put in a lidded container with liquid (water, wine, stock) and vegetables (turnip, carrot or vegetables that will stand up to the longer cooking times). Cooking times of three hours or more are not unusual. The results are spectacular in terms of tenderness, flavour and eating pleasure.
Minced meat is probably the most versatile of all the cuts mentioned. Mince generally comes from the trimmings of other cuts while they are being prepared. This does not mean that it is in any way inferior. Any lean meat without gristle is suitable for mincing, and as mentioned above, some of the cheaper cuts have a robust flavour that the likes of Fillet don't have. Mince is used in Beefburgers, Meat Loaf, Pies (Cottage Pie, Shepherd's Pie), Meatballs, Bolognese, Lasagne etc. It is relatively inexpensive and with a little imagination can be a very satisfying meal.