June 1, 2000
New Cuts on Meat
By: Lynn A. Kuntz
A generation ago, dining out often meant ordering a tender T-bone steak, a juicy ground-round burger or another standard cut of meat such as a succulent pork, veal or lamb chop or a savory grilled chicken breast. Today's foodservice patrons are apt to see other items on the menu - many not so easy to identify, but just as delicious.
The related trends of healthier eating and meatless meals don't seem to have adversely affected Americans' taste for meat. The USDA estimates that in 1996, 99% of all U.S. consumers ate meat, and 94% ate red meat. That nets out to 125.5 lbs. of red meat, 95 lbs. of poultry and 15 lbs. of fish per year per person. Since foodservice sales account for approximately half of all food dollars spent - well, you do the math.
In addition, the appetite for meat seems to be growing. For example, the USDA estimates that chicken consumption will rise to over 93 lbs. per person by 2005. Meat-eating is up in foodservice too. The Denver-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) says that restaurants sold 7.1 billion servings of beef in 1998, a 13% increase over the 1990 level.
Other trends affect not only how much, but also the types of meat we're now finding at restaurants, home-meal-replacement operations and other foodservice venues. Operators increasingly want to keep food costs down by decreasing labor and maintaining consistent portion sizes. This makes preparation simple and quick and reduces potential food-safety issues, all while appealing to consumers' increasingly discerning palates and satisfying their quest for variety. To address these needs, the meat industry has developed ways to use under-utilized cuts, especially new value-added products, many of which are designed specifically for foodservice.
"Restaurants are demanding more convenient, versatile products in response to labor shortages and growing demands," says Glenn Ledall, manager, foodservice partnerships, NCBA. "Value-added products save time and labor and allow the kitchen time to focus on the finishing touches. Menu variety has also never been so important, as people demand a wider variety of foods. Ethnic flavors and foods such as Asian, Mediterranean and Latin all are becoming more mainstream."
Finding value in meat
It's easy to love a filet mignon, veal cutlet, pork chop or chicken breast. Both chefs and consumers consider these and similar products premium cuts that typify meat's best characteristics. But trim out the high-demand items from a carcass and a fairly sizable chunk of meat remains. On a beef carcass, for example, the loin and rib together only make up about 25% of the total weight (less after they're processed into steaks). That leaves processors with a number of cuts that might find better, and more profitable, utilization than mere ground beef.
Adding value to meat is not a new concept. Sausage, hamburger and other minced-meat patties and the now-ubiquitous chicken nugget all take meat that would otherwise be considered scrap and transform it into highly desirable items. Pork belly, which in its native state would make a less than desirable entree, enters the smokehouse and exits as a premium product called bacon. A more recent success story took the scrawniest part of the chicken, the wing, popularized it as an appetizer and watched it become a more valuable portion than the meatier thigh or drumstick.
To turn underutilized meat cuts into successful foodservice products requires a dash of PR plus a combination of food and culinary science. Fat can be trimmed or subcutaneous fat removed with the skin (by the processor to save labor in the kitchen) to lower the fat content for the health-conscious. Smaller muscles, pieces of meat or scrap can be reformed to craft a piece that can pass for a whole-muscle cut. Other trimming can create labor-saving chef-ready products. What was tough can be made tender in a number of different ways.
The pieces are in place
Restructured meats can be formed through a number of methods. Look at a meatloaf, for example. Small pieces of meat are joined with a protein binder (egg) to form a cohesive whole. But today's restructured meats are a far cry from the comforting but mushy texture of a meatloaf. These take smaller whole muscles and bind them together with naturally occurring proteins from the meat or additives such as blood plasma - aided by phosphates, salt or enzymes, such as transglutaminase (TG), developed by Ajinomoto U.S.A., Inc. - and produce something that closely resembles a boneless, premium-sized piece of meat. (For more information on this process, see "Form and Function: Restructured Meats" in the December 1998 issue of Food Product Design.)
A recent market introduction, Steak Filets™ developed by Meat Processing Concepts America, Le Mars, IA serves as a "prime" example of this type of technology. According to Scott Haslam, director, marketing and sales, the product typically utilizes whole, subprimal forequarter muscles without using artificial binders. Instead, the company's patented and proprietary process uses the naturally occurring protein in the meat as a binder, with the help of salt and phosphates. "We've gone to the USDA and gotten the nomenclature or category 'steak filets,'" Haslam says. "That also happens to be our brand name. The qualifying statement on the label is 'thinly carved and shaped.' This technology allows us to have a natural mouthfeel, a whole-muscle bite that's very tender, while being very consistent in the shape, form and quality. You get a natural grain alignment when you cut across the muscle. It has a whole-muscle look."
