Fleshing it out

Categories: News and previews

Tim Maddams gives us a preview of what to expect from his upcoming demos, in which he’ll be exploring and explaining the ins and outs of all things meat, as part of a month-long residency focusing on the varied skills involved in fish, meat and vegetable cookery

Meat is, it seems, a hot topic. Having spent many years thinking about the implications globally, locally and personally of meat consumption, I find this sudden peak in interest rather surprising. Surely we have all been reducing our meat intake for years? Buying quality, high welfare, sustainably raised meat from reputable suppliers? Perhaps not then. But we should be and if we are to continue eating at least some meat—which I strongly believe we must, for many and varied reasons—we should best know how to cook it. Therein lies the rub of these few words on the subject.

On a very basic level, cooking meat is about changing the protein structure of the meat through the application of heat. There we are. Easy as that. However, it is slightly more complex in reality—and when you add all the variables together you start to see the problems clearly.

The correct environment
The age of the animal concerned will affect how tough the meat is. Which part of the animal the meat comes from will again affect tenderness and flavour profile—something that seems hard to believe if all you ever eat is intensively reared chicken flesh, as the thighs are now as tasteless and flabby as the over grown cotton wool meat of the breasts. Another factor is how long the meat has been hung for or, conversely, how fresh it is. For larger cuts of beef, lamb, venison and pork, a good hanging time in the correct environment will improve the meat’s savour beyond any culinary skill. The same is true for good quality poultry. But for offal and mince and so on you want the meat fresh, before time has had the chance to lessen the sweetness and replace it with bitterness. Super fresh offal is among the finest food on the planet and incredibly nutrient-dense to boot.

Then we have the issues of unwanted tissue structures coming into play. You can have the finest, most well-hung fillet steak in the world, but if you fail to trim off the collagen-rich silver skin (or sinew) you will find that it is less than perfect on the plate. This silver skin will break down into gelatine and tenderness after long, slow cooking—but no one wants a fillet steak cooked long and slow, so physical removal with a sharp knife is the answer.

A confident meat cook
Joints of meat are not always designed for perfect cookery; they have been developed as both practical and functional ways to make meat carcases easier to handle and store, and as a way of making the carcase pay its way over the butchers’ scales. A leg of lamb is a fine example of a joint that many people try to cook as it is—a large and complex structure, with many internal sinews and heavy bones. Look to the other side of the butchers’ counter and you will see lamb shanks being sold as stewing cuts, and lamb rumps as steak quality cuts—both are part of the overall leg of lamb joint. When you cook a leg whole, to get the best from the most tender parts means you must under-cook the tougher parts, and of course vice versa is also true. It is here that a bit of knowledge and a few tips can help to ease the pain of failure in the kitchen. Couple this with a desire to eat as much of the animal as possible—to indulge in its many and varied textures and flavours—and you have the will and the beginnings of the skill needed to become a more confident meat cook.

In my upcoming demos at Borough I will do my best to showcase a wide range of recipes, using various cuts from different animals, which bring out the best from the produce at hand. I will look at signs of quality, types of cut, methods of cookery and of course, fine-tuning—explaining how to know your meat is cooked, when to cook it long and slow, and when to just roast it. After all, if we are going to eat meat, let’s make sure that it is as good as it can be.

Join Tim for tips, tastings and recipes Thursday 15th and Thursday 22nd August in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm