Meat & Seafood Guide
Overwhelmed by all the choices at the meat and seafood counter? Here’s a primer on how to make the right selection.
The government grades beef based on its quality – its age, color, texture, and the amount of “marbling” (or fat) in the beef.
If the beef is the featured attraction, shop for tender cuts of beef: steaks (filet mignon, sirloin, porterhouse, New York strip) or roasts (rib eye, tenderloin). You can use tougher cuts (brisket, chuck, shoulder, rump) for stewing or braising.
Pork is one of the most versatile meats, and can be sold and served many different ways. Fresh pork is sold without any kind of preparation – curing, smoking, salting or brining. When buying fresh pork at the meat counter, look for:
- Shoulder: Cuts of pork that are tender and fatty and often used for stews, roasts or braising.
- Loin: Tender, lean cuts, often sold as loin chops, which are great for grilling, broiling, pan-frying or braising.
- Leg or ham: Lean cuts that are less tender than the loin, best for braised roasts or grilled, broiled or pan-friend steaks.
- Side or belly: Fatty cuts that are full of flavor and best for broiling or pan-frying.
- Ribs: A barbeque favorite, and also great roasted, braised or broiled.
Chicken is a popular choice for families who like to eat lean poultry, and it’s also fun to barbeque and fry. Always be sure your chicken is fresh (check the date, smell it, and look for chicken that is creamy white or yellow in color) and store it in a cold place in your refrigerator when you get home. When choosing chicken at the meat counter, look for:
Your meat counter will sell you a whole chicken with the neck and giblets removed and stuffed inside. Chicken range from broiler-fryers (small chickens that work well for broiling, frying or roasting) to roasters (larger chickens that are perfect for roasting or rotisserie). You can also find “stewing hens,” larger chickens that have tough meat and are best formaking stocks or soups.
Chicken breasts have the most meat; they are available with bone-in and skin-on for more flavor, or boneless and skinless for healthier options. You can also buy legs and thighs, which have darker meat, as well as chicken wings, which make great snacks and appetizers.
When shopping for lamb at the meat counter, look for rosy pink meat, pink or red bones, and white fat. Look for:
- Shoulder chops: Flavorful with a chewy texture, shoulder chops are perfect for grilling, pan-frying, broiling or braising. They offer great value compared to other parts of the lamb.
- Shanks: This part of the lamb usually requires slow cooking methods such as braising, which results in rich, tender meat that pulls away from the bone.
- Loin chops: Tasty and tender, loin chops are wonderful for grilling, broiling or pan-frying.
- Leg of lamb: This is a great choice for dinner parties or holiday celebrations. A whole leg will include a shank. You can also order the leg without the hipbone removed for easier carving.
Look for humanely raised veal that comes from a stress-free environment – it not only eliminates many of the ethical concerns that consumers have about eating veal, but it translates to better flavor and texture. When shopping for veal, a rich color to the meat assures you of nutrient-rich meat with a succulent flavor.
There’s no end to the recipe possibilities with the many different kinds of fish and shellfish, including shrimp and lobster, available at your local seafood counter. When shopping for freshwater or saltwater fish, it’s important to look for moist skin, firm flesh, uniform color, and a fresh odor — fish should not smell too “fishy.”
These ocean creatures are not really fish, of course, but they are a delicious addition to any meal or party. Shrimp can be boiled and served as appetizers, grilled, or cooked with pasta or stir-fry dishes. Lobsters offer hearty, succulently sweet meat that is delicious boiled and served with butter or included in bisques and casseroles. Clams and mussels can be easily steamed or baked and served as appetizers, while crabs are wonderful steamed or served up in dips or crabcakes.
Fish from local rivers and streams offer great value and fantastic variety and taste. For a mild, flaky fish, try catfish, Tilapia or trout. Richer, firmer freshwater fish include rainbow trout, whitefish and the locally caught copia.
Fish caught from the ocean offers a great variety of flavor and character. Selections such as yellowfin tuna (ahi or bigeye), Mahi Mahi, swordfish, grouper and monkfish offer distinctive flavors and firm, meaty fillets that are great for grilling, baking, broiling or poaching. Look for albacore tuna, mackerel, flounder, haddock and cod for tender, flaky white fish meat that is good for baking or frying.