You may have heard that you should slice against the grain when preparing meat. But, you may not know why it is important. Here, we’ll answer that question as well as show you how to do so effectively.
What Is the Grain?
When discussing meat, the grain refers to the direction of the muscle fibers. You can figure out which way the grain goes by examining the lines on the surface. How clearly you can see these lines, may depend on the type of cut. In general, the muscles that get heavy usage in the animal, tend to be tougher with a more obvious grain pattern. Examples of these cuts include flank or skirt steak. Conversely, more tender cuts such as the loin and tenderloin, from which we get New York strip and filet mignon, have a more subtle grain, due to the thinner fibers. If you can’t tell which way the grain is going, try pulling at the meat. If you can see the fibers separating, you’re pulling perpendicular to their direction, or against the grain.
Tender or Tough
In which direction you cut the meat relative to the grain can mean the difference between a piece that’s tender and a piece that’s tough. Why is this? Well, since the muscle fibers are meant to stretch and contract so that the animal can move, they aren’t easily broken along their length. If you cut the long fibers into shorter segments with a knife, it will save you the effort of chewing the fibers apart with your teeth. With the correct knife, a narrow slicer or sujihiki, and a little bit of knowledge about the composition of the cut, you can create beautiful portions of meat or slice cooked proteins resulting in tender cuts. To learn more or get help selecting a Japanese slicing knife please get in touch.