Deli Meat: 201 Restructuring Smaller Cuts
Deli Meat: 201 Restructuring Smaller Cuts
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Two Ways to Process
In the first series of deli meats, we covered some basic additives, some tips for buying and how to make fresh, whole muscle deli roast beef. Now we are going to get into restructured deli meats and some of the science behind it. For restructured deli meats there are two main ways you can process them. The first is to take larger cuts of meat and bind them together and the other is to completely break it down and then mold them into whatever shape you want.
In both of these processes, one of the main things that will reply upon is solubilizing the proteins from the muscle in the meat and using that to bind the sperate parts together into one cohesive piece, or loaf. Some processors will use transglutaminase which acts as a meat glue and there are all sorts of opinions on this practice with some people disapproving of its use and saying it misleads the consumer and even some saying it is unhealthy.
Chicken or Turkey Breast
1 bag of Seasoning of your choice (click here for seasoning of cure to use per lb of meat)
1 oz bag of sure cure (click here for amounts of cure to use per lb of meat)
First, we need to solubilize the myofibrillar proteins in the meat and then we need to extract those proteins from the muscle cells. Both of those processes are going to require salt being added to the meat at some point in the process, generally it is a good idea to inject your solution into the meat, let it marinate to allow the salt time to work on the muscle or you can use a vacuum tumbler if you have one as this will speed up the process with both the mechanical energy of dropping the meat from near the top of the drum to the bottom and pulling the fibers further apart with the vacuum. Because we want the meat to hold as much water as possible we want to choose a marinade that has some phosphate in it as this will increase the water-holding capacity of the meat, it does this by changing the pH and allowing water molecules to form a tighter bond. Once these proteins have been extracted from the meat and are coating the outside of the muscles they will become sticky and can start to hold together pieces of the meat.
Stuffing & Forming
Now you can form it into any desired shape though until they are heat-treated you could easily pull the pieces apart, they won’t become one piece until we heat treat the product. For the home user one of the easiest things to do is to very tightly stuff it into a loaf casing like the Smoke Coated Loaf Casing or the large red bologna casings, be aware that you need to stuff this as tight as you can or it will not bind properly, that is one of the reasons we like these casings as they are very strong. Commercial processors will use a vacuum stuffer for this which will stuff the casing much tighter than we could ever hope to, so make sure you stuff them as tightly as you can. If you don’t get it stuffed tightly enough you can have voids in the deli meat or you might have sections not bind properly to each other. Some voids are going to be almost unavoidable with a hand crank stuffer though, so if you have a few empty spaces its not the end of the world.
Thermal Processing & Smoking
Smoking or any type of cooking of this type of deli meat is a little different than normal smoking as once the proteins have denatured no more smoke will adhere, so we need to have an initial stage of low heat and high humidity to equalize all products in the smokehouse, if you are only doing a single loaf then this isn’t as important. Then we need to run a quick-drying phase where the outside will become nice and tacky to allow the smoke to adhere and to penetrate the meat. The next stage we will introduce heavy smoke and keep the temperature similar to the drying phase. Also, we are not adding a cure to this so we don’t have the luxury of keeping the temperature of the smoker low for long periods. For an uncured Chicken breast deli loaf like this one, we set the temp right to 180° with 100% Relative humidity right after our drying phase.
The next step would be to raise the temperature which will denature the proteins and force them to bind together. Simply put the increased heat forces the molecules of the meat to vibrate fast enough that they break their previous bonds and precipitate. No, they don’t start raining, chemically speaking precipitate means to form a solid from a solution. Now we will have what will look like one solid piece of deli meat that we made up from multiple pieces of chicken breast. You can still clearly see that it was made up of multiple pieces but the small amount that we ran twice through a 1/8" plate is working with the proteins we extracted from the full pieces to act as a glue to help hold it all together. And when we simply grind it all then you can see it looks close to summer sausage in consistency.
For sandwiches, it is preferable to slice your meat as thin as you can. This will depend on your slicer, trying to slice at the thinnest setting might not give you full pieces, select the lowest setting you can that will still produce full slices. This is somewhat easier if you are breaking the product all the way down instead of forming it from smaller cuts, when making one large loaf from smaller cuts we are relying on the binding of the small amount we ground, plus the binder to keep the larger pieces together. This means we need to slice those types thicker.
Making homemade Restructured Deli Meat is very simple. You have probably made summer sausage at home before and this is the same basic process, just make sure you are fully solubilizing the proteins to allow everything to set firmly together during the cooking process.
An important note is that once we have sliced it we have exposed the entire area to bacteria, this means we need to treat it like a ground product now and it needs to be refrigerated and consumed within 3-5 days.
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