Meat Cutting Techniques
All meat is comprised of bundles of muscle fibres called the grain—short-twitch or fast-twitch, depending on the cut of meat—and how you cut it is the first factor in determining tenderness. If you cut in the same direction as the grain, your meat is going to be horribly tough and difficult to eat. When you cut across the grain, you’re severing the muscle fibres, which causes them to be more tender and easier to chew. But with so many different portions from which to choose, how can you ensure success? Simply follow our meat cutting guide to attain tasty, tender results.
Generally, this meat cutting technique is ideal for dishes such as stir fry and fajitas that involve steak, pork or boneless chicken. It allows you to create bite-sized pieces that will cook quickly, yet remain tender and flavourful. Here’s an easy way to maximise the effectiveness of your knife and quickly prepare meat for cooking.
First, for cuts of meat around 3cm thick, place them in the freezer. Allow them to partially freeze for about one hour, adjusting the time accordingly for different thickness measurements. Partial freezing renders the meat less pliable and easier to work with on the cutting board. Then, placing your chef’s knife or meat cleaver at a forty-five degree angle with the surface of the meat, cut across the grain, creating thin slices. Lastly, if smaller pieces are required, stack several of your thin slices together and cut to create matchstick-thin bites of meat. Just remember, the key to this meat cutting technique is to keep cutting across the grain.
Cubing Fish or Poultry
First, remove the skin, easily separated fat, and any bones from your chicken or fish. You’ll want to trim the tendons and other undesirable tissues away with a paring knife before freezing partially, to render it easier to cut. Next, slice your meat into 2.5cm strips, placing the knife at a 90 degree angle with the surface of your meat—cutting across the grain, as always. For chicken and fish, you can identify the grain based on the shape of your original portion—lengthwise is with the grain, so always cut starting at one “end” or short side. Last, cut your strips into 2.5cm cubes. This will ensure that the meat holds its shape during cooking, and since you already cut across the grain, won’t impact tenderness negatively.
De-boning a Chicken Breast
There are many benefits to buying undressed meat and poultry from your quality butcher online, one of which is cost. When you purchase an unboned chicken breast, what you’ll be taking home is the breastbone and ribs with both chicken breasts attached. In order to dress this yourself, you’ll need a small and very sharp knife, known as a boning knife, and a bit of patience. With the whole chicken breast skin-side up on your cutting board, pull the skin and subcutaneous fat away from the meat. Discard this. Next, take your boning knife and insert it between the breast and the sternum. Cut the meat away from the breastbone, staying as close to the sternum as possible. Then, in a sawing motion, cut the meat away from the ribs. Be sure to press the flat of the blade against the rib bones to remove as much of the meat as cleanly as possible. Pull the meat away from the bones as you slice.
Who doesn’t love a stuffed chop, chicken breast or steak? It makes for a fantastic variation to your usual fare and is actually a surprisingly easy innovation. The trick is to make the pocket big, but keep the opening small. First, take your cut of meat or poultry and insert a small, sharp knife in the centre of the side of the meat, equidistant from top and bottom or the two sides. Be sure not to perforate the opposite side of the meat with your knife, but estimating a stopping point about a half an inch from the surface. This is a wall of your pocket. Next, you’ll want to cut inside the meat without widening the opening. Think of a pendulum motion, and cut until you’ve created a pocket with a half-inch of meat to hold the filling inside.
Executing these meat cutting techniques doesn’t have to be a daunting task. You can easily apply basic concepts to any cut of any type of meat. Simply remember not to cut with the grain, because that makes for tough, inedible portions. Always cut across the meat’s grain first, even if you cube it afterwards. This breaks the muscle fibres, so they cannot toughen up during cooking. Remember this and your dishes will abound with tender, flavourful portions of meat, poultry or fish.