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The quality of beef depends on various circumstances; such as the age, the sex, the breed of the animal, and also on the food upon which it has been raised. Bull beef is, in general, dry and tough, and by no means possessed of an agreeable flavour; whilst the flesh of the ox is not only highly nourishing and digestible, but, if not too old, extremely agreeable. The flesh of the cow is, also, nourishing, but it is not so agreeable as that of the ox, although that of a heifer is held in high estimation. The flesh of the smaller breeds is much sweeter than that of the larger, which is best when the animal is about seven years old. That of the smaller breeds is best at about five years, and that of the cow can hardly be eaten too young.

Good Meat

The lyer of meat when freshly killed, and the animal, when slaughtered, being in a state of perfect health, adheres firmly to the bones. Beef of the best quality is of a deep-red colour; and when the animal has approached maturity, and been well fed, the lean is intermixed with fat, giving it the mottled appearance which is so much esteemed. It is also full of juice, which resembles in colour claret wine. The fat of the best beef is of a firm and waxy consistency, of a colour resembling that of the finest grass butter; bright in appearance, neither greasy nor friable to the touch, but moderately unctuous, in a medium degree between the last-mentioned properties.

Bad Meat

In the flesh of animals slaughtered whilst suffering acute inflammation or fever, the hollow fibres, or capillaries, as they are called, which form the substance of the lyer, are filled with congested and unassimilated animal fluid, which, from its impurity, gives the lyer a dark colour, and produces a tendency to rapid putrefaction. In a more advanced stage of such disease, serous, and sometimes purulent matter, is formed in the cellular tissues between the muscles of the flesh; and when such is the case, nothing can be more poisonous than such abominable carrion. In the flesh of animals killed whilst under the influence of any disease of an emaciating effect, the lyer adheres but slightly to the bones, with its fibres contracted and dry; and the little fat that there may be is friable, and shrunk within its integuments. The flesh of animals slaughtered whilst under considerable depression of vital energy (as from previous bleeding) has a diminished tendency to stiffen after death, the feebleness of this tendency being in proportion to the degree of depression. It presents, also, an unnatural blue or pallid appearance, has a faint and slightly sour smell, and soon becomes putrid. When an animal has died otherwise than by slaughtering, its flesh is flaccid and clammy, emits a peculiar faint and disagreeable smell, and, it need scarcely be added, spontaneous decomposition proceeds very rapidly.

Action of Salt on Meat

The manner in which salt acts in preserving meat is not difficult to understand. By its strong affinity, it, in the first place, extracts the juices from the substance of meat in sufficient quantity to form a saturated solution with the water contained in the juice, and the meat then absorbs the saturated brine in place of the juice extracted by the salt. In this way, matter incapable of putrefaction takes the places of that portion in the meat which is most perishable. Such, however, is not the only office of salt as a means of preserving meat; it acts also by its astringency in contracting the fibres of the muscles, and so excludes the action of air on the interior of the substance of the meat. The last-mentioned operation of salt as an antiseptic is evinced by the diminution of the volume of meat to which it is applied. The astringent action of saltpetre on meat is much greater than that of salt, and thereby renders meat to which it is applied very hard; but, in small quantities, it considerably assists the antiseptic action of salt, and also prevents the destruction of the florid colour of meat, which is caused by the application of salt. Thus, it will be perceived, from the foregoing statement, that the application of salt and saltpetre diminishes, in a considerable degree, the nutritive, and, to some extent, the wholesome qualities of meat; and, therefore, in their use, the quantity applied should be as small as possible, consistent with the perfect preservation of the meat.

Different Seasons for Beef

We have already stated that the Scots breed of oxen, like the South-down in mutton, stands first in excellence. It should be borne in mind, however, that each county has its particular season, and that the London and other large markets are always supplied by those counties whose meat, from local circumstances, is in the best condition at the time. Thus, the season in Norfolk, from which the Scots come (these being the principal oxen bred by the Norfolk and Suffolk graziers), commences about Christmas and terminates about June, when this breed begins to fall off, their place being taken by grass-fed oxen. A large quantity of most excellent meat is sent to the "dead markets" from Scotland, and some of the best London butchers are supplied from this source.

A Frenchman's Opinion of Beef

The following is translated from a celebrated modern French work, the production of one who in Paris enjoys a great reputation as cook and chemist: The flesh of the ox, to be in the best condition, should be taken from an animal of from four to six years old, and neither too fat nor too lean. This meat, which possesses in the highest degree the most nutritive qualities, is generally easily digested; stock is made from it, and it is eaten boiled, broiled, roasted, stewed, braised, and in a hundred other different ways. Beef is the foundation of stock, gravies, braises, etc.; its nutritious and succulent gravy gives body and flavour to numberless ragoûts. It is an exhaustless mine in the hands of a skilful artist, and is truly the king of the kitchen. Without it, no soup, no gravy; and its absence would produce almost a famine in the civilized world!


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The Book of Household Management (1861).

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