Understanding good old ground beef
When it comes to feeding the family, nothing can take the place of good old ground beef. Readily available, easy to cook and inexpensive, ground beef is an essential ingredient in every family kitchen.
By law, hamburger or ground beef must be at least 70 percent lean. Leaner grades are referred to as ground chuck, ground round and ground sirloin, but keep in mind, these are marketing terms and are all relative. To compare ground meats, look at the ratio of lean to fat.
As ground beef gets leaner, it tends to have less flavor and gets chewier. However, if the fat level is too high, the meat shrinks excessively, smokes like crazy on the grill and tastes greasy. The ideal ratio of lean to fat depends on your dish and personal preference, but most prefer meats that are between 80 percent and 90 percent lean.
Ground beef receives more handling than steaks and roasts, making it more susceptible to bacterial contamination. Be safe, only use fresh ground beef from a source you trust and keep it as cold as possible – ideally 34-36 degrees. Also, always thaw your meat in the refrigerator, take care not to cross-contaminate cooked foods with raw and cook all ground meats to 160 degrees internal.
A modern concern with ground beef is mad cow disease. The only way to be infected by mad cow is to consume neurological tissue from an infected animal (there are no infected animals in the U.S.).
Your butcher can easily keep all neurological tissue out of your ground beef, but bulk producers use AMR (automatic meat recovery) machines, which capture every edible scrap of protein from meat bones, including neurological material.
While the mass production of meats keeps your costs low, you can pay a price in reduced quality and safety. Unfortunately, bulk producers are the main sources for grocery stores, restaurants and schools.
Concerned consumers should scrutinize their ground meat choices and buy raw or cooked meats only from trusted butchers and restaurants that take sanitation seriously, and that grind their own meats in small batches from fresh beef trimmings.
There is no reason to fear ground beef, but like any food, the more you understand about it, the better your dishes will be. Here are some great recipes that go beyond burgers and meatloaf – don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients and make them your own!
Buon appetito. Salùte!
Chef Michael Angelo (Mick) Rosacci and family own and operate Tony’s Meats & Specialty Foods and Tony Rosacci’s Fine Catering of Littleton. More recipes available at http://www.TonysMarket.com.
Salisbury steak with shiitake gravy
2 pounds ground beef
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup fine cracker crumbs
2 egg whites (or one egg), beaten
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons butter
24 shiitake mushrooms, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups rich beef stock
In medium bowl, combine ground beef, onion (can be sautéed first if you like), cracker crumbs, egg white, milk, horseradish, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mixing lightly but thoroughly. Shape into four to six 1/2-inch-thick oval patties.
Cook in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until centers are no longer pink, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from skillet and keep warm.
Meanwhile, add butter and mushrooms to a skillet, sautéing until tender, 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle in flour, cooking and stirring for two minutes longer. Whisk in stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, adjusting to taste with herbs and seasonings.
Serve steaks and gravy over mashed potatoes with steamed veggies on the side.
Southwestern taco pot pie
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, diced
1 each: red, green and yellow bell peppers, diced
1 (1.25-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1/3 cup water or tomato juice
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