Meat Fab – Hanger Steak
In the meat fab class, we prepare all the meats and poultry for the school’s various outlets, including the restaurant and the cafeteria, and sometimes classes. The restaurant chefs order different cuts of meat from us, and we prepare them for service that day or that week. For the restaurant, we had to prepare lots of hanger steak. Hanger steak comes from a part of the cattle right behind the last rib; it kind of “hangs” off of the vertabrae, hence the name. It is actually comprised of two different muscles, and held together by connective tissue. We had to take off the silverskin (which is also connective tissue), some of the fat, and also separate the tendon between the two muscles, since it just gets tough when you cook it.
Parts of the connective tissue that are important to butchers are elastin and collagen. Collagen will break down into gelatin with moist heat, which is great for making stocks. That is one of the reasons we simmer bones in water to make stock. Elastin, on the other hand, does not break down at all, but becomes tough, so we try to remove as much connective tissue as possible from the meats we fabricate.
The different kinds of fat we find in meats are: leaf, intermuscular, intramuscular, and subcutaneous. Leaf is the fat that develops first in the animals, on and around the organs. Intermuscular fat is fat found in between different muscle groups. Intramuscular fat is fat within a muscle, and what we also know as “marbling”. Subcutaneous fat is the fat directly underneath the skin. The fat on the pig’s back, called “fatback”, is used for sausage making.
On last thing I want to talk about is the difference between muscles that are used a lot and muscles that are mostly inactive. Aerobic muscles are muscles that get exercised a lot, and therefore receive more oxygen and create more myoglobin (red protein that stores oxygen in cells). This makes the muscles a darker color, makes them tougher, but gives them more flavor. Inactive, or inaerobic muscles are the opposite: they do not get as much use, and are therefore lighter in color, have less flavor, but are more tender. So, the shoulder and neck muscles on cattle that are used a lot tend to have lots of flavor, but are a bit tougher. The tenderloin (psoas major) is used less, and very tender.
Part of learning about the anatomy of the animals we butcher is learning about which muscles and muscle groups become which cuts of meat, and also, more importantly, how to cook them. In general for beef, you will cook all the parts from the forequarter (front half) of the animal with moist heat (one exception: the rib eye), and the hindquarter cuts with dry heat. Moist heat cooking methods include simmering, poaching, stewing, braising, sous vide, and any other method that uses a liquid as a way to transfer heat. Dry heat cooking methods include grilling, frying, deep-frying, searing, and sauteing, or any other method that uses direct heat to cook the food.
So, remember to use the correct cooking method for the cut of meat you’re getting; that way, you will get the most out of it!