April 27th, 2010


Meat o' the Week

Earlier today, on Twitter, I recommended someone save money on food by purchasing a slow cooker, then replacing the sweeping majority of lunch with slow-cooked-meat sandwiches. So, as per request, advice on slow-cooked meat sandwiches!

I often don't follow a recipe. When I do, it's usually Charley's Mexican Meat, Pepperoncini Beef, Italian Beef for Sandwiches, or Cranberry Beef. Note that all of them are very tolerant of ingredient substitutions, including the meat; not only shouldn't you worry about getting the specified cut of meat, it doesn't really matter if you're cooking the same animal.

Recipes are a decent start, and are good if you want to make something truly dinner-worthy, but that's not really the point of Meat O' The Week. The real purpose of Meat O' The Week is to be an inexpensive substitute for lunch meat: specifically, a higher-quality, lower-sodium, all-natural, no-preservative substitute for lunch meat. It is superior in all respects, so the $30 investment of the slow cooker pays for itself very, very quickly.

Meat O' The Week only requires a cutting board, meat-trimming tools (in a pinch, just a good steak knife or two), and a slow-cooker. It can be done without a proper kitchen, so is compatible with dorm life. In no particular order, what we've learned from doing this for a while:

1. The cheapest boneless, skinless meat being sold at the grocery store is good enough. The slow cooker will make it tender. That said, higher-fat cuts may not match your personal taste- I know I tend to avoid pork shoulder, but pork loin is very good.
2. Season heavily without using salt. Salt isn't really necessary, especially if you like cheese on your sandwiches; it'll add enough. Use black pepper, garlic powder (fresh garlic is better), onion powder (fresh onion is better), really any seasonings you'd like. Remember that this is to season the entire amount of meat- which is usually a week's worth of servings.
3. Go for about one pound of meat per quart your slow-cooker holds. There's variability in this; experiment to see the range. You can fill your slow cooker to within 1/3-inch of the top and it won't overflow.
4. Add a small amount of liquid to cook in, about 1/2 a cup. Water can be used, broth is better. The meat will produce plenty more broth on its own- you can save it and use it later. Fruit juice works as well, but be aware that acidic juice will significantly change the texture of the meat. Try soy sauce, if you're not afraid of a saltier option; it goes well with sesame seeds.
5. When fresh, it's best served on a sandwich roll- sliced bread may get soggy with extra broth, although toasting it mostly fixes this. If served cold, regular sandwich bread is fine, although it's better toasted.
6. Store leftovers in a sealed container (y'know, the standard pseudo-disposable plastic bins) and keep refrigerated. I freeze them after a week; once I've got enough leftovers, I throw them, broth, and frozen veggies back in the slow cooker to make stew.
8. It's up to you as to whether to store the broth with the meat- it will keep it moist, but may make it soggy. Beef broth will congeal due to the gelatin in the meat, but will become liquid again if reheated.
9. 10 hours on Low will cook anything. 8 hours on Low will cook almost anything.

This isn't well-organized or well-sorted, so ask questions. I'm tired from work and don't feel like trying to get this expressed competently...

And yes, dinner this evening was leftover Meat O' the Week, in the form of paninis cooked on the George Foreman grill; I follow my own advice regularly, and do this about... well, weekly, actually.

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