Monday, December 07, 2009

buying meat

My latest book deadline is now behind me, and while I desperately try to catch up on the work that's piled up while I've been editing-editing-editing, I've also finally found the opportunity to catch up a bit on entertaining, and so had friends over for lunch yesterday. I go back and forth about whether I "should" use American or British recipes when I cook. The American ones have familiar foods and familiar measurements (cups, ounces) but force me to make substitutions for the many basic ingredients that are just not basic here, whereas the British ones are new-to-me recipes that require (AmE) a kitchen scale/(BrE) kitchen scales (since the measurements are often weights) and figuring out whether the cake will be moist enough if I leave out the sultanas (AmE [near-equivalent] golden raisins). (For me, the hardest part of Christmas in the UK is not the lack of snow, but the presence of dried fruit in all the baked goods. I like dried fruit. I like baked fruit. But I do not like baked dried fruit, and I miss [AmE] Christmas cookies.)

Yesterday I compromised: British baking recipe (ginger cake with clementine (orig. AmE) frosting), American main course (chicken and dumplings). Since it's hard to get shortening (tip for American expats: Trex or white Flora are the closest things to Crisco--look for them next to the margarine) and lots of other baking-type products, it seemed like the British cake was the safer way to go. But the first ingredient on the chicken recipe brought home the fact that no recipe is safe from trans-Atlantic opacity. It called for a fryer. This is AmE for 'a chicken suitable for frying' (OED), but what it really means is a 'a small chicken'. Larger are broilers and larger still are roasters. Now, I don't know off-hand how big any of these chickens are supposed to be, as in the US, I'd just go to the supermarket and buy the one label(l)ed 'fryer'. So, I have to add a bit to the recipe:
  • Preheat wireless modem to 24 Mbps.
  • Google 'fryer chicken lbs'
  • Translate pounds to kilograms
  • Log on to internet grocer
  • Order 1.5 kg chicken
But at least I was just buying a whole chicken. Butchered meats are a shopping minefield. Sam wrote recently to ask:
how do American names for different cuts of steak translate into English names?
"They don't always translate" is the answer to this question. It's not that the cuts of beef have different names in the two places, it's that they are different cuts of meat. Here's the picture of British beef cuts from Wikipedia:

And here's the American:


Then, once you get into particular cuts of steak, there is plenty of room for other differences. I've not found a good source on UK versus US on this, and it's my impression that AmE just has a lot more words for steak types. Here's a helpful guide from someone on answers.com (with the misspellings corrected and all AmE terms in bold):
... rib steak which has bone in or rib eye which is boneless, same cut of meat different name because of bone removed. very good with lots of marble. porterhouse from the hind half with bone in and tenderloin on other side of bone, take bone out and it's a new york strip, t-bone [orig. AmE, now used in BrE too--ed.] same but smaller tenderloin. tenderloin itself lies right under the back bone as is the most tender steak on the cow, because there is no movement of any part of it, therefore it lies there doing nothing, all 3 are very good. sirloin comes from the hip and is the most unpredictable piece of meat, sometimes very tender other times not,it is right above the rump section.
We've discussed the pronunciation of fil(l)et here before, but another one to mention is that in BrE one sees fillet steak on menus, but in AmE one tends to see filet mignon as a rough equivalent.

Meanwhile, on the pig:


And the British ones:


I've already discussed bacon briefly elsewhere. The other main pork difference that I can think of is gammon, a word I'd never heard in English until moving to the UK. According to someone else at answers.com (again, spelling is corrected):

[Ham and gammon] are both pork but ham is usually a leg of pork that has been aged, cured, smoked or cooked. Usually in the UK, its wet cured in a brine (salt) solution, then it's cooked. Gammon is the hind leg cut from a side of bacon, so it's cured (again in brine) but it's not cooked before you get it.
Basically, if you're served a roasted ham in the UK, they call it gammon, as far as I can tell. (I've also discovered that you can bake a ham in AmE but not BrE.)

And that's what I can tell you about meat. My education in such things has been curtailed by Better Half's vegetarianism. I am ardently plotting my next opportunity to lure friends and acquaintances into our home on the pretext of entertaining them, but with the true motive of cooking meat for myself.

43 comments:

eclexia said...

Outside my history, but I think there was a bit of a meat revolution in the 19th century. Butchers went from being a local shop of fresh meat to being a nation-wide network of aged meat. (wiki "Gustavus Franklin Swift"). New cuts were invented and old cuts modified to facilitate economy of scale. So it's no real mystery why we'd end up with two different vocabularies.

the_sybil said...

The one that still maeks me boggle (BrE speaker living in the US) is baby back ribs. I mean, where do they get the babies?

conuly said...

Well, you see, the_sybil, when a Mommy Pig loves a Daddy Pig very, very much....

