Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins, iron, and fat, and has always been a prestigious and celebratory food, in part due to the fact that it is a relatively expensive ingredient. Although some people avoid meat altogether, on the whole, more meat is being eaten now than ever before.
However, we do now appreciate that smaller meat portions, combined with more vegetables, grains, and pulses, produce a healthier diet. Meat is generally younger and more tender than it used to be, and it is also often leaner.
One drawback to breeding very lean animals is that it can make some meat dry and tasteless, and so although it is advisable to remove large amounts of visible fat, the small amounts that flavor well-marbled meat so superbly are considered to be an acceptable part of a balanced diet.
Regional variations in preparing and cooking meat are enormous, but the qualities of each cut remain constant – some are most suitable for grilling or roasting, while others need slow, gently cooking to make them as tender and flavoursome as they can be.
MEAT BENEFITS from cooking to tenderize it and to add flavour, and, more importantly, cooking also kills many harmful bacteria. Methods of cooking have evolved to suit particular cuts, and are designed to get the very best flavour and texture out of the meat. However, some meats, such as beef, can be eaten raw if they are of sufficiently good quality and flavour. These are most enjoyable when made easy to chew, by being prepared in thin slices, such as carpaccio, or finely minced or chopped, as in steak tartare.
Good-quality meat should have little odour and the fat should look creamy (lamb and beef) or white (pork). Always use the cut most suited to your recipe.
Raw meat carries bacteria and must be stored carefully to prevent contamination. The most important consideration when storing meat is the temperature – meat should never be allowed to become too warm, or to sweat.
- REFRIGERATE Domestic fridges should run between 0° and 5°C (32–41°F), which are safe temperatures in which to store meat. Remove meat from any packaging and place it in a container and cover with a lid or cling film. This prevents the meat contaminating other products in the fridge and avoids flavors being absorbed from other food. Store processed meat in the coldest part of the fridge. Cover and cool cooked leftovers before storing in the fridge, then use them within two days. Always make sure to store cooked meat above, not below, raw meat to prevent contamination.
- FREEZE If meat is kept frozen and airtight it can be stored for years in the freezer without becoming harmful. However, some meat and meat products (especially fat or cooked meats) will deteriorate over time, leading to loss of flavour or texture, and so are less enjoyable. In these cases a few months of freezer life is advised.
Always freeze meat before its use-by date; exclude all air and wrap it thickly to avoid “freezer burn”, which tastes unpleasant. Thaw meat in a dish in the fridge to prevent liquid contaminating surfaces or other food. Make sure meat is completely defrosted before cooking.