The advantages of lean red meat

Ian Ross, regional manager Middle East and Africa, Meat & Livestock Australia, highlights the qualities of lean red meat, what cuts work best and the difference between internal and separable fat

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By  Ian Ross Published  September 14, 2006

There are misconceptions in the industry that red meat is fatty and a cause of cholesterol. However, data actually shows that skinless chicken and fresh fish contain significantly more fat than lean red meat. As such, more lean cuts of red meat are now being made available; with the Australian meat industry over the past five years making considerable changes in terms of production and retailing. Referring to meat that has been trimmed of all external or selvedge fat and has minimal internal separable or intermuscular fat, lean red meat is available in a number of forms. Lean beef for example, includes topside roast; eye fillet; T-bone steak; rump medallion and rump steak; strip loin; blade steak and Scotch fillet, and when it comes to lean lamb there is also plenty of choice, loin chop; Frenched cutlet; leg roast; diced lamb; rump and eye of loin. There are also a number of descriptors for lean red meat and its components, so it is important to know what they are to ensure that you purchase the best cut of meat that you can. Firstly, there is separable fat, which is the white flaky fat on meat that can easily be removed from the muscle with a knife. There are two types of separable fat — external and internal separable fat. External separable fat is the visible fat on the outside of meat that can be easily removed, and internal separable fat is the visible fat that can be easily removed between muscles. Other descriptors of lean meat are separable lean, which is the muscle meat with no separable fat; and marbling, which is the visible fat within the muscles that cannot be easily removed. Three other types of terminology that need to be remembered are untrimmed red meat, which is red meat that still has external and internal separable fat, and semi-trimmed red meat, which represents red meat that has been trimmed of all external or selvedge fat, but still has internal separable fat. The third type of lean meat is simply known as lean red meat. This represents red meat that is trimmed of all external or selvedge fat and has minimal internal separable or intermuscular fat. As it is a nutrient dense food, lean red meat provides an impressive bundle of key nutrients, including iron, zinc, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium and vitamin D. It can also be a helpful component for people with iron deficiencies, heart problems and for weight management. As such, it is up to chefs to promote this. But once knowing the benefits, it is important to know how to select good cuts of meat and what to look out for when purchasing lean meat like lamb and beef. Choosing the right meat primarily depends on the cooking method, for example if pan frying beef, then fillet, rib eye, rump or oyster blade is ideal; and if stir frying lamb, fillet, lamb strips, or topside is preferable. When it comes to purchasing red meat though, it is important to match the correct cut of meat to the cooking method that you intend to use. Meat from the forequarter, such as some beef cubes that contain high amounts of connective tissue, will require slow cooking for moisture, therefore they are ideal for casseroles and stews. Loin cuts such as lamb cutlets and chops however, have very little connective tissues and require quick cooking over high heats. Another very important consideration when buying meat is that it should be kept cold after it is purchased. The extreme temperatures in the region are a major contributor to food spoilage, so the use of cool bags when purchasing meat will assist in maintaining the temperature of the meat at a safe level. However, meat should always be placed in a refrigerator as soon as possible. But the visual appearance also provides an indication that the meat may not be fresh. Fresh meat can vary in colour depending on the age and breed of the animal; generally speaking though, it should be a bright reddish-pink colour. In red meat, a protein called myoglobin is responsible for meat colouring, but the oxidation of myoglobin during refrigeration storage results in a brown discolouration forming on the surface of exposed meat cuts. Another key indicator of freshness is smell; sour odours will develop when meat is not kept cold, and this odour is evidence of the growth of bacteria. Finally, once you have selected the right cut of lean red meat, it is important to retain its nutritional goodness by making sure it is not overcooked as this can reduce the moisture content of the meat, making it dryer and tougher to eat.

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