Cooking 101: Raw Meat

  • 12 Aug, 2016
In Cooking 101 I address some of the basics of cooking. Cooking your own healthy food is one of the best things you can do for your health, but that can be difficult if you don’t know how to cook. Many recipes are written with the assumption that the reader has a basic understanding of cooking, which makes learning to cook as an adult especially challenging. I want you to succeed in your health journey, and don’t want confusion about how to use your kitchen to get in the way of that. [...]
In Cooking 101 I address some of the basics of cooking. Cooking your own healthy food is one of the best things you can do for your health, but that can be difficult if you don’t know how to cook. Many recipes are written with the assumption that the reader has a basic understanding of cooking, which makes learning to cook as an adult especially challenging. I want you to succeed in your health journey, and don’t want confusion about how to use your kitchen to get in the way of that. If you have a question about cooking, reading recipes, or cooking techniques, please send me message so I can address them in these articles.

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This installment of Cooking 101 focuses on handling raw meat. It is important to properly handle raw meat in your kitchen in order to avoid spreading things like salmonella, E. coli, listeria or intestinal worms ( in other words, this is no joke). So here are a few pointers on how to make sure you are handling raw meat properly in your kitchen.

Storage

Keep meat wrapped so it won’t leak juices. Don’t store meat in the same area of your refrigerator as your produce or other foods. If, heaven forbid, the meat leaks into your produce or other food, then those items are lost. If I am thawing meat in my fridge I keep it in a bowl or deep dish so that any leaks are contained. When storing meat make sure it stays in the safe temperature zone of under 40 F and over 140 F until ready to eat.

Separate cutting boards and utensils

When you are prepping meat always read through the entire recipe beforehand, this helps you set up a rhythm for which steps you will do and when you will do them. This is important because you will prep your meat before pulling out other ingredients like vegetables, grains or fruit. However, if there is a part of your recipe that requires long cooking times, or needs to be already done before prepping the meat, then you need to do those tasks before moving onto your raw meat. Examples would be getting rice or beans with a long cooking time started, putting potatoes (which take at least 45min to bake) in the oven, or caramelizing your onions if the recipe calls for that.

All this means is read your recipe first, after you’ve done this a few times you’ll get a good feel for how the cooking rhythm flows for you.
Example: Baked chicken breasts, brown rice (45min cook time), salad
1) get the rice started on the stove because it takes longest
2) pull out the chicken, season it, place it in the baking dish and put it in the oven (20 min cook time)
3) wash anything that came in contact with the chicken (this only takes a minute)
4) while the rice and chicken cook make your salad
5) everything is ready at the same time and the whole meal only took 45min (yay!)

Keeping it clean
A friend of mine gave me this great illustration for cooking with raw meat. Pretend the meat is bright red paint so if it touches something, or touch it and then touch something, then you have spread the paint. All of the paint has to be cleaned up when you are done cooking. So try to keep it as contained as possible.

Clear and clean the space where you will be working with your raw meat. Wash the counter, have a clean cutting board and knife handy, and keep produce at a separate part of the kitchen. In other words, don’t have your lettuce and veggies stacked up next to your meat while you’re cutting and prepping it. Anything the meat touches will have to be washed, so working in a clear area cuts down on the chances of you having to wipe/wash off extra items. I also like to put any spices I will use in a small bowl before I start, that way I'm not having to worry about getting my spice jars dirty.

After working with raw meat wash your hands, any utensils you used on it, and any surfaces it touched. Once the area has been cleaned you can pull out the rest of your ingredients and start using them.

Browning Beef
Many recipes will call for you to brown or sear your meat before cooking it. Especially beef. To do this you first heat oil in a pan on med-high heat. Once the pan has heated place the meat in the pan and allow it cook until it has started to caramelize, but not burn; turn the meat over until all sides are seared. You want the heat high enough to quickly sear the meat without cooking the middle too much. This traps the juices inside the meat so it stays tender, and the caramelizing gives the meat a nice, rich flavor.

Caramelize: cooking a food until the natural sugars in it harden and turn golden brown to brown. This is that lovely crispy crust on a properly roasted chicken. It is also commonly used when cooking onions.

*note: If your meat has been marinated be sure to dry it with a paper towel before trying to sear it or it won't brown properly

Browning meat can also refer to browning ground beef (for spaghetti, tacos etc.). To do this heat oil in a pan on medium heat and add the meat to the pan. Use a sturdy spatula to break up and stir the meat until there is no more pink meat in the pan. Add salt, pepper and spices to the meat as it browns to enhance the flavor.

Depending on the recipe you may need to strain the grease from the meat before moving to the next step. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowland pour the meat into it so the grease drips into the bowl. After the grease has cooled throw it away in the trash. Don’t dump it down your drain as this will clog your pipes.

* tip for singles or small families: When you get your ground beef home separate it into 4 sections and place them in a ziploc bag before freezing. This way you can pull out just enough for a small meal without having to thaw the entire package.

Quick thawing
Meat always cooks best if it’s thawed when you start cooking it. If you know you will be using meat the next day you can remove it from the freezer and let it thaw overnight in the fridge. If you forgot to do this and you need it sooner, then make sure it is sealed in a water proof bag and place it in a bowl of room temperature water. Change the water out every 30min or so. This will help the meat thaw evenly and quickly.
Exception: you can brown ground meat without thawing it first.

Cooking Temps
Use a meat thermometer to check that your meat is done.

Steak 145F (this is a medium steak)
Poultry 165F
Pork 145F
Ground Meat 160F
Fish and Shellfish 145F
Full Ham 165F


Keeping left overs
Meat leftovers are good in your refrigerator for three days, and in your freezer for up to six months. If your leftovers ever smell even little off, just throw them out, better safe than sorry.
I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions about recipe lingo, cooking techniques, or you have a recipe you can't seem to do right, send it to me so I can address it in another cooking 101 post.
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