Meats (and Fish)
This section deals with just about any type of meat that you might want to cook. This does include chicken, However, for whole chicken, or bone-in chicken, see the chicken section (#).
Sautéing, Pan-Frying, and Stir-Frying Meats and Fish
Just about any sort of meat can be cooked in a pan, provided it is cut into flat strips (such as steaks) or smaller pieces. Steaks, pork chops, or boneless chicken breasts can be cooked in this manner (however pork chops tend to get dry, so for a better pork chop recipe, try braising the meat (recipe #)). Bite-sized pieces of meat can quickly be cooked through in this manner, and then turned into fajitas (recipe #), beef stroganoff (recipe #), or stir-fry (recipe #); or the meat can be just partly cooked (to add a bit of extra flavor) and then finished in a curry or stew (recipe #) or soup (recipe #), or braised (recipe #).
Simply put the pan on medium heat, add a teaspoon or two of oil (to prevent sticking), and add the meat. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper if you like. Then watch as the color of the meat starts to change around the edges. When this change gets about halfway up the meat, flip the meat over and continue cooking for about the same amount of time. Then cut one of the larger pieces of meat in half to make sure that the interior of the meat no longer has the color of raw meat. (However, beef steaks, unlike most other meats, are typically safe to eat when still pink in the middle.)
Some things to keep in mind: the flavor of the meat will be most intense where it has become browned and crusty. If the meat is too crowded, or if a lid is put on the pan, then the meat will steam instead of browning, and it won’t taste or look as good.
Small pieces of meat can be tossed around the pan a bit with a spoon or spatula, if you don’t want to fuss with turning over each individual bite-sized piece of meat. But do try to let them sit undisturbed for the first few minutes in the pan, so that at least one side of each piece has that nice browned surface.
Fish needs a particularly light touch when cooking, as it cooks fast and overcooks easily. When the fish breaks apart into flakes at the touch of a fork, it is cooked.
Browned Ground Meat (ingredient)
“Browning” ground beef means putting the meat in a hot pan and cooking it until it is cooked through, and somewhat crumbly. Browned ground meat is an ingredient that can be used in such recipes as chili (recipe #), tacos (recipe #), marinara sauce (recipe #), and beef stroganoff (recipe #). For other ground meat recipes, see the Balls, Patties, and Loaves section (recipe #).
Ground meats ideally should be used or frozen within 24 hours. Frozen ground meat should be thawed in the refrigerator (or the microwave), and once thawed, used immediately. Never thaw ground meat by leaving it out at room temperature. Always fully cook ground meats (no pink beef!). Ground meats are particularly dangerous because any pathogens which were on the surface of the meat (where they would have more easily been neutralized by cooking) have been mixed evenly throughout the meat.
Ground beef comes in different varieties, made up of different parts of the cow. Generally, the fat content is printed on the label. And generally, the cheaper the ground beef, the more fat it contains. When you cook ground beef, the fat will “render out”, becoming grease. For most recipes, you will want to drain this out of the ground beef so that the meat browns properly, and so your leftover chili or marinara sauce doesn’t end up with an unappetizing layer of grease congealed on top.
Uncooked sausage can be squeezed out of its casing and browned just like any other ground meat. Like fatty ground beef, some types of raw sausage (such as spicy or mild Italian sausage) will have a bit of fat that renders out while cooking.
For just about any other type of ground meat (sirloin, pork, turkey, chicken, and even buffalo) there likely won’t be much fat to render out. So when browning these meats, use a bit of oil in the pan to keep the meat from sticking.
To brown ground meat, put a pan on medium heat, add a teaspoon or two of oil (or leave out the oil if you are using fatty hamburger), and add the thawed ground meat. Then use a spoon to chop up the lump of meat and spread it around in smaller lumps in the pan. Continue to periodically stir the meat and break the chunks into smaller bits until all of the meat is brown and crumbly. Check for doneness by breaking open the largest lump of meat in the pan. The interior of the lump should no longer have the color of the raw meat.
Keep this in mind when browning ground meat: if the meat is over-crowded in the pan, or if a lid is put on the pan, the meat will steam instead of forming a brown, flavorful crust. Steamed meat is gray and less tasty, but still perfectly safe to eat.
To drain fat from ground beef, periodically tilt the pan, and scoop out the liquid fat with a spoon. Do not pour this hot grease down the sink, because it will clog the sink! Instead, spoon this fat into a bowl and leave it to sit on the counter until it cools and solidifies. Then, discard it in the trash, or save it, sealed and refrigerated, for up to a week, for use in gravy or to sauté vegetables.
Ground meat can be jazzed up by seasoning with salt and pepper, or, better still, by cooking it with some minced onion or garlic.
Bacon is a cured meat, but it can still carry dangerous pathogens, and so must be cooked to eat.
