Preparing meat and poultry
Professionals identify three main categories of meat: butcher’s meat, poultry and game. The amount of preparation a cut of meat requires before being cooked depends on the type of animal, and its age. Some cuts of tough meat need to be tenderised, others require fat to be added to avoid them drying out when cooked. It is sometimes necessary to dilute the strong flavour of particular kinds of meat or offal.
Preparing meat to enhance flavours and textures
Fish and meat are the two main types of animal flesh eaten by humans. Meat comes mainly from mammals and birds, but also from insects and various other species such as crocodile. There are three main categories of meat: butcher’s meat, poultry and game. Although it is possible to eat raw meat, nowadays it is generally cooked, which makes it tastier, tenderer and easier to digest. The way meat is cooked and prepared depends on the type of animal and its age, the type of muscle and the origin of the meat.
Specific ways of preparing certain types of meat
Tough meat from certain muscles or an older animal is often tenderised before cooking. This can be done mechanically using a tenderiser to break the fibres, or biologically, with the aid of enzymes in a marinade. Some fruit, such as papayas, kiwis, figs or pineapples, contain enzymes which are able to split protein molecules. They are used in pieces or as a juice to make meat tenderer. Some supermarkets sell a powdered-form of these enzymes. Marinating meat makes it tenderer and also helps enhance the flavour. A marinade generally contains an acidic ingredient such as wine, vinegar or lemon juice, flavoured with herbs, spices, garlic and oil. Meat is left to soak in this aromatic liquid for a given length of time.
A cut of lean meat requiring a long cooking time is larded beforehand to prevent it from drying out. Larding consists in using a larding needle to insert strips of fatty bacon into different parts of the meat. These strips may vary in size and are seasoned with salt and pepper or marinated in brandy. Barding meat serves the same purpose as larding, but consists in covering the meat to be roasted with a bard, a thin layer of fat. The fat then melts over the meat as it cooks and stops it from drying out.
Snipping the fat along the edge of slices of meat prevents them from curling up when grilled or fried.
Poultry is first flambéed to burn any residual feathers. The preen gland, located at the base of the rump, is removed to avoid any unpleasant bitterness. The bird is then cooked whole or jointed, which determines the cooking time (shorter for joints). Whole, it is either trussed with butcher’s string in order to fasten the wings and legs alongside the body during cooking, or spatchcocked, whereby it is split along the back and flattened. Special care must be taken when preparing poultry to avoid salmonella contamination.
Raw, marinated or barded meat?
A fillet of beef can be eaten raw, either minced (steak tartare) or cut into very thin slices (carpaccio). Both dishes require the best quality meat.
Veal can dry out and toughen easily. It is therefore often barded, meaning it is covered in a layer of fat and cooked at a low temperature.
The meat from large game such as stag, wild boar and deer are marinated only if the meat comes from an old animal. A marinade helps to make venison tenderer and to minimise any strong flavours. As this meat is very lean, it is often barded before being cooked in the oven.
Viande, 1997. L’encyclopédie des aliments. Paris : Éditions Fontaine
VITAUX, Jean et FRANCE, Benoît, 2008. Dictionnaire du gastronome. Paris : Presses universitaires de France.
FLAVIGNY, Laure, 2000. Larousse gastronomique. Paris : Larousse-Bordas.