Friday, April 22, 2011

The Daily Grind

No, not the caffeinated kind, I am talking about my newest passion for me - freshly ground beef. The taste, texture and benefits of grinding meat is a revelation for me, akin to tasting my first non-industrially raised chicken. What I have been eating for years, wrapped in plastic and served on styrofoam plates is one thing, but what I have just begun to prepare for my family on a regular basis - freshly bought, selected and ground beef is an entirely different product.

Many people are likely intimidated by the idea, others will ask "why should I bother, I can get this for $4.99/lb at Whole Foods. For the first group, I would say what do you have to lose and for the second, I would ask them if they are willing to pay more for one cut of meat over another, then why would they settle for ground beef made up of who knows what?

So in thinking about joining this modest movement of homegrinders, there are a few things to consider:

1) What to "grind" with:
No, you do not need an expensive meat grinder. First of all, you can ask your butcher to do it for you. They are more than happy to do so in most stores, although they will ask if you are SURE you don't want what is alrady ground. Yes, you ARE sure. This is a good way to determine if the difference in taste, texture and control are enough for you to take the next steps.

I use a Kitchen-Aide meat grinder attachment. This one, in fact. It is very inexpensive, provided you already have a KA mixer, easy to use and easy to clean.

You can easily use a food processer with a cutting blade attachment. This risks sending the meat into mince teritory, so you have to be caseful not to overgrind. Doing small batches is the best way to go here, and you can get the hand of this.

Lastly, you could, and I have, use a heavy butchers knife, but this takes time. I guess this is how they did it in the old days.

2) What to grind: As with any piece of meat, the fat content and structure of the meat will affect the texture and flavor. You overcome the texture issue a bit when you grind, which is why you can use tougher cuts of meat to produce a tender burger or meatloaf or meatball or whatever. That is also why the market is eager to sell you ground beef since they can take cuts that no one would buy for more than $3/lb and sell it for $5/lb, marketed as "lean, healthy" 85% lean ground beef.

But as with many things, fat means flavor. I began to grind my own meat when I got tired of bland burgers and wondered by the "gourmet" burgers I was eating out at $10 a pop tatsed so good. one word - FAT. So, when you decide what to grind, think about the fat content.

I prefer a mix of cuts for my burgers, and choose (depending on what is available and what is on sale) among the following:

- Chuck - depending on the cut, chuck can have between 15-30% fat content, so you have to use your judgement. Usually a chuck steak or roast will have 15-20% fat, when trimed, and can be the bulk of what you use for ground beef.

- Sirloin - Sirloin is very lean - about 10-15% fat, and I use this when it is on sale to balance out the fat content.

- Round or Eye Round - this is a sually cheap piece of meat and has about 10% fat.

- The Secret Weapon - Brisket - I am convinced that the best burgers in the world have the same secret incredient - Brisket. The same meat that your grandma had to cook for hours and hours yields terrific flavor and texture when ground, and does so quickly. A good, well trimmed brisket will usually have about 20% fat content. Now, Brisket is trendy, and can be expensive, but right after passover you can usually buy this cheap.

Overall, I like to shoot for 75-80% lean when all is done, or about 20-25% fat content. This may sound like a lot, but when you grind your own meat, you will find that instead of needing a huge 8-10% burger, you will satisfy your meat craving with a simple 5 - 6 oz patty. That takes you from 1.5oz of fat for a 10oz burger to 1.2oz for a 6oz burger, with a lot more flavor per oz. less fat, more taste, fewer calories - win win win.

If you use brisket, you may want to double grind. If not, and using more tender cuts, then I have found that once through the grinder is enough.

What you do with your meat is up to you, but you will find that the freshly exposed surface area is tastier and needs less flavoring. I use a good dose of salt and pepper and some celery seed, and not much more. Depending on the fat content, you may need a binder, which can be anything from chicken or beef stock to oil to egg.