Beef: Nailed It!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a master at overcooking meat. Unlike many of my kitchen mishaps, this particular problem isn’t due to lack of skill or inability to multitask. I am terrified of making someone (or myself) sick by serving them undercooked meat. This means I tend to overcompensate and we eat a lot of burned and/or extremely tough, barely-chewable meat in my house.

I’ve been taking extra caution lately, trying SO HARD to cook my meat just perfectly. I’ve made several chicken dishes now with chicken so tender I can’t believe I was the one to prepare it. Despite my improvements in poultry, there’s still…

Beef.

UGH, beef. If I wasn’t thinking of my husband (you’re welcome, husband), I would cook my beef so long it becomes jerky. All you people who like rare or medium-rare, or hell, even medium doneness in your beef: you crazy! I want my “red meat” to be as non-red as it gets.

Source: Unknown

But I know that in cooking, nothing about overcooked beef is appealing. So damn it, I’ll get better at this!

The other night for dinner, I chose a recipe for copycat PF Chang’s Mongolian Beef. It called for sliced flank steak, but I opted for pre-cut stir fry meat. In either case, I was about to fry little pieces of beef in hot oil. This is pretty much a guarantee we’ll be chewing leather at dinner.

I don’t have a method to “not overcooking” other than to take the pan off the burner the very second I’d normally give the meat just a couple more minutes…to be on the safe side. Guys, this is so difficult for me. If only you could feel my internal struggle.

But last night, that’s exactly what I did. And THANK FREAKING GOODNESS, because the meat was cooked so wonderfully. It was soft, but not red and bloody. It was just a little bit crispy on the outside from the cornstarch, but not tough and dry on the inside.

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I don’t often get to say this in the kitchen, so here goes: Nailed it!!!

I also added broccoli to mine, which wasn’t in the recipe. I have no regrets.

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If you have any good tips on how to NOT overcook meat, please share! You’ll be my hero.

Guess what? Chicken butt. Guess why? Chicken thigh.

I cook a LOT of chicken. I spend more money on chicken than on any other kind of meat. I still remember the day my husband (then-boyfriend) taught me how to cube and cook chicken. Yes, I realize how pathetic that sounds. And sometimes I worry that he regrets teaching me, because from that day forward I’ve been a chicken-cooking machine.

However…I’ve only ever cooked chicken breasts. No legs, no thighs, no wings. Why? Because I don’t even know what you do with them. I love white meat and have never understood why you’d work with dark meat when you don’t have to.

Last week I picked out a recipe that called for chicken thighs. It’s not the first time, but I usually substitute chicken breasts. For some reason, I decided to stick to the recipe this time.

To my dismay, I discovered the smallest pack the grocery store offered still contained seven thighs. I only needed three; what the hell was I going to do with seven? Fine, I thought. They’re cheap, and I guess I can find a use for the rest of them.

The first time was going to be easy. All that was required was removing the fat and dropping the thighs into the crockpot. Piece of cake, assuming I could figure out how to remove the fat.

Let me tell you about the happy dance I did when I discovered the fat peels cleanly off in one big slab, like the thigh was simply wearing a little jacket! I had envisioned the fat clinging to the meat for dear life and my hacking away for a frustrating chunk of time.

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My celebration was short-lived. Peeling the fat away revealed what I couldn’t see beforehand: this chicken still had its bones. BONES! I’ve never cooked meat with bones before!

I had (and still have) no idea how bones impact cooking. I should Google it, but I haven’t yet. Furthermore, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of chickens having bones. When I look at a chicken, I sort of imagine it as a squishy blob with no real skeletal structure…kind of like a giant marshmallow with feathers. Don’t get me wrong, I know chickens have bones. I just seem to…forget…until I peel the fat off a chicken thigh and see a bone sticking out of its center.

Anyway, I crossed my fingers and dropped the thighs into the crockpot, bones and all. That evening when I got home from work, I was relieved when I removed the chicken and the meat simply slid right off the bones and shredded beautifully.

So I had one successful chicken thigh meal under my belt, but I still had four thighs. Thighs with bones. Unless I wanted to embark on a shredded chicken frenzy, I was going to have to find another use for them.

I settled on homemade burrito bowls. (Yes, I really like burrito bowls. Don’t judge.) This one was tricky because I planned to cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and fry it up in some seasonings. Not usually a challenge, but what to do about that damn bone?!

Well, I managed to cut up the meat, but it was a real hack job. The bone was about 80% of the problem, but the fat was also another thorn in my side. Even after removing the little fat jackets, those stupid thighs were full of white rubber! Grrrrr.

Off-topic confession: when prepping my burrito bowls, this teaspoon of cilantro took me roughly three entire freaking minutes to chop. *sob*

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So, will I ever cook with chicken thighs again? Let’s just say, no promises. I don’t exactly feel a twinge of joy when I consider it.

Broiling, take three: STEAK!

Here’s a picture of tonight’s dinner:

(Drum roll, please.)  It was delightful!

Fact #1:  I haven’t had the best of luck with this whole broiling thing.  Fact #2:  I have never before cooked a whole steak.  Fact #3:  I am still, somewhat unsuccessfully, trying to overcome my fear of undercooked meat.

Fact #4:  Despite facts #1-3, I still rocked this steak.

I followed a Betty Crocker recipe for Broiled Sirloin Steak and Vegetables.  After ten minutes of perusing the meat cooler at the grocery store with absolutely no idea which type of steak I actually needed (and being lectured by my fiance as a result; “You need to start Googling this stuff before we go shopping,” he says), I picked out two petite sirloin steaks.  The recipe called for the steaks to be broiled alongside mushrooms and squash, but I substituted carrots since mushrooms and squash aren’t really my cup of tea.

I was feeling bold and decided to add some basil to the dressing/vinegar mixture to be spread on the meat and veggies.  I felt like prep time was moving rather slowly so, in a rush, I accidentally spilled basil all……over……the……floor.

After a short intermission involving the broom and dustpan, I popped the steaks under the broiler and waited.  The cook time, according to the recipe, was five minutes per side.  My steaks took roughly ten minutes per side.  Am I the only person whose food takes twice as long to cook as the recipe states it should?  SHEESH.

Now, here’s where I really give myself credit.  This was how my steak looked when I cut into it:

Before I began teaching myself to cook, this color would have had me running for the hills.  Now that I’ve learned a thing or two–and now that I’ve had more experience cooking meat–I was pretty satisfied with this shade of pink.  It tasted great and it was nice and TENDER.  Mmmmmmm.  My fiance’s was a little more rare than mine was, and I must confess, it did make me nervous.  I tried to get him to let me stick it back under the broiler for a minute or two, but he insisted it was just fine and he ate every bite of it.  I guess I’m still not over my fear quite yet.

Now that I’ve made the three broiling recipes I selected, it’s time to put my knowledge to the test.  By the end of the week, I’ll be making something of my own creation in the broiler.  No recipe.  Calmingthoughtscalmingthoughtscalmingthoughts.