Cap On / Cap Off
Left, cap off. Right, cap on.
© Denzil Green
On a piece of meat such as beef or pork, the "cap" most often refers to a layer of fat on top. Your first reaction might be -- get rid of this, but you need to think twice about it. The cap of fat keeps the meat tender during cooking; the fat will render during cooking and melt into the meat, making the meat tender and flavourful.
The arguments against leaving the cap on appear to two-fold: the first is that generic reservation about any fat on the meat being unhealthy. The second is perhaps a bit more concrete in day-to-day terms: before serving, say, a Prime Rib Roast with cap on, you cut off and discard the cap just before serving. That is wastage, and even though meat with "cap on" is generally less expensive per pound / kilo than with "cap off" (to compensate for the fact that you're paying for a measurable amount of fat as opposed to getting 100% "meat"), when you account for the wastage, it pushes up your costs per actual servable portion of meat that can reach your guests' plates.
In spite of that, serious beef lovers, especially barbequers, get very upset if they get only get cuts of meat with "cap off." Some try to compensate by "barding" -- tying a slab of other fat on top, but aren't entirely satisfied with the results. Whether talking about roasts or steaks, they want the cap on.
And when cooking pork, the cap (with skin) produces that wonderful, crunchy delicacy that the British call "crackling", which is not discarded, but instead fairly portioned out so that all at the table get a taste.
Sometimes, as in Top Sirloin Steak or Rib Steak (as pictured here), Cap On, the "cap" can refer to a piece of less tender meat with some fat. Fans swear this is the tastiest part of the cut.
Always cook roasts that have the "cap on" cap side up, so that the fat will render downwards into the meat. For beef, discard the cap just before carving. For pork, turn the cap into crackling.
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