Monday, August 31, 2009

Meat Lesson: Beef

I don't really like beef, and so I've cooked very little of it. However, one of my greatest food memories is of having green chile cheddar burgers in a small town of La Garita, CO, after a day of hard rock climbing. So, I guess I should embrace my inner bovine.

Chef shared that marbelling equates to tenderness and flavor except when it comes to filets. She also suggested cooking beef with the fat cap on the top of a roast or cut because the fat will drip down and auto-baste.

Skirt Steak
We started with salt and pepper and let it rest for a bit. Then we created a marinade of 5-spice, peanut oil, tamarind, muscovado and lemon (same as the lamb). Theoretically, the purpose of skirt is an inexpensive cut that works well in fajitas, stir fry, etc., but ours was not cheap.

For the skirt, we simply grilled and then held covered.

After 15 minutes of rest, we cut on bias agains the grain. We just served this as is to our friends, but again, it is intended for use in dishes, not a dish in itself.

Next was the classic steak. We opted for pan frying the steak since that is most realistic in my kitchen. Chef opted for au poire style - pepper encrused with cream sauce. Salted the meat slightly, then added clarified butter. Our goal was to cook to medium rare.

Next came the pepper.

And we both felt that we had medium rare. So, how did she come to this? I asked her to show me the old thumb test. If you press at the base of your thumb, you'll note how soft it is. As you continue pressing toward the heel of your hand/connection to the wrist, the meat becomes a bit firmer. She likened this to the progression from rare (soft) to well done (firm). Ultimately, we served the meat with the crispest side up, cooked a bit of cream in the pan until it reduced slightly and poured it over the top of the steak. I enjoyed it but still wasn't won over on steak.

Beef Ribs
I prepare ribs in my café already and they are quite popular, but when I described my technique, chef was aghast! I did it the way we do it in St. least the way my dad did it. I boil them bad boys for at least an hour if not two - with a bit of brown sugar in my water. I then put them in a roasting pan and slather them in BBQ sauce and bake at 200ºF for two or more hours covered. Talk about fall of the bone, finger lickin' good! My dad would also add a step of smoking the ribs in between the boil and the bake.

But I'm paying chef for her knowledge, so we'll do it her way. First we had to remove the membrane on the inside of the ribs. This is no easy task. The goal is to remove the membrane without damaging the meat itself. I kept mumbling something about an intern at this point in the workshop.

We then rubbed the ribs with an off the shelf blend from S. Africa and baked uncovered at 400ºF for 45 minutes. She made sure to point out that the dry rubs work on beef, not on pork ribs.

They were good, but I like my version better because I don't like to have to work for my food.

Finally we have the burgers. Mine are always dry. Always. I know its my attempt at making sure they are safe, but really, I needed a good technique. I asked her to grill and pan fry. Both were started with a mix of butter (because my ground was very lean), salt and pepper. Her trick on seasoning was to cover the bowl of meat twice with each season...which translates into enough to coat both sides of a burger.

I asked about over working the ground and she said its not so much of an issue with burgers. However, I watched and while she worked the ground, she patted them gently.

On a grill she said burgers will cook about 12 minutes.

For the skillet version she recommended cast iron. In my skillet we seared on both sides (she just peeked for doneness) on both sides, then covered the pan and let it rest on the lowest heat level. She very gently pressed for blood seepage to check doneness while at the same time telling me to never press my meat since it releases the juice that you want to keep in.

She explained that a medium burger still has a bit of pink, and that rare will be more crimson.

A few thoughts from some of my professional books:
1. High heat toughens and shrinks protein and results in excessive moisture loss. Therefore, low-heat cooking should be the general practice for most meat cooking methods.
2. Broiling is the contradiction to this since it cooks the meat quickly allowing it to retain its moisture.
3. Because both liquid and steam are better conductors of heat than air, therefore, to avoid overcooking, meat should be simmered, never boiled.
4. Red meat doneness: Rare-browned surface, thin layer of gray, red interior; Medium-thicker layer of gray, pink interior; Done-gray throughout.
5. By temp for beef: Rare 130º, Medium 140-145º, Done 160º

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