Having spent more than 20 years as a retail butcher, I can testify that some of the most oft-asked questions from meat consumers are related to fat content, especially which cuts have the least of it.
For many though, the holidays are a time of letting go, dietarily speaking. Even many who are normally devoted nutrition label readers, ingredients list readers and the like, will march thru the holidays with a policy of guilty abandon, trading in their bran muffins for pumpkin pie, their 99% lean ground turkey for a drippingly fatty cut of rib roast. You will often hear the talking-with-mouth-full, strained refrains as another chunk of fudge or glazed ham slides insidiously tummyward…”Hey, gimme a break…it’s Christmas, right?!”
But as a handful of preeminent healthy-eating and clean-eating enthusiasts such as Skinny Ms. demonstrate best, there are options-a-plenty for enjoying great-tasting food during the holidays or anytime, without abandoning your healthy lifestyle goals.
So where does a retired butcher factor into this philosophy? I’m here to highlight some of the holiday meat choices – and how to choose them – that are simply better matches for your clean & healthy-eating lifestyles but still possess more than enough natural flavor to sparkle as guest stars at your holiday gatherings.
So let’s go dashing through the snow, into the holiday kitchen and learn how we as healthy-eaters, can make better choices when shopping for meats to add to our holiday menus…
• Standing Rib Roast: A Timeless Holiday Classic, but are they All the Same?
It’s as if the red meat world was kind enough to provide us with a picture-perfect holiday centerpiece in the beef Standing Rib Roast. It can often be difficult however to tell just how much fat is contained in such a large and thick cut. The overall fat content cannot always be determined by looking at the exposed areas of this piece. Some rib roasts can contain a thick and dense ‘kernel’ of fat that runs thru the middle, not necessarily visible to the shopper’s eye. In the illustration at left, notice that the whole beef rib yields very different cuts, depending on which end of the piece your roast is taken from. To get inside your butcher’s world and be sure you’re getting the very best, you might insist that he cut yours from the ‘small end’, where the inner muscle is much leaner overall. He will understand this lingo, as it is common vernacular in the trade.
At your butcher’s meat counter, try laying 3 or 4 fingers flatly on the surface of the meat, where the fat covering is, and mashing firmly to judge the softness or firmness of the roast. A softer, more ‘mashable’ piece indicates a leaner one on the inside, whereas a very firm piece that doesn’t give much when mashed, is likely to contain this aforementioned fat kernel, as well as other areas of thick fat.
I have many times helped customers to judge their rib roasts in this manner and had great results reported back to me.
Additionally, in your quest to minimize the fat content in your holiday meats, it would be good of me to point out that most modern supermarkets nowadays carry one or more of the following USDA grades of beef: Select grade, Choice grade and Prime grade. Select tends to be the leanest throughout, Choice is in the middle, and Prime is always the fattiest. You should know too though that some consumers feel Select grade beef tends to be less flavorful, owing to its lower fat content, but don’t be discouraged; any cut of meat can be made wonderful with the right combination of flavoring and patience.
Finally, do keep in mind that a little fat on your Standing Rib Roast – traditionally done in the oven – is almost essential to prevent unpalatable dryness. After cooking, any undesired surface fat can always be trimmed away before serving, leaving a version of this great holiday classic that we can feel so much better about putting into our bodies.
Oh and hey, you’ll feel very good about the taste too…trust me on this one!
Please watch for more articles in this blog series, “Tales from the Butcher’s Block”, coming very soon to SkinnyMs.com.
Happy holidays everybody!
E Turner, Professional Retail Butcher
Meat enthusiasts, please visit Meatshop101 official website and Facebook page linked below where you’ll find a wealth of great & easy information for meat consumers, including many more helpful tips for recognizing and picking out the leaner & healthier cuts of meat.
Leave comments below with your questions about cuts of meat.