See a letter from Ellen about the donation campaign. Your help matters!

Meat & Fish

Cooking Meat
Honey Baked Chicken
Chicken Tunduri
Arroz con Pollo de Onis
Stifado II
A Fish Stew
Barely Liver
Oven Fish Chowder
Bowl of Red

Cooking Meat

If you are going to eat meat, by which I usually mean beef or lamb or pork, first try to understand what it is made up of and what happens when heat is applied to it. Once you have got this well in mind, the rest is seasoning.

Muscle meat is made up of tiny fibers of varying lengths packed into connective tissue in bundles and surrounded by sheaths or casings of connective tissue and fat. It is these wrappings which are principally responsible for the original toughness or tenderness of the meat. The purpose of cooking the meat is to provide sufficient heat to soften or melt the connective tissue and melt out some of the fat without breaking down the individual fibers themselves; their breakdown causes loss of the "meat juices" and drying and toughening of the meat.

A covering of fat or oil brushed on to the cut surfaces of meat before dry-cooking helps to prevent fluid and vitamin loss. Wet heat (stewing, steaming, braising, pot roasting, etc.) is most commonly used on less tender, more active, muscles which do not have sufficient fat to remain moist while roasting or broiling. In most countries, this includes most of the animal, since meat stock is not usually fed grain. American meat animals receive large amounts of food-quality grain, which causes a rapid weight gain and heavy marbling or fat interlacing within the muscles themselves. This results in a more tender animal in which cuts which are usually shoe leather in grass fed animals can be roasted or broiled successfully. It also changes the flavor and texture of the meat and increases the amount of saturated fats in your diet.

Another method of tenderizing or breaking down connective tissue is to soak the meat for several hours to several days (refrigerated) in an acid food such as vinegar, lemon juice, or tomato juice which has been mixed with oil. Traditionally this is done in a cool place but unrefrigerated because it works faster. To prevent rancidity in your meat fat or oil, I suggest you leave it refrigerated for a longer period of time. Unsalted, unseasoned meat tenderizer, which contains papays or pineapple enzyme or soy derivatives, can also be safely used to tenderize meat, but because their action is to partially pre-digest the meat they cause changes in the texture which some people do not like. Mechanically pounding or cutting the connective tissue, the principal behind cube steaks and ground meats cooked at lower temperatures do not require the heavy fat layer which must be left for insulation and moisture on roasts or stews cooked by the "First sear your meat" method. Trim off most of the visible fat; if you are eating American meat, there will be plenty in the muscle itself.

Grinding meat is also a successful tenderizing method, but the tissue is so disintegrated that the meat must be cooked carefully and only for a short time to prevent toughening and drying it out completely. Ground meat cannot be browned successfully without first evaporating off virtually all the juices and toughening the meat to a rubbery consistency.

Ground meat, or any meat which has been cooked too hot and toughened, can be re-tenderized by very long cooking. What this does is to break down and partially de-nature the proteins in the meat, making them less useful to the body. This is what happens to meat when it is cooked till it falls apart or falls off the bone.

Besides containing higher concentrations of fat, most meat sold produced for commercial use in this country is raised or finished in factory feed lots and may have traces of antibiotics including penicillin, and may have other feed-based additives. Our meat is fed with these treated feeds to increase rapid weight (fat and water) gain while attempting to avoid the illnesses that these crowded conditions support, and several countries prohibit the import of American beef and chickens because it is so treated.

I can only recommend that you pay the extra cost for organically or other naturally raised meat, get to know your butcher very well, raise or hunt your own meat, and avoid supermarket meat completely. Kosher or halal meats and organic or "natural" meats are often more carefully raised- but do read labels. Imported meats, such as Argentina beef and New Zealand lamb are usually grass-fed and therefore leaner, but safer to use. 

If you are going to be roasting meats, please get a reliable meat thermometer. Taylor makes good ones, and the type with the metal-sheathed tip is almost unbreakable. A meat thermometer is used by inserting it into a fleshy part of the roast or bird without putting the tip near bone or in a fat streak, since that gives an inaccurate reading. Resist the impulse to baste as you check the thermometer unless you are using an oil or honey basting sauce, the others actually dry out the meat by washing away the protective fat or oil coating. 

If you are concerned about the cost of slow-cooking meats, be aware that five hours of cooking at 200 degrees costs about the same as two hours at 350 degrees.

Recent news from the sea: Research indicates that oil pollution in amounts too small to be detected with regular tests has caused cancerous-type growing in shellfish. Atypical cell growths, including cancers, have shown a significant increase in fresh water fish from waters exposed to industrial waste, particularly in trout. Still another reason to opt for vegetable proteins!