Collagen content. Gravity. Cuts of meat. And why exercise is good for cooking meats.
Braised and stewed meat tastes tender and juicy because the collagen in them breaks down into gelatin when they are cooked for a long time. This means we have to choose meats that have a higher collagen content as they are more likely to make the cut for a good stew or braised dish.
How much collagen meats have in turn depends on what cuts of meat they are, and what particular body part or muscle they are from. It could also depend on gravity!
Different cuts of meat have different collagen content. Take the cuts of beef for example. According to Cooking for Geeks, the brisket and chuck have around 1.03% and 1% collagen content respectively, and both take about 2-3 hours to cook into a good stew/braise.
The round, rib, and plate cuts, on the other hand, all have less than 1% collagen content. These will take 3 or more hours to cook as more time is needed to break down enough collagen for a good stew/braise.
The difference in collagen content often has to do with whether that part/cut is well-exercised. Collagen is the primary protein in connective tissue. It has a triple-helix structure that makes it strong. It thus serves as a structural protein to support different parts of the bodies of animals. Hence if a part of the animal such as a pig or chicken is used a lot e.g. for moving around, it would be the legs, thighs, shoulders, the collagen content would also be higher than say the breast meat in a chicken.
Gravity can also play a part. Even though the fish has a lot of fast twitch muscles (to escape from predators), it does not have as much collagen content because it lives in water. The effects of gravity are less pronounced, there is less need for structural support in the connective tissue, and hence there is less collagen. (You can read more about this in this 1-Minute Marvel where you can also see how this is also connected to evolution and survival).
Cuts of meat, animal muscles and parts, and even gravity, they all affect how much collagen our meats have, and how good our braised or stewed dishes taste. Know a little about their science, and very soon your friends will be in praise of your braise!
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photos: in order – depositphotos/lenyvavsha; Tribaliumivanka;popov26; karelnoppe