Cooking bacon is just like browning ground beef that contains a lot of fat: use a pan on medium heat, and periodically scoop out the rendered fat. Lay the strips of bacon side-by-side in the pan, and flip them over every couple of minutes. When the bacon starts to get a bit crispy, lift it out of the pan and (to soak up some of the grease) onto paper towels.
Do not pour the scooped-out grease down the sink, because it will clog the sink! Instead, spoon this fat into a bowl and leave it to sit on the counter until it cools and solidifies. Then, discard it in the trash, or save it, sealed and refrigerated, for up to a week, for use in gravy or to sauté vegetables.
Sausages come in two types: cooked, and uncooked. Cooked sausages, such as hotdogs, only need to be heated because they taste better hot. These types of sausage will typically say “fully cooked” somewhere on the label. Fully-cooked sausages can typically be kept a few weeks unopened in the refrigerator (check the expiration date) or indefinitely in the freezer. You can heat a cooked sausage just about any way you like: in the microwave, in boiling water, under the broiler, or in a pan with a bit of oil. Frozen cooked sausages can be tossed directly into hot water for heating, and may cook up decently well with any of these heating methods.
Raw sausages, such as Italian sausage, are typically sold alongside ground meat in the butcher section of the store. These sausages need to be cooked or frozen within 24 hours, because, like any ground meat, surface contaminants on the meat have been thoroughly mixed up into the sausage. Raw sausage can be cooked by any method, so long as the sausage is cooked all the way through. Check for doneness by cutting a sausage open and inspecting it on the inside. There should be no hint of raw meat color on the inside of the sausage.
For a more flavorful sausage, cook the sausage in a pan like any whole meat (recipe #), or cook it under the broiler (section #).
In addition to being cooked whole, the sausage meat can be squeezed out of the casing (the tube) and cooked like ground meat (recipe #). You can use this method to cook up spicy or mild Italian sausage for marinara sauce (recipe #) or to add to a bean-and-kale soup (recipe #), or to cook up a breakfast sausage to add to southern-style gravy (recipe #).
Ironically, because Americans have been on a low-fat craze for a few decades, the pigs we eat now have been bred to be particularly low in fat. For this reason, pork chops tend to become dried out and awful when cooked in a pan like steak. To compensate for this, when cooking pork chops, after browning them just a little (recipe #) add some water and chopped fruit to the pan, and cook at a medium or low heat with the lid on. This steams and boils the meat which keeps the meat moist. This technique should work for any type of meat. For braising larger pieces of meat, see the Pot Roast recipe, #.
For braising pork chops, pear and onion are a particularly tasty combination. Apples also work well. Canned fruit and its liquid should work nicely, too. Or dried fruit, plus extra water to rehydrate it. Tomato and onion, or tomato and olives and work nicely with just about any meat.
When the pork chops are cooked through, you can mash up (or blenderize) the cooked fruit and use it as a sauce. Don’t hesitate to throw in spices, such as curry or pumpkin pie spices (recipe #).
Pot Roast (cook in advance)
Pot roast takes several hours to cook, but is very easy to make. This method takes a tough piece of meat, such as a chuck roast, and slowly cooks in a little liquid (also known as braising, see recipe #) until it is tender, moist, and flavorful. This is a great recipe for cooking in advance on a weekend. Not only is pot roast good with side dishes like mashed potatoes or broccoli, but leftover pot roast can be frozen and reheated, or used to make chili, sliced for sandwiches, or added to soup or other dishes.
Pot roast requires a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. It can be cooked on the stove top, or, if the pot is oven-proof (made entirely of metal) in the oven. If your pot is thin, the oven method may still work.
The larger the piece of meat, the longer it will take to cook.
You will not need a meat thermometer for this recipe. The meat is done when it comes apart with a fork - which means it is well in the safe temperature range. However, a meat thermometer can help prevent the meat from being overcooked. If the meat is cooked for too long, or at too high a temperature, it will be dry.
2 to 4 pounds of chuck roast, or other tough piece of meat.
1 tbsp oil
½ to2 cups of a liquid (or a combination of liquids), such as tomato juice or sauce, a small can of tomatoes with the water included, red wine, beef stock or broth, etc.
(optional) 4 cloves of garlic
(optional) chopped vegetables, such as carrot, potato, or parsnip.
Sprinkle all sides of the meat with salt and pepper. If you like garlic, cut the garlic into quarters, poke some holes in each side of the roast with a knife, and insert the garlic into the holes. If you are using the oven rather than the stove top, preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
On the stove, heat the oil in the pot on medium to medium-high heat. Brown each side of the meat in the oil - this will take about three minutes per side. This makes the roast more flavorful. If you are in a hurry to get the meat in the oven, you can skip this step. While the roast is browning, chop the onion into large pieces.
Take the roast out of the pot, and put the chopped onion in. Then place the roast back in the pot, on top of the onions. The onions keep the meat from resting against the bottom of the pot, to ensure that it cooks evenly. They also add flavor to the meat.
