IT IS NOT an exaggeration to say that meat is the most universally liked food. While consumption of wheat flour in the United States has steadily diminished since 1939, the per capita consumption of meat has risen. In 1939 the average person ate 145 pounds of red meats and poultry combined. By 1952 the total had risen to 179 pounds. But if you think Americans eat a great deal of meat, notice the figures for two other countries! Before World War II, New Zealanders ate 321 pounds of meat per person and Argentineans, 300 pounds.
Values in Meat
Why this universal preference for meat? The value of meat has become increasingly apparent since the composition of different foods and their effects on human nutrition have been studied. Being 75 percent water and 25 percent solid matter, meat has the peculiar property of being more concentrated after cooking due to the loss of moisture. A four-ounce serving of average beef contains as much protein as three glasses of milk. Slightly more protein is found in the same quantity of chicken, fish and lamb. Of the variety meats, only liver and heart are significantly higher in some food values than muscle meat. Heart and liver are both rich in iron and copper, and only liver is rich in vitamin A. Sweetbreads contain almost no vitamin B. Fowl and beef are about equal in vitamin value. Lean meat is 18 to 20 percent protein — protein that contains ALL the amino acids the body needs for growth and repair. Tests have shown that the healthy body needs a new supply of complete protein every day because it does not store any excess protein that is eaten. Two to three percent of the lean is fat. If the meat is well marbled, the lean may contain up to 17 percent fat. Only the prime cuts ever contain this much fat and by the methods used to cook these (broiling and frying), most of the fat is cooked out. "Organic extractives" comprise from one to two percent of meat. These extractives constitute most of the characteristic flavor of meat, and stimulate the flow of digestive juices when eaten. Extractives dissolve easily in water. Therefore, any liquid, other than fat, from the meat should be served with it as gravy or sauce. Of the minerals, phosphorus and iron and copper are the principal ones found in meat. It is very deficient in calcium. Whenever meat containing bone is cooked in stews or soups, you can add vinegar, tomato juice or lemon juice to them before cooking. This dissolves some of the calcium from the bones and adds to the food value. The usual proportion is one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to each quart of liquid used. If you use tomato juice, substitute it for part of the liquid, using as much as taste requires. The vitamins found in meat are mostly of the B complex. Liver is very rich in vitamin A, and the liver and brains contain a little vitamin C. These two are not found in the muscle meats. The fact that meat is rich in B vitamins is another reason for serving the juice with the meat because these vitamins easily dissolve in water.
Meat Structure Affects Cooking
Different cooking methods are recommended for the various cuts of meat. Why is this? The way meat is constructed determines to a great extent how it is to be cooked. Muscle meats consist of muscle tissue, connective tissue and fat. The smallest unit is the muscle cell. It is liquid matter enclosed by a thin, tender sheath. A number of these are bound together by a heavier tissue called connective tissue. It is composed of smaller cells and is therefore tougher just as the closer grain of a hardwood tree is harder than the more open grain of softwood trees. This connective tissue is composed entirely of a protein, collagen, which becomes gelatin when it is put with water or with water and an acid, and heated. When the animal is fattened, the fat is first deposited around the internal organs and then in the cells of the connective tissue. As the fat collects in the connective tissue, it stretches the cell wall, making it thinner. Consequently, FAT MEAT IS MORE TENDER THAN LEAN. The fat protects the meat from excessive drying during cooking, but excess fat should be trimmed off before cooking. In a well-finished animal, some of the water in the muscles is replaced by fat. Meat from such an animal is firmer than that from a range-fed animal or from veal. Meat of the most-used muscles of the animal is tougher because it contains more connective tissue. This tissue also increases in quantity as the animal ages. However, these meats contain more "extractives" which add the flavor that is especially desirable in stews, chili and soups.