The product's shape and flavor profile can be customized, and the resulting "engineered" meat is sliced into portion-controlled steaks and quick-frozen. The company recommends cooking these lowfat steaks on the grill. Because the product retains moisture better than a regular steak, it remains moist and tender during longer holding times.
Love meat tender
Developing tender meat can start at the farm. Programs are in place to crossbreed cattle, selecting for marbling, the intramuscular fat associated with tenderness. However, researchers at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center near Hastings, NE have found that marbling isn't the biggest factor in beef tenderness. Instead, it's a protein called calpastatin, expression of which is genetic. Scientists hope that future research can help incorporate selecting for this protein to provide more tender beef.
Tenderness can also be affected by how the animal is processed. Most chefs know the value of aging beef. Holding carcasses or primal cuts for typically 7 to 10 days but up to four weeks at controlled temperature and humidity improves tenderness and flavor. Techniques in chilling, hanging carcasses and stretching the muscle can also affect tenderness. Electrical stimulation of carcasses is another method that tenderizes meat by causing a more rapid change in pH. After the initial process, other methods can be employed to weaken the meat fibers, including electrical stimulation; blade or needle tenderizers; mechanical methods such as scoring, dicing, cubing, grinding or chopping; and a new technique called Hydrodyne developed in part by scientists with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. Hydrodyne uses underwater shock waves from a high-energy explosive charge to create pressures as high as 25,000 lbs. per square inch that tenderize meat. Researchers have found that this method can provide a 50% to 70% increase in tenderness of tougher cuts of meat.
Meat can also be tenderized by denaturing its protein. Marinating meat with acids such as vinegar or wine has this effect. A surface-applied marinade usually only penetrates about l/4 inch into the meat and requires at least six hours, or as long as overnight. If a meat is marinated more than 24 hours, the surface fibers break down, giving the meat a mushy texture. Commercial marinades typically contain phosphates such as sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium tripolyphosphate to improve cook yield, moisture content and tenderness. These are often vacuum-tumbled or needle-injected to ensure marinade penetration and to distribute the flavor throughout the muscle. Treating meat with proteolytic enzymes also breaks down protein. Common proteases include papain, present in papaya and sold as meat tenderizer; bromelain, present in uncooked pineapple; and ficin, found in figs. Fungal enzymes can also be used for protein breakdown.
The most common way to convert collagen - a protein found in tough connective tissue - to gelatin is by moist-heat cooking for long periods of time. This includes cooking techniques such as braising, stewing and simmering.
Many of these tenderization techniques must be carried out at the meat-processing plant, but processors are using those that can be done in the kitchen to give foodservice operators products that meet their needs.
Beef it up
While beef is an extremely popular item with consumers who dine out, it tends to segment into steaks and ground beef, with little in between, said panelists in a 1995 task force of beef-industry executives. They suggested that the industry needed creative new R&D to increase foodservice interest in other uses of beef.
Over the last several years the NCBA and meat processors have helped introduce convenient beef items to the retail consumer, particularly heat-and-serve microwavable products. The same types of products are also making their way into restaurants. This new product-development initiative has resulted in more than 30 new products that use cuts from the chuck and round. These less-tender cuts normally require low-temperature, slow cooking such as braising to deliver an acceptable texture. However, new products are targeting the foodservice industry by making such cuts more convenient for the kitchen staff and more appealing to consumers. This includes products such as a rotisserie beef roast that can be used in place of chicken in the deli, beef appetizers for restaurants and pre-marinated steaks.
"Many of the value-added beef products can be served in a variety of applications - a beef pot roast can be served as a main dish dinner entree, in a great beef sandwich for lunch and as a beef quesadilla for an appetizer," Ledall says.
According to a 1998 survey by Technomic, Inc., the ten fastest-growing "easy beef" items for foodservice are: rotisserie beef, meatloaf, pre-cooked beef fajita strips, marinated and seasoned whole-muscle steaks, beef appetizers, pre-cooked beef crumbles, pre-cooked ground beef patties, Mexican beef entrees, deli roast beef and beef soups.