Anonymous said...

I think that American pig diagram is a bit incomplete -- or perhaps (likely, even) they are talking only about primals and not about market cuts. Pork shoulder, as every Alton Brown fan knows, is for some reason normally referred to as "butt". But the two cuts on the pig's belly are often enough known as "belly" here too, as any commodities trader will know.

And that's not even getting into "bacon", which I think you've covered before, but just to recap: "bacon", in AmE, is always cured and smoked, and always from the belly. Back bacon is "Canadian" or "Irish" bacon (although it apparently can't legally be sold as "Canadian bacon" in Canada).

Julie said...

I remember pork shoulder being called "Boston Butt" many years ago, but now I mostly see it called "pork shoulder roast."

A fryer is 3-4 lbs, and they're hard to find in California any more. The usual chicken that we can buy is about 5 lbs. But when you buy fried chicken, it seems to come from a smaller bird, under 3 lbs.

I thought "baby back ribs" was a trademark of the Chili's restaurant chain.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to get "shortening" in the UK, shortening just being the generic term for fat used in making pastry: butter, block margarine, or lard. It might be hard to get US brands of shortening, though.

Elizabeth said...

But shortening in AmE isn't generic for butter, block margerine or lard. Lard is probably the easiest to substitute, if that's all you can find, but shortening is specifically a vegetable oil version of lard.

Sir Watkin said...

"I've also discovered that you can bake a ham in AmE but not BrE."

Au contraire. In BrE "bake" is a perfectly normal term for doing to a ham that which would be roasting if done to beef, lamb, etc. (viz. putting a large piece of meat in an oven and cooking for an hour or so).

I don't think that myself I've ever heard roast used of ham.

Ginger Yellow said...

Roasted ham isn't always gammon. It could be smoked pork loin, which my family always called Canadian bacon.

biochemist said...

Oh, the embarrassment when we said to some American friends (in the presence of their parents) 'Last time you were here for Sunday lunch we had a joint' - meaning a roast(BrE) or roasted(AmE) meat meal, such as a leg of lamb or beef, or indeed pork.

Gammon joints appear to be more readily available in the autumn, probably a sign of seasonal fluxes in pig-rearing that I am not familiar with - these are better quality meat than a bacon joint in my UK supermarket, and each can be 'green' (unsmoked) or smoked. Gammon is commonly boiled with peppercorns, herbs, onions and carrots, but can also be part-boiled, smothered with some floury-sugary gunk and then cooked in the oven to make a nice 'Virginia baked ham'

Janibach said...

I'm a Brit in the US and I wonder what a "London Broil" is. The closest thing I've found to gammon here is a "ham steak". Crisco and lard, while similar, are not interchangeable and I beg to differ with you over sultanas being the same as golden raisins. A golden raisin is definitely not a sultana and for that reason I have my guests bring sultanas over from England when they visit!
Great blog, by the way!

Harry Campbell said...

I'm no expert but I've oftenheard of "baked ham" in the UK. Also roast ham, or at least honey-roast ham.

lynneguist said...

Thanks for the comments so far...

@Anonymous: Yes, I should have said that the images are only primal cuts. I haven't found good info on the market cuts, so I've only given some random info about the market cuts where I knew something about them.

@another Anonymous: As others have said, in AmE, 'shortening' and 'lard' are different things...'shortening' refers colloquially to vegetable shortening...which we use for lots of things, not just short pastry. I've never cooked with lard in my life, and until I moved to the UK, I had no experience of suet as anything but something to make treats for wild birds with...

@Sir Watkin et al.: Will take your word for it on baking hams, and will strike out the line in the post. I came to this impression after several years of teaching Adrienne Lehrer's semantic field analysis of cooking terms in my undergraduate semantics class. There's a point in the diagram where 'roasting' and 'baking' overlap, and I would say "You know, like baking a ham" and my students would say "You can't _bake_ a ham". But they're mostly 19 and living in student accommodation, so their ham-baking experience is probably wanting.

@Janibach: While I take your point that golden raisins sold in the US aren't like the sultanas sold in the UK, my experience of BrE use of the word 'sultana' is that it's used rather indiscriminately. If it's a dried grape and it's baked into a bun or cake, people tend to call it a sultana. But you're right that a proper sultana is made from a different type of grape than a golden raisin (which I think are made from the same type of grape as a regular California raisin--they just do something to keep them from going brown).

An aside: you can buy something at Waitrose called Vine Fruits. It's a mix of exotic raisins, and some of them are just incredible. Not inexpensive, but highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

Baby back ribs isn't a trademarked. "Baby" in this context means that it comes from a hog (male) and not a sow

Anonymous said...

