One of the most valuable lessons from our Meat Fabrication class has been the linking of various cuts of meat to their original location on the animal. Where a cut of meat comes from on the carcass will inform the best cooking methods for that cut. As a general rule, the further from the hoof, the more tender the cut will be.
Osso buco is a cross section of a calf’s leg bone and its surrounding muscles; it must be slow braised since these muscles exercise with every step the cow takes, and thus produce tough meat.
Consider the tenderloin- a long muscle that runs along the inside of the rib cage, far from the hoof and protected from strenuous exercise by the ribs. It’s not surprising that the word tender is part of its name, nor that filet mignons hail from this region of the animal as well.
The most surprising discovery from our butchery lessons last week was the provenance of the skirt steak, cut from the diaphragm muscle in the belly. Responsible for drawing air into the lungs, the diaphragm contracts thousands of times a day, meaning skirt steak will be terribly tough. Now it makes perfect sense that skirt steak is always marinated for long periods of time; otherwise, it’d be too chewy to enjoy.
It’s remarkable how a simple anatomy lesson can teach so much about appropriate cooking methods. Our Chef Instructor reminded us that to butcher meat properly and to cook it well is to honor the animal that has died for our dinner. I buy that, for sure.