To combine the popularity of a steak with the versatility of a chicken breast, the NCBA has come up with a boneless beef filet. This whole-muscle cut from the chuck is marinated to create a tender, juicy, portion-controlled steak with a natural muscle shape. "The processing is really very simple," says Carl Blackwell, executive director, new product development at NCBA. "The raw material, the shoulder clod, is trimmed. The muscles are then separated and some connective tissue is removed. Then it's ready for slicing. The marinade is added via a vacuum tumbler."
The beef filets are priced slightly higher than chicken breast - about 85 cents per portion - but beef can command a higher price. "Consumers have stated that with regard to the boneless beef filet, they would be willing to pay more for a quality beef product than they would for chicken," notes Blackwell.
The beef filet can be used in traditional chicken applications such as sandwiches, salads, fajitas, wraps, satay and gourmet pizza. Some of the menu ideas suggested by the NCBA include grilled portobello and beef filet sandwich, Korean sesame beef, Greek beef salad, beef Milanese, beef gyros pita pockets, southeast Asian beef satay and Texan beef fajitas. "Right now, it is not being used in upscale restaurants, but the boneless beef filet has so many applications and is really such a versatile product that it probably could appeal to upscale restaurants," says Blackwell. "It could make for a great ingredient to add to a salad or other entree, or possibly can be used for a lunch sandwich. Recommended cooking methods are grilling, flat-grilling and stir-frying. It's also well suited for non-commercial settings. Colleges and hospitals in particular will like the health aspects, particularly since it meets NLEA guidelines. It also serves as a great source of protein, iron and zinc."
The marinade ensures juiciness, even when the product is overcooked or mistreated by line cooks. Additionally, flavor profiles other than the standard natural beef can be added during the process. "Chicago Meat Authority (CMA), in addition to their Savory Flavor, Italian-Style and Cantina-Style (southwest), has just introduced filets that are pre-marinated with a Pacific Rim flavor profile (teriyaki). It benefits the operator because, in addition to saving the operator from having to use labor to do the marination, the manufacturer provides flavor consistency that may not be able to be achieved in the kitchen," says Blackwell. Chicago-based CMA is one of the two current manufacturers of boneless beef filets - the other is No Name Steaks, St. Michael, MN.
In addition to the beef filets, researchers have developed a number of innovative beef products that help meet foodservice needs. There's the Steak Tortilla, a flat portion-controlled piece designed to match the shape of a tortilla. The restructured disc is made with beef trimmings, but possesses the texture and bite of a whole-muscle product. Cheeseburger Fries, a breaded-beef alternative to chicken nuggets, are made with lean ground beef and cheese, then deep-fried, while Beef Ham - a ham look-alike made from beef chuck roll - can be used in deli, sandwich, soup, salad and breakfast applications. Last but not least, Rotiss-A-Roast™ beef, a preseasoned, commercial rotisserie roast that can be cooked in 45 to 60 minutes, is made from sirloin tip, top blade or shoulder clod.
Even veal has joined the parade of new products. Plume De Veau Inc., Brooklyn, NY, has introduced veal bacon. This smoked product is made from the brisket and contains half the calories and 25% less fat than its pork counterpart. It gives non-pork eaters a tasty alternative to pork bacon and chefs an interesting new ingredient for traditional or innovative bacon applications.
Pork is in
The pork industry already prides itself on using everything but the squeal. But to grow market share, the industry is also exploring new foodservice avenues. Pork chops are standard American fare, but pork also makes frequent appearances in ethnic dishes from China to the Caribbean, in cooking south of the border as well as south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Pork use has grown by 17% from 1996 to 1999, according to the National Pork Producers Council, Des Moines, IA. Italian sausage, St. Louis ribs, bacon and pizza toppings drove this increase, but restaurants are looking at other pork menu items as well. For example, in the past year several quick-serve chains have been experimenting with adding pork items to their menu including pork barbecue rib sandwiches offered by Subway stores, pork-based bratwurst served at McDonald's and pork chop sandwiches and biscuits tested by Hardee's.
Additionally, the industry is exploring new uses for pork leg, or fresh green ham, which is traditionally smoked and made into ham. Instead, fresh pork leg can be boned out into portions similar in use to beef round: outside and inside leg muscle, pork tip, boneless rolled and tied roast and hock, which could find use as a veal substitute in osso buco.
The best method for cooking tender or lowfat cuts such as steaks, chops and tenderloin medallions is direct heat, while indirect heat works best for larger cuts and whole pieces. Pork can also adapt well to rapid cookery methods, according to research done at the University of Georgia, Athens. By injecting a phosphate-based marinade into pork chops and a clamshell-style broiler, researchers were able to increase tenderness and cook yield while decreasing cook times.