@Janibach: According to Alton Brown, "London broil" is a post-war application for flank steak (a cheap cut of meat that was hard to sell); the name was just marketing, to make it sound more sophisticated. You used to see it in school cafeterias and the like, because the school-lunch subsidy program was originally designed as a way to use up surplus agricultural products. I think it's now largely been relegated to very-low-end restaurants and TV dinners. (But there are other, better and more popular things that can be made from the same part of the steer, like fajitas.)

AJ said...

On the word 'gammon'. You may be interested to know that in the Northern Territory (Australia), 'gammon' is a word used to denote something which is 'fake' or 'false', and occasionally, even 'rubbish' (nonsense). Apparently, it derives from the British cut of ham referred to in this article.

Ken Broadhurst said...

We always used the word "shortening" in North Carolina to mean any semi-solid fat used in baking biscuits, cookies, quick breads, pastry, etc. It could be butter, margarine (which is a form of vegetable shortening), lard, hydrogenated vegetable fat (Crisco, etc.) I think people have started to associate the word exclusively with Crisco-like fats nowadays.

mollymooly said...

I'm surprised about "broiler". In Ireland, "broil" does not exist; it's subsumed into "grill".

Jill said...

I (American) was brought up with "shortening" being Crisco (artificially hydrogenated fat that comes in a cylindrical tin), but when I started baking as adult, I ran into the more general use of the word as fat solid at room temperature used to create a certain texture in baked goods. So I think both meanings are widely known, but that the Crisco meaning is more widely known.

(I've also never lived in the South; many food terms are different there )

Solo said...

Gosh, I'd been feeling old recently, but after reading this I'm all youthful again ;)

I cannot believe that you can still buy Trex! The first I ever heard of it was when Martin Amis tried to introduce it as an ironic adjective in a novel and I had to ask a middle-aged person what it was.

So what's broiling when it's at home?

Also, I'd agree with your 19 year old student types, I'd have said you couldn't bake a ham. Or any kind of meat, meat gets roasted. Incidentally, I've only ever heard of a ham in AmE. My BrE experience would just be 'ham'. But I'm not from a particularly carnivourous clan.

Nick said...

I agree with Solo wrt "a ham" being American. My family in Australia will buy a leg of ham (as opposed to a leg of pork).

"Roast dinner" and "baked dinner" are used interchangeably in Australia but ham is not often heated in such warm climes. My father says "roast" far more often but I've tried to err on the side of "bake" since I saw a show on the history of cooking that declared that "roast" means specifically cooked over an open flame.

One think I've noticed about the word "bake" is that Americans use it a lot more often than I would. Whenever I make a cake, they always say, "You've been baking!" where I would have just said "cooking". Don't know how this compares with the UK.

biochemist said...

I agree that baking refers to oven-cooking while roast used to mean spit-roasting (when the fat dripped off the joint into another pan with the spuds or a batter pudding = Yorkshire pudding).

In the days before White Flora (UK) lard was indeed used to make pastry - or butter - such a lot of animal fat! But of course our houses were colder then and we needed the calories and the comfort.

Buying pre-packed sliced pork products: in the UK, bacon refers to the rashers (streaky or back bacon, smoked or unsmoked) that will be fried or grilled for brunch or English Breakfast. Ham is already cooked (could be gammon - same name as jamon in Spanish?) and is sold thinly sliced for sandwiches or salad. Some good buffet tables will offer a ham joint carved as you wait, and in thicker slices - much the best way of eating it.

David Young said...

Lynne: "If it's a dried grape and it's baked into a bun or cake, people tend to call it a sultana." Noooo!! Such people could only be the sort who refer to all 4x4 vehicles as "jeeps"! Sultanas taste quite different from raisins and currants.

Note that the Guardian has recently had many passionate letters about Eccles cakes (which involve baked dried fruit) - e.g. this . You therefore need to tread carefully in this minefield, for there are sensitive souls around.

Also, Solo, I (British) would speak of "a ham" to mean the sort of substantial piece of pig that hangs from a hook in the ceiling of a bar in Spain.

lynneguist said...

But, David, the reason that some people get pedantic about sultanas is because some people are using the term generally. My observation was (as observations are) descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

Ginger Yellow said...

"Ham is already cooked (could be gammon - same name as jamon in Spanish?) and is sold thinly sliced for sandwiches or salad. "

Non-Brits should be warned that pre-sliced ham is almost always either reconstituted or injected full of water and preservatives - it's utterly disgusting, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

This Wikipedia article is relevant to the raisin discussion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raisin

Solo said...

Something else I noticed in America (The eight days of my life I've spent in the country) is a far greater tendency towards adding sugary coatings to meats, expecially chicken. Everything in KFC had this sickly aspartame-based 'honey BBQ' coating I seem to recall. [I'd also like to publically distance myself from any association with vile corporate establishments such as KFC, I do know better now] but even inplaces you could acually call restaurants, sugary meat seemed to be par for the course. Maybe that's just Michigan.

