"A plain leg of mutton, my Lucy, I prithee get ready at three! Have it smoking, and tender, and juicy, And what better meat can there be? "
The term meat is, commonly speaking, applied only to beef, mutton, lamb, veal, and pork.
Soon after an animal has been killed, rigor mortis sets in, which lasts for a varying number of days. During this period, meat, if cooked, is usually tough, and not of such a good flavor; it is customary to let it hang until this toughness passes off. During this stage, an acid forms in the meat which acts upon the hardening matter, redissolves it, renders the meat tender and juicy, and often improves the flavor.
A full-grown animal is richer in extractives than a young animal. The extractives are the chief flavoring matters in meat, of no actual value as body-building food, but the sapid properties of extractives make the meat more stimulating, and thus they aid digestion.
Meat consists of muscle fiber, bone, and fat. The part of meat that is usually cooked and eaten is the muscle fiber. The bone and fat form but a small part of the meat as it is prepared for the table, though they are purchased with it at the market.
The cheaper cuts of meat contain more nutriment than the expensive ones, but are cheaper because they are not so tender. They must be cooked by a long slow process to make them tender and palatable. A fireless cooker is excellent for this purpose.
An ox from four to five years of age yields the fullest flavored joints; in older animals the fibers tend to become coarse and tough ; in young animals like the calf the flesh is immature, and not so rich in flavoring matters; for this reason gravies or sauces are served with veal.
The time occupied in the digestion of meat depends greatly upon its condition and the method of cooking. A tender, juicy, rare steak should not require more than two and one half hours, whereas boiled salted beef will require over four hours, roast beef about three and one half hours, and fresh boiled beef about three hours. Ox liver and kidneys require about four hours for digestion. Pork is more difficult of digestion than most meats on account of the excess of fat, although this fat melts at a lower temperature than that of beef or mutton. Roast pork requires over five hours for digestion, boiled pork about four hours, and salt pork a little over three. Pork contains about ten per cent, of albumens and twenty per cent. fat, and nearly seventy per cent. water.