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Ask the Expert: The Right Cut

 

Excited about that holiday roast? Looking to surprise your family with a mid-week steak dinner? Well before you heat up the oven, be sure you select the right cut and prepare it properly. We spoke with Ivy Wong, owner of local meat supplier The Meatery by meatmarket.hk, to find out how you can excite the tastebuds with meaty goodness.

LOCALIIZ: Let’s get right to the meat of the issue, so to speak. Which cuts of meat pack the most flavour?
WONG: Great question! Steak houses would have us think that the tenderloin or breast fillet are the tastiest cuts, but I will let you in on a little secret of the trade: there are a few cuts known as the “secret cuts” that butchers traditionally keep aside for themselves! These are well exercised muscles that are not as tender but pack a big flavour. While a tenderloin steak or breast fillet may be more tender, try a hanger steak next time which often has more flavour.

LOCALIIZ: How important is the right amount of fat on a piece of meat?
WONG: For maximum flavour when cooking, melting fat is the key. You will often find that fatty cuts of meat are cheaper, whilst the lean cuts are more expensive. However, a steak that is well ‘marbled’ with fine streaks of fat running throughout is far more flavoursome than a steak that’s very lean. The presence of marbled fat in some countries like Japan, is a major factor in determining grades of beef, with the higher grades having more marbling.

When fat is heated long or hot enough, it melts, or “renders”. How much it melts depends on how much fat is on the cut, but when it melts, it lubricates the muscle fibres which keeps it moist. So a perfect steak will have just enough fat to melt in the grilling process and keep the muscles moist – rather than a cut with no fat which, for the inexperienced cook, can be tough and dry.

LOCALIIZ: How should each cut of meat be cooked? You wouldn’t BBQ a filet mignon right?
WONG: Browning meat gives it a whole new set of flavours. Cooks will often sear the outside of stewing beef before adding moisture for gentle simmering. It’s also why a steak that has a crispy, brown exterior is quite a different eating experience from one that’s cooked, but not deliberately browned on the outside.

On the other hand, long, slow cooking with moist heat (methods such as braising which incorporate water, wine, or broth), help develop the flavour of less tender cuts. Since many flavour compounds are water soluble, incorporate the juices in the final dish for maximum flavour.

Finally there’s aroma, a huge part of our perception of flavour. Our nose is more sensitive than our ability to taste. So much of what we notice as we savour a rich beef stew, is really what we are smelling.


LOCALIIZ: Is there a full proof method to cooking meat perfectly?
LOCALIIZ: How complicated should preparation be? A little salt rub or should we explore the spice rack further?
WONG: It shouldn’t be complicated at all. Properly cooked, meat should only need the subtlest of seasoning. Of course, the ingredients you use and the cooking techniques, whether grilling, stewing, or braising, have a major influence on meat’s ultimate flavour. And the stage to which meat is cooked also makes a difference. In a good cut of beef, flavours will be carried in the juices of the meat, so if cooking is prolonged, juices are lost as muscle fibres shrink, squeezing out the juice. So a roast of beef that is cooked until it is well done, may not be as flavoursome as one that’s medium-rare.

WONG: Even the most seasoned of cooks sometimes experience a twinge of uncertainty when it comes to gauging the doneness of a particular meat or seafood. For home cooking, disparaged by most food writers and practiced by just about everyone else – the “cut test” is my fall back guide. Using the tip of a paring knife, make a small slit and look at the centre to check for doneness. This technique absolutely violates the integrity of the meat—use it sparingly.

LOCALIIZ: What meat is overlooked that you wish people would cook more?
WONG: Home cooks in Hong Kong are very clever people when it comes to using different meats and I love speaking with them about all the lovely recipes they conjure up from all different cuts of meat. Beef brisket, beef shin, beef cheeks, ribs, and chicken wings are all very popular staples in our customers’ weekly orders. I would like lamb to be embraced a little more in homes. Granted, it can be a little on the expensive side and the smell of lamb is unusual to the untrained nose, but nothing beats lamb cutlets with mash potato midweek to comfort you after a long day at work!

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