On the Basics: Ground Beef
One of my first self-taught lessons in the kitchen was how to brown ground beef.* This is a key ingredient to most of Mr. J’s favorite dishes so I had to master it right away. At first, I was scared of the package. I didn’t want to touch it or have it contaminate anything (it wasn’t pretty when I first had to make hamburger patties AND TOUCH IT, and even worse when I cooked chicken the first time…ha!).
Ok, the deal with ground beef is that it has to be used pretty much right away, or put in the freezer. Since I like to plan ahead, I usually end up freezing some so I’ll tell you how to start from fresh (A.) and frozen (B.) product. They both end with the same steps (C.).
A.) For fresh, take the meat out of the package. Make sure to discard the package liner that keeps all the juices in their place. Place in a skillet, and turn up the heat to med-high. I like to add a little water at this point. The fancy schmancy chefs on Food Network say that this gives you grey beef instead of browned beef, but I don’t care. It keeps everything from sticking and helps wash away the extra grease. I’m usually going to throw it in a recipe anyway so it really doesn’t matter what color it is (except for pink, which means it’s not done).
B.) When I start from frozen, I’m usually dealing with two scenarios. For one, I have remembered to put the frozen package in the fridge the night before, and it’s well on it’s way to being thawed. You want to be careful how you thaw things for food safety reasons. It’s best to plan ahead the day before and do it in the fridge (not out on the counter or other ways that encourage bacteria growth). The second case is straight from the freezer, which is what happens most of the time because I forget. I add water to my skillet just like with fresh, but I have to take a little more time and attention now. First, you’ll have a little bit harder time getting it out of the package and prying the liner off. A dinner knife usually does the trick. Now, you’ll hafta hang out with it for a while, using the spatula to flip from side to side and scrape off the thawed/cook parts as you go. Keep flipping and scraping until the center is broken up into little pieces.
C.) At this point, you want to take a spatula and break everything apart to finish off the browning party. I like my pieces to be really tiny so I jab, jab, jab while it cooks. You’ll want to flip and stir as it goes, and keep an eye on it. Keep breaking it into smaller pieces, and cook it until all the pink is gone….then cook it for a few more minutes, just to be sure. Turn the heat off, and prepare to drain. My draining method includes turning on the hot water, grabbing an oven mit, and locating my strainer. The strainer I use for this purpose is also called a splatter guard. I dump out the liquid, rinse with water, and drain a couple of times. Now, your GB is ready to go in your favorite recipe.
*By self-taught, I usually mean several Google searches and 20 calls to Mom.