Jeff Frane said...

I know I'm missing the focus on language, but the decision to use weights when baking is actually a good one, even if you're not translating recipes. Thanks to the advice of the King Arthur Flour Co., I have been using weight entirely for cookies and have gotten much better results. Kitchen scales are not expensive and (at least here in the US) offer the option of metric v stupidamerican weights.

DetailBear said...

I am reminded of the phrase "Eating high off the hog" for doing well financially (chiefly Southern US?). I would guess one could afford the blade and loins rather than the spare ribs and hocks.

Anonymous said...

@Solo: If you found out that Blogger is owned by [the vile corporation known as] Google, would you stop posting?

NickCaulfieldUK said...

Was interested to see that you used the word Frosting without a BrE translation (Icing)

lynneguist said...

@NickCaulfieldUK: When I first got here, I thought frosting was AmE, but then I started seeing the word everywhere here in the UK, so I concluded that I had been wrong about that. But, checking the OED, I see that they don't actually have the 'icing' sense of frosting (they have it as a dusting of sugar on a cake--they haven't got(ten) up to F yet in their current revision, so I expect that this will change) and in this article, we can see a UK newspaper marking frosting with "scare quotes", indicating its foreignness. So, I'll update the entry with an (AmE). But--and here we're straying into another potential post--for my AmE dialect, we have both frosting and icing--but they're not exactly the same thing. (Icing is somewhere between a glaze and a frosting in terms of texture/consistency.) But I think that varies regionally in the US...as I say, I'll keep that for another post.

lynneguist said...

Wait--now I reali{s/z}e why I hadn't marked it as AmE--because it was from a Nigel Slater recipe in the Observer! An example of my experience of frosting acting like a natural fit in BrE. Incidentally, in AmE I'd call his cake gingerbread. In BrE people only use gingerbread to refer to the (AmE) cookies that are typically shaped like people. A word of advice: don't bother buying them in coffee shops or typical bakeries here--they are practically tasteless. I keep getting psyched up for a bit of gingerbread with my coffee, and then I waste my calories on that...

Catherine said...

Before you get into icing/frosting as a poster suggests, you might want to read the Great Icing War: http://community.livejournal.com/hp_britglish/355512.html

nineveh_uk

Terry said...

The point about baking a ham is that the ham has been pre-cooked by being boiled first (preferably in a 3-to-one mixture of [hard(AmEng)] cider and cider vineger - mmmm - ) and then baked for only 30 minutes or so after being smothered with the delicious honey-based dressing of your choice. So it's not roasted, although sometimes you will see this referred to as "honey roast ham".

Jeannette said...

Great post. Love the diagrams. I am a scale convert, but don't find it difficult at all to get Crisco in the international food sections of the local grocery stores (in Brussels, anyway). I also recently saw it in the Selfridge's food hall in London. Not that one could go there every day. Baking aside, I am in the market for the equivalent of a "standing rib roast" for the holidays. Nothing like a challenge! Coincidentally, I just posted a list of cross-cultural baking equivalencies ... Might come in handy.

lynneguist said...

That's really helpful, Jeannette!

Cameron said...

I have always grown up with gingerbread as a "cake" type object to be sliced OR in the sense of gingerbread man. Are you now telling me that is AmE/ScE? If it is, we probably brought it over from movies WAY back. That has happened quite a bit I think: Glasgow (specifically; don't know about elsewhere in Scotland) was famous as a cinema city; I believe Saturday morning serials such as Flash Gordon, and also westerns and Laurel and Hardy, were particularly popular.

lynneguist said...

@Cameron: My link to the OED is down, so I can't check, but my suspicion is that gingerbread used to be the cake-like substance in all Englishes, but the English may have lost touch with that sense...

Solo said...

So is what you call gingerbread, the same as what I'd call ginger cake? Often prefixed by 'Jamaican'

lynneguist said...

@Solo: Yes, that was the point I was trying to make about Nigel Slater's recipe.

I may do a separate post on this in a Christmassy way...

Solo said...

Well what do you know? http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gallery/2009/dec/02/how-to-cook-christmas-ham

'How To Cook A Christmas Ham' in the Guardian. Further down they refer to it as "a baked gammon" too.

Anonymous said...

I am a little surprised that nobody has mentioned this, but Crisco-type "vegetable shortening" was specifically designed to behave like lard in cooking, while being more shelf-stable.

My grandmother always used lard in her baking, and her pie crusts were more flaky.

Anyway, if lard is available, you should be able to (re-) substitute it in any baking recipe ("re" because if it's an old recipe, it likely originally had lard, anyway).

You may not want to tell your vegetarian SO, though :)