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Beyond Beef
How and why to pick another protein

06/15/17
By Angie Sykeny asykeny@hippopress.com



 If you’re looking for meats other than beef, butcher shops have plenty of options. Here are some options, plus tips from local butchers about how to turn them into a delicious meal. 

 
Chicken 
A chicken may be small, but it offers a variety when it comes to cuts. Most cuts above the belly, such as chicken breast, tenderloin and wings, are the white meat, while cuts below the belly, such as the drumsticks and thighs, constitute the dark meat. 
“There’s a little bit of a different flavoring,” said Moe Duncan, meat department manager at Quality Cash Market in Concord. “Typically, the darker meat is a little more on the dryer side where the breasts typically have more juice to them.” 
There are all kinds of ways to cook chicken; baking, broiling, deep frying and grilling are some of the most common ones. Baking is the easiest, Duncan said, because you can “set it and forget it,” whereas a method like deep frying requires more steps and preparation because of the oil and batter involved. Mainly, it’s about personal preference. 
“It comes down to how creative someone wants to be and how much time they’re willing to put into cooking,” Duncan said. 
The key thing to remember when cooking chicken is to make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. Use a thermometer, Duncan said, and keep it between 160 and 170 degrees. (The FDA website recommends that all chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees). Different cuts may require more time to cook than others, but Duncan said it’s easy to figure out once you’ve done it a couple times. 
“You can’t say how long [to cook it] because it really depends on the size and the weight of the meat, and on the type of oven you have,” he said “It’s a learn-by-trial-and-error thing. You’ll learn over time how long it takes to cook a chicken breast versus a chicken leg.” 
 
Lamb 
Cuts of lamb meat can include lamb chops, rack, shank and leg and can be cut into smaller pieces and used for kabobs, stews and other dishes. Some cuts are fattier than others and can produce an excessive amount of grease if not cut properly. 
“A good piece will keep just a thin layer of fat on the edge so you don’t burn the meat, but it will have a dryer feel to it,” Duncan said. “Otherwise, if it’s not cut right, you’ll get a very greasy meat, and you’ll only taste the grease and the fat, not the meat itself.” 
While lamb meat doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, it is a great conductor of added flavors and seasonings, so it’s better to season too little than too much. 
“You want to keep it light and simple,” Duncan said. “Stick to things like garlic and rosemary and maybe salt, but a very small amount.” 
 
Pork 
Pork includes a variety of cuts from a pig, such as pork chops, loin, roast, tenderloin and ribs. Ham, bacon and sausage also fall into the pork category. 
Different cuts carry different flavors and textures. 
“It depends where on the line you’re cutting [the meat],” Duncan said. “The pork chops in the center cut — that’s the sweet side. The fat on the edge gives it a sweet flavor, whereas tenderloin is a leaner piece of meat, so it has a more dry taste to it, but it’s still moist enough that it comes apart when you eat it.” 
There is also more flavor in a pork cut with the bone in than there is in a boneless cut, Duncan said, because the bone marrow, when cooked, adds flavor and moisture to the meat. 
Ribs are most commonly grilled and covered in a sweet or spicy barbecue sauce or seasoning. For pork chops and roasts, however, Duncan recommends baking or pan frying and going light with the seasoning. 
“Keep it simple,” he said. “You want a little seasoning and flavor, but you don’t want it to overbear the meat. If you’re going to spend the money on the meat, you want to be able to taste it and enjoy the real flavor of what you’re eating.” 
 
Venison and buffalo 
If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to beef, venison and buffalo are good options. You can do venison or buffalo burgers, steak, tacos, chili — basically anything that you can do with beef, but with a much lower fat content. 
“[Buffalo is] very similar to beef,” said Brian Farmer, owner of Yankee Farmer’s Market in Warner, which offers buffalo and venison among its selection of meats. “A lot of people wouldn’t notice the difference, other than the lack of fat. They’d just say, ‘Oh, this is a great steak!’” 
Farm-raised venison is also similar to beef, except that cuts of venison meat tend to be a bit smaller. Wild venison, however, doesn’t have the controlled diet that farm-raised venison does, resulting in a stronger gamy flavor. 
Since there is little fat in venison and buffalo meat, they’re quick and easy to cook; meat is more dense than fat, Farmer said, so it’s better at holding in heat. 
“You have to train yourself not to overcook it and to [stop cooking] when it’s a little too rare, because by the time you get it on the table, it will be just about perfect,” he said. “Worst-case scenario, you [cook it] for a couple more minutes.”





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