Something to chew on

Don’t love me tender.   I may be tender-hearted, but when it comes to meat, I don’t want to be caught in the tender trap.

How often do is tenderness held up as the ultimate criteria of the quality of a piece of meat? ‘That steak was soooo tender.’. ‘Ooo, how tender was that’ ‘That lamb was melt in the mouth’.

Melt in the mouth! I ask you. Why would you want meat to melt it the mouth? Chocolate, yes. Ice cream, yes. But meat?

It means that it was devoid of one of  meat’s primary qualities – texture. Different meats should have different textures, which they can’t have if they ‘melt in the mouth.’ Even more importantly, if you are denied texture, then you are denied flavour

Just think about it for a moment. You’ve lifted one of those sought-after, dainty bits of beef or pork fillet  or lamb noisette to your lips. You chew once, twice. You have the sensation of something globby filling your mouth for a moment. There’s a  faint trickle of meat juices your throat, a ghost of  flavour, and – nothing. You swallow.  Fine if you’re dentally uncertain. Not so fine if you have a full set of dependable gnashers.

These cuts are as pricey as they are tender. Indeed, they’re pricey because they’re tender. They’re tender because they do little so little work. They’re effete, flabby, useless muscles. They’ve never done a day’s work in their lives, unlike, rump, say, or neck or shoulder. And even these the meat processing industry try to denature of their rightful qualities, to make them ‘melt in the mouth.’ Waygu beef must be one of the most fearful cons ever inflicted on a meat-eating democracy. But that’s by the by.

Anyway, now try a bit of meat that’s done some work from an animal that isn’t just bred for tenderness, an animal that’s seen a bit of life, that’s developed its muscles so that they have a bit of heft and weft. Try  shin of  beef, say, shoulder of pork, neck of lamb. Ok, they take a bit of cooking and chewing. They don’t melt in the mouth or yield easily to the tooth, and your jaw gets something of a work-out. But wait,  there’s flavour to savour, there’s taste and texture. As your teeth bear down on those more intractable fibers, they squeeze them, crush them, break them down, and as they do so, they liberate the precious juices and fats which carry those delectable pleasures. In a more technical world, I guess it would be called controlled flavour release.

Of course, there’s a certain amount of  snoot involved in eating fillet and other such high-end cut,  but you pay the price in terms of pleasure.


3 thoughts on “Something to chew on

  1. Bravo Mr Matt — quite agree — and besides it also makes more sense, in terms of good husbandry, in a nose-to-tail way of thinking about a meal. It’s about time people came to realise that they can indeed ‘afford’ good meat … because ‘good’ meat ain’t necessarily the fillet and high-end cut.

  2. Very well said. A lot of people are strange when it comes to chewing. Give them a piece of gum and they’ll chomp away for hours. Give them a nice piece of gristle and they’ll run a mile.

    I wonder if there’s any correlation between those who favour the fillet and those who like their meat overcooked. The only people I know who prefer fillet steak would never dream of ordering something rare or medium-rare. Perhaps a tender cut is needed to balance out the chewiness you get when you leave a steak too long on the grill.

  3. I wonder sometimes how lazy we have become. It seems that more and more our food is now soft, it has no bite. We can have a whole meal in a can these days, and drink our breakfast on the bus while on our way to work. The worst is that food companies actually market their products that way… and with pride. Let’s not forget that chewing is actually an important part of the physiology of eating. This overlooked step has its importance. It says to the stomach “get ready, some food is coming”. It forces us to eat slowly, giving a chance for our body to acknowledge that it is full before chugging down 500 calories more than you actually need. Chewing is not only about pleasure… it might actually have an impact on your general health.

    Your approach to texture and flavour when it comes to meat is completely right if you ask me. Have we become so lazy that we refuse to chew ?

    Great piece Professor ! 🙂

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