Pour the liquid over the meat, and heat on the stove top until the liquid boils. Then, place the lid on the pot, and (if you are cooking this on the stove top) turn down the temperature to low. (You may have difficulties getting the temperature low enough if you are using a gas stove. If this is the case, you can try using a ring of aluminum foil to raise the pot higher from the flame.)
If you are using the oven, then transfer the pot to the stove.
A 4 pound roast will take from 4 to 5 hours to cook.
Optional: when the meat is done, remove it from the pot and add the chopped vegetables to the liquid remaining in the pot. Simmer the pot until the vegetables are tender, and then scoop them out using a slotted spoon. This makes a nice side-dish to be served with the meat.
Pot roast can be kept in the refrigerator for several days. The cooking liquid can be used as a sauce as-is, or can be combined with a fat and a flour to make a thicker gravy, or can be reserved for use in chili or soup. If you put the liquid in the refrigerator, by the following day all the fat will have formed a hard crust at the surface that you can easily skim off. Reserve that fat for use in gravy or to cook other foods in, such as potatoes. If you wish to freeze the meat for later, let it cool, and then freeze it in slices.
******done at what temp???
(cook in advance)
“Pork shoulder“, also known as “pork butt” or “whole Boston butt” is a large and economical cut of meat. It needs to be cooked slowly over a long period of time in order to make it tender and flavorful. The process takes a while, but the results are mounds of perfect pulled pork. This is a great way to feed a crowd of people. Leftovers can also be frozen for later.
Pork shoulder ranges in size from four to seven pounds, and a pound will make enough meat for up to four sandwiches. If you cook a large pork shoulder, you will need a very large casserole dish - preferably with enough room so that the meat is not touching the sides of the pan. If you do not own a large casserole dish or roasting pan, a disposable aluminum pan will do.
You will also need a container to brine the meat. While this could possibly be done in the casserole dish, it’s much less messy (and less likely to splash raw meat juices in your refrigerator) if you use a container with a lid, or a two-gallon Ziploc bag.
“Brining” is the process of soaking a piece of meat in brine, which is salt water. In this recipe, the salt water not only helps to carry the flavors of the sugar and spices into the meat, but it adds moisture to the meat, which will prevent the pork from drying out during its very long cooking process.
This recipe requires that the meat first be brined for at least eight hours, and then that the meat be cooked for 1.5 to 2 hours per pound. So, you will either need to start brining the meat in the morning of the day before, and cook the meat all night; or you will need to brine the meat all night and then cook it all day.
A probe-style thermometer with an alarm is a good idea for this recipe, to take out the guesswork of when the meat is done. While the pork will be cooked and sliceable at 170 degrees, the pork will become “pullable” only as it reaches 200 degrees. But if you are in a hurry, 185 degrees will do.
This recipe is just one of many ways to make pulled pork. It is not necessary to use exactly the spices listed here. Wet recipes use barbecue sauce rather than a dry rub, and many recipes do not call for brining at all. Pulled pork can also be cooked in a slow cooker.
The meat: one pork shoulder, from 4 to 7 pounds
The dry rub:
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 tsp dry rub mix
2 bay leaves
½ cup salt
½ cup brown sugar
8 cups of cold water
First mix up the dry rub; then mix up the brine, starting by adding the salt to the water and stirring until as much salt is dissolved as possible. When the brine is ready, put the pork shoulder into the brining container, and pour the brine over the meat. If not all of the meat is submerged in the brine, then you will want to flip the meat over halfway through the brining process.
Put the container of meat and brine into the refrigerator. If your container is not leak-proof, you may want to set a towel on the shelf under it, to absorb any spills.
When it is time to cook, set the oven to 225 degrees. Notice that this is only 25 degrees higher than the temperature that you want the meat to hit!
Pour the brine down the sink. Coat the meat liberally on all sides with the dry rub mix, rubbing it in with your hands as you go. Then place it fat-side-up in the casserole dish or roasting pan, and insert the thermometer probe. Set the thermometer’s alarm to ring at 200 degrees, and put the pork in the oven.
If in the final hours, the temperature of the meat seems to be going up too slowly, turn up the oven temperature to 250 degrees. Your oven may be running cold, and you should test it later with an oven thermometer to see what temperature it actually is.
When the meat is cooked, you can either pull it apart immediately, or you can leave it to cool in the turned-off oven until the temperature reaches 170.
If there is a lot of fat in the pan, drain the pan before pulling the pork. Also remove the fat from the top of the meat and discard before shredding the pork. Then “pull the pork” by holding the meat down with one fork, and ripping off chunks of meat with another. If the pork needs more flavor at this point, sprinkle on more of the dry rub mix.
If it is going to be a few hours before the meat is eaten, refrigerate it, and reheat in the microwave, or in a 350 degree oven until the meat hisses and smells delicious. The meet can also be frozen for longer storage.
Serve on bread or buns, with mustard, barbecue sauce, pickles, cole slaw (recipe #), and/or lettuce.