One of the main purposes of cooking meat, then, is to break down this connective tissue — to tenderize it. Cooking also improves the appearance of meat. Not very many people care to think of eating raw meat. Another object is to develop flavor. Flavor includes aroma as well as taste. This is generally accomplished by browning the meat. Cooking meat also sterilizes it, eliminating the possibility of any infection being contracted from it. All methods for cooking meat come under two headings — dry heat and moist heat. Methods using dry heat are broiling (or grilling), frying, panbroiling and roasting. ONLY the most tender cuts are suitable for cooking by dry heat methods because dry heat toughens meat by evaporating water from it. The fat in the prime cuts, however, reduces evaporation to some extent. Brushing the meat with oil or soft butter before cooking also prevents some evaporation. MEATS SUITABLE FOR BROILING are prime cuts of Porterhouse, club, rib, tenderloin and top round steaks, and ground beef patties. Broiling is not an appropriate method for cooking veal because it is watery and has almost no fat. Beef should be at least one inch thick for broiling. Thinner cuts dry out too much. Panbroiling has the same effect as broiling. The meat is put into a hot, ungreased skillet and turned frequently so that it does not burn. Any fat that cooks out is poured off as cooking proceeds, or the meat will be fried instead of broiled. No lid is used on the frying pan. Since salt draws out moisture, meat cooked by dry heat is salted after cooking. Frying is adaptable to thin steaks of the less tender cuts. A little oil is put into the pan. Cuts suitable for frying are good, commercial and utility grades of those listed above for broiling. To this you may add the prime cuts of bottom round steak, round steak, shoulder arm steak and chuck steak. The loin, sirloin and rib chops of veal are also suitable. Larger cuts of meat are often ROASTED. The side of the meat to be turned up should have a layer of fat so that it will be self-basting. The meat is placed fat side up in a pan and baked uncovered. It should not be seared before roasting. Tests have proven that meat roasted in a temperature no higher than 325° F. retains much more of its juices than when a higher temperature is used. A temperature of 300° F. or even less is better. Another advantage is that less of the fat layer melts off to soak into the meat. The fat layer is easily trimmed off after roasting. A small roast cooked at this temperature requires about 30 minutes per pound to cook well done. If the roast has much exposed surface, such as a flat roast, it should be brushed with melted butter or oil. This reduces evaporation of the meat juices. Prime grades of beef rump, chuck ribs, shoulder arm and heel of round are satisfactory for roasting; also chuck ribs and arms of veal. Prime, choice and good grades of veal loin, rump, leg and sirloin develop full flavor in roasting.
Moist Heat Cooking
Moist heat is practical for tougher meats because the meat can be cooked slowly for a longer time, giving the moisture time to gelatinize the connective tissue. Marinating the meat in diluted acids or cooking meat in such acid liquids tenderizes tough cuts. Tomato juice, vinegar, sour cream, sour milk, and lemon juice are acids used for this purpose. If meat is marinated, it should be sliced fairly thin. After the acid liquid is poured over the slices, set the meat in the refrigerator to soak at least 12 hours. It may be left as long as two days. Stewing is a common way of cooking very tough meat. It is usually covered with water and simmered — NOT BOILED. Protein in meat hardens at boiling temperature just as the white of a boiled egg does. Either small or large pieces of meat can be stewed. The meat is not browned. Stew may be cooked as easily in the oven as top of stove. The pot should be covered. Good to utility grades of the shoulder arm, rib ends, plate (breast), brisket and neck make fine stew meat. For meat that is not quite so tough, braising is a flavorful method. The meat is first seared in a little oil, then covered and cooked slowly with a small amount of added liquid. The only object of searing is to brown the meat. It is done in a hot, though not smoking, skillet. A heavy pan is best. A large piece of meat cooked by braising is called a pot roast; small pieces of meat braised are called a fricassee. Commercial and utility grades of just about any cut will do for braising. Braising is especially suitable for veal because the browning develops flavor which veal naturally lacks. Chicken is also tasty cooked this way. Pressure-cooking is desirable only for exceptionally tough meats or for use at higher altitudes. The high temperature effectually breaks down connective tissue, but correct timing must be carefully observed so that the protein is not toughened by overcooking. Liver is a problem, because it usually contains a considerable amount of blood. If it is washed much, it loses an appreciable amount of its vitamins, particularly those of the B complex. Most of the blood can be eliminated by rinsing the liver once in barely warm water and cutting out the large tubes (blood vessels) with kitchen scissors or a sharp pointed knife. Cutting out these membranes and trimming off the outside skin makes liver more agreeable to eat.
Cooking Frozen Meats
Frozen meats can be thawed before cooking. There seems to be no consistent difference in flavor or juiciness. If it is thawed first, it should be left in the original package. At room temperature a pound of meat requires about 2 hours to thaw. In the refrigerator it thaws in about 5 hours. Unwrapped meat should not be thawed in water as the juices seep out and are lost in the water. Frozen meats to be fried, such as chicken and fish, can be placed in a pan and quickly thawed enough in a warm oven so that the pieces can be broken apart. If oven roasts are set to bake while completely frozen, they will require about 20 more minutes per pound of cooking time. Inch-thick frozen steaks and chops require about 8 minutes more; 1 1/2-inch pieces about 15 minutes more than the regular cooking time. Information about the different cuts and grades of meat can be obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture through writing your state representative in Congress or from some cookbooks.