Tuesday, 24 November 2009 | Tags:

Go to any restaurant in North America and you'll see some sort of beef on the menu at least in one form or another. For our series Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, we've done a lot of research about beef. Here's what we've learned.

The Basics

  • Look for beef that has limited amounts of fat, though a bit of marbling throughout will keep the meat juicy when it cooks.

  • Always examine the sell-by date on the label and choose the beef with the latest date.

  • Beef is highly perishable so should always be kept at cold temperatures, either refrigerated or frozen.

  • Refrigerate the beef in the original store packaging, if it is still intact and secure, as this will reduce the amount of handling involved.

  • Length of storage varies with the cut of beef as larger pieces will have a longer shelf life than pieces with increased surface area.

  • By law, all butchers must label beef with the country of origin.

  • Canada’s top beef grades are Canada Prime, Canada AAA, Canada AA and Canada A. The difference between the four grades is the degree of marbling.

    • Canada Prime is the grade with the most marbling but it is mostly sold to restaurants or exported.

    • The other three A grades account for over 75% of beef produced in Canada – make sure the meat you select is labeled as one of these.

Beef Tenderloin

  • Beef tenderloin is a large cut of meat from the short loin section of the cow. It’s the most tender part of the animal, so is one of the most popular and expensive cuts.

  • For the best value, buy whole, untrimmed tenderloin and cut it into steaks yourself.

  • The meat should be a red or purplish colour, not brown, which is a sign that the meat has been excessively exposed to oxygen and is spoiled.

  • Tenderloin steaks should last two to three days; a whole tenderloin roast, three to four days.

  • If well wrapped, tenderloin steaks and roasts can stay frozen for about six months.

Stewing Beef

  • Properly aged beef has a dark red, almost ruby colour. Bright red meat, although very common in supermarkets, is an indication that the meat has not been aged long enough and so will be less tender.

  • If there is a lot of gristle in the meat, it has come from an inferior part of the animal. It is also likely to be quite tough.

  • The best cuts for slow roasting are speckled with fat throughout the meat. This ensures the meat won’t dry out when roasted.

  • Cheap cuts of meat are just as nutritious as expensive ones. Just remember that cheaper cuts are likely to take longer to prepare and cook to be as tender.

  • Try to avoid unusual cuts of meat that you’ve never heard of. Chances are they come from a non-descript part of the animal that can have an affect on the joint when cooking.

  • The best cuts of beef for stewing are flank, chuck, plate, and round.

Beef Brisket

  • A great cut for the barbecue, try to buy a brisket with good marbling: white fat, and a deep red meat. The fat spreading throughout the meat keeps it moist.

  • Brisket is usually available in two cuts: Flat, or point cut. The flat cut is leaner and considered better for you. It also is easier to cook since it slices well.

  • Avoid small, super-trimmed brisket flats with the point removed. They’ll dry out during cooking.

  • If you’re smoking a brisket, cook it fat side up so that the melting fat runs over the brisket and keeps it moist.

Veal Kidney

  • Kidneys need to be very fresh because they deteriorate quickly, taking on a bitter, tainted flavour. Avoid any that smell of ammonia.

  • Buy kidney whole rather than already-diced whenever possible. The less surface area is exposed to air, the fresher the meat will be.

  • Kidneys are best used on the day of purchase. At most, only keep them in the fridge for one day before cooking.

  • If the butcher hasn’t already done so, you’ll need to peel off the outer membrane of the kidney, then cut the kidney in half and snip out the white core.

  • To give kidneys a milder taste, soak them in cold milk for about half an hour before cooking.

Beef Short Ribs (bone-in)

  • Beef short ribs are cut from the flank end of the cow and tend to be tough and fatty but meaty.

  • When shopping for short ribs, look for meat that is bright red in colour with fat marbled throughout the muscle.

  • Check that the meat is firm to the touch.

  • Packaged beef ribs should be stored cold and the package should show no punctures or tears. There should be no excess liquid in the package.

  • When purchasing bone-in short ribs, purchase at least a pound per person.

  • Leave beef ribs in their original packaging and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, where they will keep three or four days.

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