Pro Series Class 2: Meats

This post is part of a 9-part series related to my completion of the Pro Series 1 professional culinary arts course at The Culinary Center of Kansas City with Chef Richard McPeake. This course changed my cooking world! An introductory post can be found here.

I just “fabricated” a chicken in my kitchen. On a Friday night. At my own volition. That must mean it’s Meat Week!

This week our class was much more intense, but we were told was less so than the remaining weeks’ classes. The goal of a lighter class load was to provide adequate time to become familiar with the class flow and functioning in the teaching kitchen. In lecture, we covered beef, lamb, veal, pork, and poultry (seafood is next week). First up was studying the wonder that is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association cuts chart, which essentially maps out where different cuts of beef come from on the cow. View a similar chart here. I do like a good diagram. We did this in conjunction with our discussion about General Carcass Divisions (Leg, Loin, Rib, and Shoulder) which is similar for Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb. By knowing where the cut of meat you purchase at the grocery store comes from, you can make better decisions when it comes to how to prepare it and cook it. For example, tougher cuts (from the Leg and Shoulder) should be braised or stewed. Cuts from the Loin and Rib will be more tender, and can be grilled, roasted, or seared. The exception is the bottom half of the Loin and Rib divisions, which will be tougher and need cooked like the Leg and Shoulder divisions. Then we played a fun game of pin the steak on the cow (really…well, kind of) to be sure we had things down. Our paper homework for this week was to study the meat counter at our grocery and make a list of 5 cuts and how we would prepare them. It was suggested that for additional humor and awkwardness, we do this wearing our new personalized chef’s jackets. We then talked about Grading of Meats (more on that below) and then moved onto a demonstration of how to fabricate your own chicken (and save dollars per pound if you aren’t afraid of a little mess).

I found the hands-on portion of our class much more challenging, less so because of the cooking methods we used and more so because it was a little chaotic and hard to adjust to cooking in a different kitchen. And not just like your Mom’s kitchen. It’s a huge kitchen and hard to know where anything is. Add to that the fact that the place is full — there are 15 students, 3 professional chefs, and various staff doing dishes, etc. So it was frustrating to hear an instruction like “All stations need to be cleared except for a clean cutting board and knife”, and have no idea where to clean your knife and where to get a new cutting board, let alone where to put the dirty one! Hence the “getting acclimated” part of this class.

Despite the craziness, we did some really fun things. First up, Beef Stroganoff. I was so excited that my new knife got broken in slicing beef tenderloin into pretty 1/2 inch strips. After you prepare a dish, the Chef Richard tastes it, and then you and your partner eat it. Awesome. We liked that part and eventually placed what little was left into takeaway containers to bring home. Next, a Coffee Cocoa Spice Rub for a Pork Tenderloin that we seared and roasted. Again, very good and more leftovers for lunches that week. This was Emory’s favorite. Chef Richard demoed a London Broil with Pomegranate Marinade while we were cooking our dishes. And finally, we made a Bourbon Marinade that we are to use on chicken over the weekend.

Homework for this week, aside from my trip to stalk the meat counter, was to fabricate our own chicken. I took notes as best I could while I watched…”clip wings…cut out backbone with shears…lay belly up and pull collar forward…CAMEL CLUTCH!!!!…cut on seams…and so on.” And I loaded my car after class with leftovers, marinade, and a little chicken friend. Tonight, I had to give myself a little pep talk in the kitchen, and almost gave up and just roasted the little guy whole, but finally was able to produce two each of chicken breasts, thighs, and legs. I wasn’t able to do it as neatly as the demo, but we’ll be eating it tomorrow and I didn’t lose any fingers. Folks, I call that success.

Here are my useful tips for home chefs:

*London Broil is a cooking style and NOT a specific cut of meat.

*If you’re marinating for an extended amount of time (say, a tough beef cut for 12 hours), you should keep the acid content of your marinade low (ingredients like orange juice). Tender product (such a chicken) should marinate less time (4-6 hours max) and can handle more acids.

*Beef Grades – There are 8 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades for beef, but you should stick to purchasing the top 2 – Prime, and Choice. Keep in mind that meat at your meat counter is more likely to be these 2 grades, and packaged meats (in the little trays or tubes) is more likely to be from lower grades. Another thing to note is that the meat in the little trays is sometimes cuts that didn’t go well, or kind of scraps. That explains why they always look kind of odd….

*The next learning made my Cornhusker heart smile — the best place to buy Prime (the best!) beef is…..(drum roll….) NEBRASKA (or Iowa)! The main reason is that beef from many other regions comes from dairy cows, and tends to be mushier (yum, right?).

*Whenever you are cooking cuts of beef, be sure to let the steak “bloom” by resting it at room temperature for 30-45 minutes prior to preparing. Cold beef on the grill does not a yummy steak make. We started to do this at home a couple of years ago, and I swear it has made our steaks better.

*For serving, always slice tough cuts against the grain, but cutting them on the bias will expose more fibers and make your bites tougher.


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