Cuts and Grinds for Every Occasion
There's a world of meat to be cooked, and planning a meal involves choosing not only your recipe but also the specific cut of meat. The way your meat is butchered (its cut) affects its mouth feel, cooking time and suitability for specific types of recipes or cooking methods. For the most part, it's a good idea to use the specific type and cut of meat that a recipe calls for because the instructions have been written with that type in mind. If you choose to use a differently processed type of meat, such as substituting ground beef for stew meat, adjust the method you follow to account for the differences.
Ground beef, pork, lamb and chicken are all easy to cook, and they finish more quickly than any other types of meat. When meat is ground, different cuts are processed together to form a mixture with an almost paste-like consistency. These types of meats are rarely used in Asian cuisines. Ground meats work well in chili, baked dishes like casseroles and tomato sauce, and they're easier to distribute throughout a dish than bigger chunks such as steaks or even stew meats. For the most part, a ground meat is fully cooked as soon as you no longer see any pink or raw-looking bits in it. However, cooking it longer can make it more tender and help to maximize its flavor. Ground meats often include inferior cuts because the grinding process disguises imperfections. To avoid poor quality, buy your ground meat from a butcher you trust.
Humble Stew Meat
Stew meats tend to be tough cuts such as chuck roast if you're using beef, or pork shoulder if you're using pork. Your butcher or local store often breaks these cuts down into relatively small pieces, saving you time and labor. They're meant to be cooked long and slow, ideally in a brazier or Dutch oven, which will maintain an adequate cooking temperature without burning its contents, as long as your flame isn't too high and you stir your stew often. Brown stew meat by searing it quickly in a hot pan. Deglaze the pan by adding something flavorful and acidic, such as tomatoes, to remove the caramelized residue from the searing process, and integrate this flavorful byproduct into your stew. Cook stew meats for several hours, until they break apart very easily. You can also transfer the seared meat to a slow cooker along with other stew ingredients, and let it cook all day while you're at work. Alternately, for an accelerated stew, sear meat, deglaze and add liquid, and then cook the mixture in a sealed pressure cooker for about 15 minutes.
Steaks are the highest quality meats you can buy and, as such, they're most commonly cooked without much embellishment so the meat itself can shine. We commonly think of the term "steak" as applying strictly to cuts of meat, but even fish such as tuna or salmon can be cut into steaks. Pork and lamb chops are steaks of a sort as well, because they're generally seasoned very simply and cooked relatively quickly on a grill or in a pan.
Preparing a roast gives center stage to a cut of meat. Sear and salt a several-pound piece of meat and transfer it to a baking dish or roasting pan along with vegetables, stock and seasonings. Potatoes, onions and carrots work particularly well. Use enough stock for the liquid not to evaporate but not enough to submerge the meat. Beef cuts such as chuck roast and rump roast, made up mainly of muscle, take several hours to cook. Tender cuts such as top round roast take about an hour for a three-pound roast at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. When roasting pork, give the tougher pork shoulder several hours of cooking time and allow less time for the tender pork loin, which should not be overcooked. Tough roasts can also be cooked in a slow cooker or in a pressure cooker for more tender results as compared with cooking them in the oven.