SaltIf you are cooking meat, chances are the first thing you will be told to do is salt it.

Have you ever wondered why? Sure, the obvious answer would be because it adds flavor, which is true.

Also true? Salt can make your meat taste meatier, juicier, and smell more appetizing. But that’s not the only reason for salting your meat before cooking so (Nerd alert!) dust off your middle school science textbook and let’s get started.

Do you remember those cell diagrams we all did and the experiments to demonstrate osmosis? Well, here’s one of the reasons we learned those things. (Whether you retained that knowledge is a totally different issue). Any recipe involving meat, whether you are grilling, roasting, or sautéing, will instruct you to salt your meat and let it rest for a certain amount of time. The reason you let it sit for a bit is that during the time the salt is dissolving in the exterior moisture of the meat you are using and drawing even more moisture out of the meat and bringing it to the surface.

Now, if you remember, osmosis is the primary means by which water is transported into and out of cells with the main objective of achieving a balance of moisture. So, since the salt has drawn out moisture from the meat and dissolved in that same moisture, the nature of osmosis then draws that moisture back into the meat along with the dissolved salt. The salt then breaks down the structure of the meat fibers and proteins thus making the meat more tender.

The longer you let meat sit with salt on it, the more tender your meat. Keep in mind though, salting meat is how they make jerky so if you leave it on too long and expose it to the air…well, you get the idea.

Brining does essentially the same thing as salting but in reverse. When you make a brine for a piece of meat like a pork loin, you are making a salt solution that is more dilute than the liquid in the cells of the pork. Once again, the cells in the pork are going to want to balance so they are going to draw the brine into the cells of the pork. The salt in the brine then alters the muscle fibers and proteins of the pork allowing those cells to hold more moisture, usually about 10% more. Meat that is cooked will lose approximately 20% of its moisture during the cooking process. So by brining your meat, not only will the salt in your solution make the meat more tender, but you will also cut the moisture loss almost by half, the result being a juicier pork loin which is why brining is recommended for leaner cuts of meat.

See kids? All those evenings crouched over a poster board with your colored pencils were worth it!

Essential Kitchen Knives

Essential Kitchen Knives Knives are the most important tool in your kitchen whether you are a seasoned chef or just dabble from time to time. Knowing this, we’ve compiled a list of the essential kitchen knives (and maybe a few others) to own if you are just starting out or if you are looking to just start over.

First things first. Those knife block sets can be a great value and they are pretty to look at. But, generally, you get more knives than you need or know what to do with. Better to spend a little bit more on the knives you need than get a deal on a set and only use three of them.

With these three knives, you should be able to accomplish anything you need to in the kitchen.

Chef’s Knife
A Chef’s Knife is your day in day out all-purpose workhorse. This is where you want to spend a little bit more for a high-quality knife. A high-quality carbon steel knife that has been treated well can last for decades. This knife is used to chop, julienne, or slice. You can use it to carve up a turkey or quickly slice up a watermelon. It should be strong but lightweight and feel comfortable in your hand. They can be 8 or 10 inches long depending on your preference.

Bread Knife
Also called a serrated knife, a bread knife is great at slicing rustic loaves of crusty bread. But, is also ideal for slicing the heirloom tomatoes from your garden without squashing them. Bread knives tend to be super affordable. And, they hold their sharpness for a long time. They come straight or offset depending on your preference. Bread makers would benefit more from the offset version.

Paring Knife
Paring knives are for tackling the small jobs. They are usually 3 to 3.5 inches long and should have a lightweight handle. These knives are used for cutting berries, deveining shrimp, or any other job that requires precision. They are definitely on the list of essential kitchen knives.

Nice to Have
These are the knives that are great to have in your culinary arsenal, but you could make do without.

Boning/Fillet Knife
This knife has only on purpose, removing the bones from meat, poultry, and fish. Boning knives are usually 5 to 6 inches long and are the most flexible of any kitchen knife. A filet knife tends to be longer at 6 to 11 inches, are just as flexible, and are used mostly for fish. Fillet knives will have a definite curve to them and end in a sharp point.

Santoku Knife
This is the Japanese equivalent of the Chef’s knife. They tend to be a bit shorter at 7 to 8 inches long and can hold an edge longer than a traditional Chef’s knife.

These knives are large, heavy, and usually square-shaped. They are the tool of choice for butchery as they are designed to cut through bone. They can be straight-edged or curved. Their weight allows the knife to be “dropped” to make deep cuts easier on the hand and wrist.

Carving Knife
These knives are longer, thinner, and more flexible than a Chef’s knife and are designed to carve thin slices of meat off of larger roasts like turkey, ham, and roast beef. The thin blades allow for more control of the cut and the flexibility gives the cuts more precision.

Lamb Shoulder

Crockpot Lamb ShoulderIn the day-to-day decision about what to make for dinner, there can be a tendency to get into a rut. You find yourself eating the same things over and over forgetting that there are flavorful options just waiting for you to give them a try. Lamb shoulder is one of those options.

Lamb shoulder comes from a part of the animal that gets a significant amount of work. This results in meat that has a lot of great lamb flavor but is typically not a tender cut. This means you need to cook lamb shoulder for a longer period of time. To sum it all up, lamb shoulder is a perfect choice for stewing, braising, or slow cooking. For maximum flavor, leave the shoulder on the bone when cooking so that the meat falls apart with a fork when done.

Lamb’s shoulder has the benefit of being a juicier cut than say, a leg of lamb. This means it is much more forgiving if you leave it in the oven a bit too long. You will still have a juicy roast.

There is no better candidate for a slow cooker than a lamb shoulder and it is a nice change of pace from the more popular pork version. Throw this recipe for Crockpot Lamb Shoulder with Rosemary and Garlic in your crockpot before work and come home to a gloriously tasty meal perfect for a chilly winter night.

Crockpot Lamb Shoulder with Rosemary and Garlic
Adapted from Recipe Tin Eats
Yields 4 servings

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SuetIf you have been listening closely to the lyrics of your favorite Christmas carols or paying attention to traditional holiday stories, you may have heard the word suet used. There are plenty of words in those songs and stories that are unfamiliar. But, have you ever wondered just what suet is? And what is it used for?

Suet is a hard, crumbly saturated fat found around the kidneys that comes mainly from cows but can also come from sheep. The fat is removed from the meat, clarified, chopped, and then boiled in water—which removes any impurities. When the mixture cools, the fat and water separate. The fat is the suet. Suet has a high smoke point which makes it ideal for deep frying or for use in making pastries. Though, bird enthusiasts know it works well in birdseed cakes.

Suet has a fairly bland and mild flavor with a slight meaty scent. But, there is no meat flavor when cooked. It is used mainly in traditional British foods like puddings and pasties. And, it is probably most associated with mincemeat pie. Suet provides a richness to British puddings that you just don’t get from butter. And, when used in pie crust the result is a very flaky texture that stands up well to a wet filling.

You may see instances where the words suet and tallow are used interchangeably. But in fact, they are two different things. Tallow is the rendered fat from a cow. It’s a little complicated but the easiest way to understand the difference is that suet is an ingredient used to make tallow. Tallow is also more shelf-stable.

Suet can be difficult to find on this side of the pond as it’s difficult to store. And, frankly doesn’t enjoy the same following as our British friends. You can find it online though. And, it might be worth a try if you want to give a traditional figgy pudding a go. Read more…