Have you any lamb?
Lamb works well with traditional American fare and is an essential ingredient in popular Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisines. Most lamb is graded Choice and a small percentage is Prime. Combining these classifications with the young age of the animal means that lack of tenderness is rarely a factor in product design. So instead, lamb processors are looking at ways to yield more versatile cuts; make lamb less labor intensive, simpler and more economical to prepare and serve; and ensure portion control and minimize waste.
Primal and sub-primal cuts can be broken down into a variety of chef-ready portions, not only racks and loins, but also shoulders, legs and saddles, boneless sirloin, tenderloin, kebab and stew cubes, dinner ribs and Denver ribs. "Lamb chops are only a knife cut away when using split racks and frenched rack with the chine and feather bones removed," says Chris Sutliff, sales manager, B. Rosen & Sons, Inc, Greeley, CO. "We sell loin chops that are ready for preparation or a block-ready loin. With a Cryovac block-ready loin, you can keep that fresh for a long period of time. The individual chops are frozen so shelf life is not a concern." This gives chefs the option of using fresh lamb with minimal labor or using a frozen product.
Lamb racks and loins are always in high demand - and priced accordingly. But according to Sutliff, pricing on the shoulder and leg are affected by seasonal demand, which is higher around Easter for leg of lamb and in the summer for shoulder steaks. During periods of slower sales, processors are looking to new products to increase demand. Rosen's, for example, offers top round cut. "The best method of preparation for this cut is roasting; one variation is to quarter it and sear it in a pan before roasting," says Sutliff. "There are other options also - it's a very versatile piece of meat because you're looking at a 2-lb. average of solid muscle, which is hard to come by in lamb. You can slice it thinly for a boneless steak, or even make lamb fajitas."
Sutliff also sees lamb shank as an opportunity for a wide range of foodservice applications. This is available in fore shank, hind shank or heel-on hind shank, which contains a portion of the leg (heel) meat. He sees these as naturals in two places: "In institutional dining, the shank affords a low-cost simple lamb application. Shanks weigh in at 16 to 20 oz., so they are a single portion. It could also be used in buffets. It's an item that's braised and cooked very slowly, lending itself to a buffet application."
Poultry in every pot
Because the demand for breast meat and chicken wings has left an oversupply of dark meat, legs and thighs have become a very cost-effective protein. The chicken industry is capitalizing by developing consumer-appealing, convenient new products that can be used in the foodservice kitchen. These include skinless, boneless thighs that can be substituted for boneless breast in many recipes, seasoned thigh meat for grilled kebabs, and marinated or seasoned leg-meat strips for fajitas or stir-fry recipes. Dark chicken meat is actually easier to cook by grilling or other dry-heat methods because it contains more fat than white meat. This higher fat level allows thigh and leg meat to stay moist and tender.
Manufacturers are making menu items faster with everything from breaded chicken patties to pre-sauced and cooked Buffalo wing appetizers. Even more popular cuts such as breast filets can be improved upon. For example, Tyson Foods, Springdale, AR, has developed chicken products that can offer a healthful alternative to fried, breaded chicken or fish called Tenderpressed™ Chicken Breast Filets and Flavor-Redi® Chicken Breast Filets. These unbreaded whole-muscle breast filets are vacuum-marinated so they don't dry out during holding. Marinades come in a variety of flavors ranging from lemon herb to southwest citrus. They're shaped (flattened) into a 4-oz. size to provide portion control as well as extra plate and bun coverage. The thinner filets cook or reheat more quickly using existing equipment - the oven, broiler, grill or microwave.
Turkey suppliers can also deliver an array of products suited for foodservice use. Chefs can find everything from uncooked breast or breast and dark combination roasts to turkey filets or turkey burgers. The roasts can provide a traditional sliced product without the hassle of long cooking times and the waste of a bone-in product. They can also come preseasoned to add convenience, premarinated to maintain moisture through long cook or hold times, or in rotisserie-ready whole, half-with-wing or petite-size forms. Processors can provide these as skinless roasts, to reduce fat content, inject them with rotisserie-flavor seasonings, or include a packet of rotisserie-flavor rub for skin-on products.
As diverse as these new foodservice offerings might seem, they all share a common thread: uniting versatility and convenience with variety. And for chefs and consumers alike, these are the driving forces behind this decade's dining experiences.
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