In meat, connective tissue can surround the meat as a membrane, or be the ligaments and tendons that attach muscles to the bone. It is formed of either collagen or elastin (also known as “silverskin”.) Collagen will break down during cooking into a gel that helps to make cooked meat juicy. Elastin, however, is not affected by cooking: it will remain tough. Trim any away that you can see or get at before cooking
Meat Cut Confusion
The various large areas of large animal are called “primals” — generally there will be about 6 to 10 primal areas in an animal, depending on whose butcher chart you are looking at. For instance, the hind quarters area of an animal will be a primal area. When the animal is cut up, a primal area is referred to as a “primal cut.”
Subprimals are smaller areas of a primal area. For instance, a primal area on lamb is called the shoulder. It is further cut into the subprimal groups called the neck, blade and arm. Subprimal cuts can sometimes be sold whole, for cooking for a crowd, but more usually they are cut further into smaller cuts called “retail” cuts. Or, the subprimals can be cut into larger pieces call “sub-subprimals”, and then shipped as is to a store butcher who will either trim it and sell it whole, or make it into retail cuts to suit the needs of his or her customers.
The naming of meat cuts can be very confusing to consumers, and that affects producers, because consumers will only buy cuts of meat that they can identify and know what to do with.
The confusion comes about through several reasons. In the 1970s, when various governments such as the American and Canadian governments tried Wage and Price Controls, the Price Controls would apply to several named retail cuts of meat. To get around them, butchers simply did the cut a little differently and gave it a new name and bingo, that cut of meat was no longer covered by the Controls.
Retailers and butchers also rename cuts from time to time to renew interest in a cut of meat, or come up with a new and sexier name that will enable them to price the cut higher. And finally, you have government regulators. In Canada alone, meat grading and naming policies, which were first created by the government in 1929, changed in 1947, 1958, 1972 and 1984.
Finally, in 1992, the Canadian Meat Council and the American Institutional Meat Purchasing Specifications decided to harmonize their naming systems, to reduce cross-border and domestic confusion. The two councils put out manuals to be used by producers and retail buyers. The manuals, which describe and identify standard meat cuts, index meat as follows:
Beef, 100 range
Lamb 200 range
Veal 300 range
Pork 400 range
Each standard meat cut is assigned a catalogue number within the appropriate range for that type of meat.
When turning meat on a grill, never use a fork to turn it with. A fork pierces the meat and lets all the juices run out and down into the flames. Use tongs instead.
When testing meat for doneness with a meat thermometer, insert the thermometer into actual meat, not fat.
There are various ways to tenderize meat. The most effective is to dance circles around it with an umbrella drink in your hand listening to a good Don Ho song. Nothing that you do is really going to tenderize that meat, so you might as well have a few drinks so that you don’t notice it as much. The truth is, certain tough cuts and types of meat are just meant to be cooked in ways different from tender cuts of meat, and there’s no magic way to turn them into something as buttery soft as a filet mignon.
In general, cook low-fat meats, pork and chicken low and slow; cook high fat meats such as goose at a higher temperature.
Special butters (such as herbed butters) are often served with grilled meats, because you can’t make a sauce from the drippings of a piece of meat on the grill: it all goes into the flames.
Only two women (as of 2004) have ever become guild butchers in Britain — Clarissa Dickson, of Two Fat Ladies fame, and Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Literature & Lore
When reading figures about high a percentage of the world’s grain goes to produce 1 pound (450g) of meat, and how wasteful that is while people are starving, bear in mind that the grain used for cattle feed is not grain that people can or will eat. You can bet very little hard spring wheat, the kind that makes fabulous bread flour and sells at higher prices, gets shovelled into Bossie the cow’s feed bag. Cow corn is called cow corn for a reason.
The patron saints of butchers are: Adrian of Nicomedia, Anthony the Abbott, Bartholomew the Apostle, George, Lawrence, Luke the Apostle, Peter the Apostle and Thomas Bellacci.
There is a theory about why, in English, the words for many various meats are different from the names of the animals the meat comes from. The theory holds that it dates from the time of the Norman conquest.
The Anglo-Saxon names for the animals survived, such as “calf”, “cow”, “pig”, and “sheep”, as they were used by the servants, the conquered Anglo-Saxons, who were out in the barnyards raising the animals.
The words for the meats, which were eaten by the masters, the Norman conquerors, took on the French words used by those masters. Thus “boeuf” (beef), “veau” (veal), “porc” (pork), and “mouton” (mutton.)