We could debate the ethics of eating meat until the cows come home, but most of us can agree on one thing: meat is delicious when cooked properly. If you don’t have the willpower to be a vegetarian, and still feel bad for cute little animals, buy free range meat, but don’t waste a perfectly good animal on a bad meal. Learn how to make delicious meat dishes so those cows and chickens didn’t die in vain.
Amanda Garbutt, host of TV McGill’s new cooking show, The Hot Plate, imparted her meat-cooking wisdom to me for this article. Amanda also happens to be my roommate, and I can attest to her expertise firsthand, she’s helped me avoid disaster in the kitchen many a time – hopefully this guide will do the same for you.
First things first: we must discuss how to prepare and store meat. I cannot stress how important this is. If you’ve ever had food poisoning before, you’ll understand. In regular grocery stores, fresh meat has an expiration date that you should take note of if you plan on cooking your meat immediately or in the next few days. If you plan on freezing it, however, it should last about a month and the expiration date doesn’t matter. For all you poor students out there, this means you can actually buy the discounted meat with the “special” stickers. Another way to save cash is to buy a ton of meat in bulk and freeze each piece in individual bags (wrenching apart frozen steaks is really hard, trust me).
As for defrosting, it’s best to take out your meat the night before and stick it in the fridge, but if you can’t plan that far ahead, throw it on the counter in the morning and it’ll be ready for dinner. And please, don’t try to defrost rock-solid meat in the microwave; it partially cooks the meat and makes it taste like leather. Never, ever, try to defrost a piece of meat and then refreeze it again. You and your insides will be very sorry.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of how not to make yourself incredibly sick, we can move on to the fun part. Fortunately, I’ve had Amanda around the past couple years to stop me before I’m about to do something horribly wrong, but the rest of you kitchen novices have probably made some questionable meat dishes. To avoid another sad meal, follow this foolproof method to get your meat crispy on the outside but juicy on the inside: season, sear, and cook through.
The first step is fundamentally important, though most of us forget to do it : when you take out your piece of meat, rub it with salt and pepper on both sides to lock in flavour. Next, heat some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and throw your meat in to sear it. In Amanda’s words, be loving with your meat – don’t toss it around in the pan or it won’t get brown and crispy around the edges. Around five minutes per side, depending on thickness, should get it nice and brown. If you’ve got chicken, move it to the oven for another 15 minutes at 350º Fahrenheit and it will be done to perfection. For your red meat, leave it in the pan until it’s cooked to your liking.
A quick method to test the doneness of your meat is to make a loose fist and poke the area between your thumb and your index finger. This is what rare meat feels like. Squeeze your fist and that fleshy area feels tougher; this is how well-done meat should feel. Learning to test doneness by pressing on the meat is a skill worth learning, especially if you want to serve meat to guests without cutting a nasty hole into the middle of it.
Lastly, if you’ve got leftovers, meat should always be sealed in Tupperware, or it will make everything else in your fridge smell meaty – vegetarian roommates especially do not appreciate this. Leftovers will only stay fresh for a few more days, so it’s best to use your extras for lunch the next morning.
Check out Amanda’s recipe for lamb shanks below. It’s cheap, easy, and incredibly delicious – we made it last night and I’m still thinking about it. Bon appétit!
Chili lamb shanks & spicy gravy
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 lamb shanks, preferably from the back limbs since they are meatier
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 spanish onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
8 garlic cloves smashed
2 jalapenos, coarsely chopped
4 c reduced sodium chicken stock
1 ½ tbsp chili powder
1⁄8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seed
¼ c honey
½ c balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper
Take the lamb shanks out of the fridge 15 minutes prior to cooking, so they can start to get the chill off. Season liberally with salt and pepper.
In a large heavy-bottom pot, heat 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil to high heat. Carefully place the shanks in the pot, allow them to sear (very important), and do not flip until browned. Sear on all sides, which will usually take about 15 minutes. Remove the lamb shanks to a plate.
Add the onion, carrots, celery, and jalapenos, and stir until soft and translucent. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes. Make sure to turn down the heat if they are burning; you don’t want them to brown too much.
Add the garlic, spices, fresh herbs, and stir constantly for 1 minute.
Pour in the chicken stock and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon to pick up the yummy brown bits of meat.
Place the shanks back in the pot and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, while seasoning with salt and pepper. Reduce the temperature and simmer covered for 2 to 2 ½ hours.
Remove the shanks to a plate and tent with foil to allow their juices to redistribute through the meat.
Strain the juices into a medium pot and, over high heat, add the honey and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil while whisking. Boil until reduced and thickened (about 15 minutes).
Serve the lamb on top of your favourite grain, risotto, etc. with some roasted veggies on the side – see below for suggestions. Drizzle with sauce.
Suggested Side Dishes:
• Mashed Cheddar Potatoes studded with Corn
• Roasted Root Vegetable Medley
•Cornbread with Chipotle Mashed Sweet Potatoes