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Published: Tuesday, 12/15/2009

Entrees make the grade: What to look for when buying holiday meats

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

Some people think it isn't a major holiday unless turkey is served. For others, a special roast is on the menu.

It's best to decide what your holiday entree will be and then special-order it.

Beef, pork, and veal have individual qualities that should be considered when purchasing them. As you plan your holiday entrees, select the best product for the price you want to pay.

When buying beef, understand the grading and/or branded programs to help in making your selection. There are three primary grades: Select, Choice, and Prime.

Select has the least amount of marbling, making it leaner but often less juicy and flavorful than the other two grades.

Choice cuts tend to have more marbling than Select, but a little less marbling than Prime. Choice is the most widely available grade in supermarkets.

Prime has the most marbling and is usually sold to restaurants.

"The grading is administered by the USDA, which indicates palatability, juiciness, tenderness, and flavor," said Meghan Pusey, director of National Cattleman's Beef Association communications, in a phone interview. The factors used to determine quality grades are maturity, marbling and muscle firmness, color, and texture.

Beef quality and yield grading is voluntary and paid for by meat packers. When buying beef, check to see if that information is available.

Another option is to buy a product from a branded beef program. "Most national retailers or branded beef programs have certain criteria," said Ms. Pusey. For example, Certified Angus Beef is a Choice product that is the Angus breed, which is sold at area stores. Laura's Lean Beef, Wal-Mart's Steak House Steak Collection, and Niman Ranch are other branded programs you may see in supermarkets.

There also are specialty and premium cuts available during the holidays. Consult your butcher or meat department manager.

Use a standing rib roast or a less-expensive boneless beef roast for today's recipe for Black Tie Beef Roast with Chocolate-Port Sauce. Either will make a spectacular holiday meal. There's a hint of orange peel in the rub for the roast.

The secret ingredient in the rich, dark Chocolate-Port Sauce is bittersweet chocolate. "I put the roast in the Crock Pot and made the sauce before serving," said Angela Benko who tested the sauce recipe for The Blade. "I cut the roast and spread the sauce on top. It was wonderful."

In contrast to beef, "there is no grading [system] for pork," says Dick Isler, executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Producers Council in Columbus. "It is so uniform today."

For readers who have found lean pork too dry after it's roasted: "The biggest tip I have is don't overcook pork." said Mr. Isler. "Most chefs today are taking pork off at 135 to 140 degrees [internal temperature]. It continues to cook once out of the oven and 150 degrees is plenty.

"Last weekend I did a full pork loin on the grill - it was five pounds and about a foot long - and cooked it in 45 to 50 minutes," he said.

In the oven, place a pork loin on a rack in a baking dish with a little water and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes uncovered, or until the interior temperature is 150 degrees. Approximately 20 minutes per pound is another recommendation. Let the roast rest for 10 minutes before carving the meat.

Pork should be less than $2 a pound in Ohio, he said.

Specialty cuts, which include the shoulder butt, picnic shoulder, and bone-in fresh ham, may have limited availability. "Fresh hams are a real value and very flavorful," he said.

"Pork is a big item during New Year's," said Dave Routson, manager of the House of Meats at The Andersons in Maumee. Fresh picnic hams are always available. But he notes that this meat is - and tastes - different than cured pork or ham; it's more like a pork roast.

Cook fresh pork roasts to 160 degrees internal temperature.

For small groups, don't overlook pork chops. Pork Chops Braised with Spiced Honey and Grapes is made with thick pork chops, but you can substitute boneless country-style ribs.

Veal, a premium meat, is occasionally found in the display cases of supermarkets or butcher shops, especially at the holidays. It is an item that is easier to find as chops or scallopini. A roast is usually special-ordered.

Formula-fed veal is most commonly found in our area. "It is a light, creamy pink color," said Tom Houlton, veal marketing consultant for the National Cattleman's Beef Association. "The size of the roast depends on how a butcher cuts it."

They can be either veal (round) rump roast or veal loin roasts. The rump roast is the less expensive of the two, according to Greg Daniels, meat manager at Walt Churchill's Market in Maumee. Most veal simply needs to be seasoned and put in the oven. A roast runs about two pounds but can be made larger when special- ordered.

The redder the color of the veal roast, the closer it is to a young beef roast. "It will have a more beefy flavor," said Dean Conklin, executive director of veal marketing for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Color is an important characteristic for chefs."

"Veal has a delicate flavor that assumes the flavor of spices or sauce it is cooked with," he said.

Low heat of 325 degrees is recommended. Don't overcook veal. "It is best cooked to medium," said Mr. Houlton.

Herbed Veal Roast Provencal is a three-pound boneless veal (round) rump roast, but it can also be made with veal loin.

Contact Kathie Smith at:

food@theblade.com

or 419-724-6155



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