If you go to the market or grocery, chicken, pork and beef are often sold by cut. There are cases though when labels are confusing. What are chicken tenders, for example. Which part of the chicken do they come from? What about pork hock and beef shank?
To make everything a little clearer, I prepared a series of illustrations for chicken, pork, beef and some seafood.
All about chicken
All about chicken has moved to its own home. Click here for everything chicken.
Pork and beef cuts
While it is simple enough to memorize the various parts of a chicken and other fowl, pork and beef (and other mammals) can be more challenging.
Names of meat cuts can be confusing
It took me a long time to learn the various cuts. In groceries and supermarkets, the names are in English but the English names aren’t always uniform.
For example, in some places, pork belly is called “bacon”, shoulder is labeled as “butt”, cheek is referred to as “jowl” and leg is sometimes used in lieu of “hock”. It’s a matter of usage and usage differs especially from one country to the next.
The same is true with beef. Every part is known by various names.
In the wet market, the meat parts go by local names. Considering how many languages and dialects there are in this country, heck, it pays to know what each part looks like and never mind what’s called.
When you go marketing, take note of the names of the various parts of the animal and ask the butcher (or vendor) where each part is located in the animal’s body.
Then, memorize what each part looks like. That way, if you go to another market where the names of the various parts of the animal are different, you can just tell the butcher that you want a kilo of meat from the back, neck, shoulder, bottom etcetera.
Every meat cut has its own characteristics
Just like chicken, there are parts of the hog and cattle that are great for steaks, stews, stir fries and so on. The less exercise an animal’s body part gets, the more tender the meat. The more exercise the body part gets, the tougher the meat.
In other words, you cannot make steak from beef shank nor can you cook tenderloin into a stew. That would be disastrous. When reading a recipe, always pay attention to the recommended cut of meat. If you have to substitute, choose a cut with similar characteristics.
Additional preparation for meat
Cutting the meat into the correct size and shape, whether or not it needs to be marinated or browned are all determined by the dish you intend to cook.
- How to tenderize meat (how to make cheap tougher cuts deliver wonderful results!)
- Do we really need to brown meat before braising or stewing?
There are more seafood varieties than I am acquainted with. Some are not even sold in my part of the world. I will limit this section to the most common seafood cooked in an average home.
Big fish. Small fish. In terms of preparation for cooking, what do they have in common? The gills, scales and intestines have to be removed and discarded. Except in rare cases, I let the fishmonger do this for me because disposing of the unwanted parts at home can be a smelly affair.
Apart from that, prepping whole (small or medium-sized) fish and pre-cut fish differs.
Unless you run a restaurant, you don’t buy big fish whole. And when I say “big”, I mean fish that weighs over five kilos. Home cooks buy big fish by weight, often as steaks or fillets.
But smaller fish, either one for a single serving or to feed a family, you can buy whole. Whole fish requires scoring prior to cooking. Click here for the whys and how.
Shrimps and prawns
Most people think that “large” means prawn and “small” means shrimp. Not so.
Know the difference between shrimps and prawns, and how to clean and devein them.
Squids come in various sizes. Usually, the size determines how they are cooked. But, big or small, squids need to be cleaned and the inedible parts discarded before cooking.
Shellfish (bi-valve molluscs)
Oysters, clams, mussels and scallops are just among the various edible bi-valve molluscs. Preparations vary but scrubbing the shells clean is almost always the first step.
To find out if clams and mussels are fresh, dump into a large bowl and fill with water. Discard all that float to the surface. You can’t do this with oysters because the shells are so heavy that the oysters will always sink.
Next, you need to get rid of any dirt and impurities trapped inside the shell. I do this by soaking clams and mussels in water.
With mussels, when the shells open after soaking, you need to pull off the “beard” — the mass of threads that peek where the shells meet. It’s not trapped seaweed, trust me. It’s called byssus which the mussel uses to hold on to hard surfaces and it isn’t edible.
So, we’ve reached the end of Lesson #3. Next weekend, it’ll be prepping vegetables. Until then!