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Friday, February 25, 2011

Salvaging Meat That’s Past Its Prime

Traditional entrecôte (rib-eye steak)
Here’s another guest post from our favorite Chefbear.  He shot me an email the other day with this information and I thought it was relevant because once the SHTF we’re not going to want to waste food.  Well, I’ve come across steaks in the ‘fridge like he describes here and threw them out, when in fact if I’d had this info I could have cooked them and enjoyed them like he did here.
Once again, thanks for the tips Chefbear!
-Jarhead Survivor
Hello again folks in SHTF Blog land! I have new a cooking topic for you guys today… What’s new right?! Well this particular article came to me while I was cleaning out the refrigerator this morning; I came across a VERY nice, VERY expensive cut of Dry Aged USDA Prime Organic Rib eye. I had purchased this wonderful, delicious, 1.5” thick cut, 24oz, $22/lb steak to cook for my girl and myself… well 2 weeks went by and she kept having to work mandatory overtime at, so the worst part is I didn’t get to spend time with her, but almost as tragig… this BEAUTIFUL hunk ‘o’ steer just sat in the fridge and was almost forgotten. Luckily the over-packed refrigerator had finally got on my nerves to the point where I felt it HAD to be cleaned! The reason for this spontaneous cleaning adventure was a full pickle jar falling on the top of my foot! Needless to say, I was cleaning out of sheer anger. But when I came across the formerly “breathtaking” steak, I almost shed a tear! The surface had started to turn grey (weird for dry aged beef) and it was starting to develop a funky smell, but hope was not lost yet! I knew I had to act fast, so I fired up my sautoir (large, straight sided, deep sauté pan) with a little bacon grease and got to work. First, after preheating the pan, I inspected the steak more closely, everything seemed OK, just lacking it’s former glory. I then gently rinsed off the surface with warm (~130F water) to try and improve the chances of removing any uninvited guests (pathogens… i.e. bacteria), gave it the smell check again, and everything seemed kosher (pardon the pun). Then I commenced to seasoning the steak, fresh cracked black peppercorns, flaked kosher salt, little touch of garlic powder and into the pan it went. Cooked it for 4 minutes on both sides (and edges because of the thickness) over high heat to form a nice “crust”, deglazed the pan with cognac and beef stock, let that reduce a bit, added sliced shallots and a little fresh sliced garlic with about 2 cups of Merlot, and threw it into the oven for about 35 minutes @425F. IT WAS AMAZING!
That might have been a lengthy explanation for the idea which came to me at the thought of having to throw out that wonderful cut of meat, because I forgot about it… Sorry, here is the point. We often think that just because meat is a little “past its prime” it’s no longer OK to eat. This is not always the case, yes if the meat smells like 3 month old DEATH, it’s probably not wise to eat. However our digestive systems are tougher than we give them credit for! There are actually recipes from other countries which were developed to save valuable food resources by making use of meat that is “on the edge”, like Sauerbraten from Germany (or Eastern Europe). Knowing how to spot meat that is still OK to eat is a great skill for extending your food options Post SHTF. Cooking these less than prime cuts is another important skill to learn.
When you are evaluating a questionable piece of meat there are a few things to look for… #1 Ground meat usually goes bad faster than “whole muscle” meat like steak, when it does use it for bait or give it to mans best friend! #2 Oxidation is normal, a slight grey color is ok, when the meat starts turning green and getting a rotten smell, then it’s time to REALLY question it #3 If the cut of meat is big enough, you might be able to trim some of the “off color” parts and retain some good meat from underneath #4 If the meat is discolored and has a SLIGHT foul smell, try rinsing the meat with warm water and then dry it with paper towel/kitchen towel, smell it again, if the smell is gone or greatly reduced it should be ok #5 If you know where the meat has been (i.e. your fridge) then you can be relatively sure it has been kept at an appropriate temperature, and the bacteria growth which causes it to spoil should be reduced compared to meat from an unknown source (i.e. a deer carcass found in the woods). Another important thing to remember, because “whole muscle” cuts, like steak and roasts, are cut from a solid muscle the bacteria that causes it to spoil is usually limited to the surface of the meat or just below the surface.
Whenever you are cooking meat that could possibly have an excess of bacteria present in it, it’s a REALLY GOOD IDEA to cook the hell out of it! I know, you are probably saying “But Chefbear if I cook the hell out of the meat it will be all tough and dry, then I won’t want to eat it and I will just have to go hungry”… NOT SO! When you apply the proper cooking technique you can be sure you have obliterated the majority of the bacteria present (it is not possible to kill it all, those bastards are tough for such little guys!) and have a juicy, tender delicious resulting product. The method I usually employ is called “braising”, it consists of searing the meat on all sides to obtain a golden-dark brown color (not burnt), then deglazing the pan with a flavoring liquid, vegetables such as onions, carrots, celery/celery root, potatoes, turnips… almost any vegetable can be added, and then the entire pan is placed into an oven at about 325F for several hours, adding liquid if needed. This can also be done right on the cook-top, or even better in a Dutch oven, ALSO tougher cuts of meat tend to work better because they have more connective tissue (connective tissue= gelatin, gelatin mimics the texture/flavor of fat and helps retain the juicy texture). This cooking technique can also be applied to parts of the animal often overlooked by other people, like the neck, shanks, breast (like veal breast, looks similar to raw veal bacon), ribs and even tougher bits of meat trimmed from larger cuts while butchering.
Another great thing about braised dishes, is that with a little “finesse” you can turn the left over to make stew, with VERY little extra effort. Both of the resulting dishes (braised meat/stew) go great with some home-made bread, and if you are resorting to less than desirable meat you might not have a whole lot on your shelves, so check out this article I wrote a few weeks ago for ideas on bread to go with your meat/stew
Thanks again guys, I hope I have helped to expand your food/cooking options just a little bit more!
Have you ever tried to “salvage” some meat that is “past its prime”? How did it turn out? What cooking method did you use? Do you foresee braising in your future? As usual, any questions, comments, concerns you may have just let me know and I will address them to the best of my abilities!
One last note from the Jarhead…
Don’t forget to tell your Sweetie that you love them today!
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