As I was going through my recipes, I realized how many of them depend on my system of cooking meat. So before we go any further, I'm going to talk about that a little bit. Not that you have to do it the way I did, but knowing what I did will help you to understand my recipes better! :-)

For me, one of the biggest challenges of cooking in West Africa was knowing what to do about meat. Where we lived for the first two years there were no nicely packaged fresh cuts at the grocery store. We could get canned meat - sausages, Spam, corned beef, and tuna - but all of those things were expensive, and rather gross, too. There were little "cold stores", which usually consisted of not much more than a deep freezer holding a few boxes of frozen chicken and frozen fish. And then there was the meat market . . . an open air market with bloody chopping blocks, huge dead animal parts, and swarms of flies. I think I might prefer Spam!

But realistically Spam wasn't a good option, so I learned to buy fresh beef in the market. Some tips I learned for buying...

  • Make friends with a butcher and try to go back to the same one over and over. He will [probably] give you a better deal, and learn to understand what you're looking for so you don't have to explain yourself every time.
  • If you have a big daily market, animals are probably butchered fresh every morning. Go early to get meat when it is the freshest, before the hot sun and flies have had time to do their work.
  • If you have a smaller market, find out what day(s) they usually butcher, and buy meat on those days.
  • Don't buy meat that looks dried out, dark red or old
  • Ask for boneless cuts. Cutting huge bones out of the middle of big chunks of meat is not fun.
  • Ask for "no fat". This doesn't mean there will literally be no fat, but it might avoid getting HUGE thick chunks of fat with your meat.
  • If they offer to cut it into pieces for you, graciously refuse. They will indiscriminately cut through bone chips, veins of fat and gristle. I prefer to trim and chop my own meat.

To save the inconvenience of going into the meat market too often, I would buy several pounds at a time. Once I got home, the meat needed to be cooked or frozen promptly. What I usually did was cook it all right away, to be frozen in meal-sized packages for later use. Here's the cooking process I used:

  1. First I would wash it thoroughly with clean water, hopefully getting most of the bone chips and loose dirt off
  2. Next with a sharp knife, I start cleaning off the fat and gristle
  3. As I clean it, I chop it into small peices such as you would use for stir fry or stew meat.
  4. Throw the meat chunks into a big pot with a lid and cover with water
  5. Be sure to wash your hands and disinfect cutting boards or surfaces after handling raw meat
  6. Add a chopped onion or two, a few cloves of garlic, and a generous dash of soy sauce (this will not add distinct flavor, only enhance the meat)
  7. Boil, and boil, and boil for hours . . . literally about 3 hours!
  8. Be sure to add more water as needed so your pot doesn't boil dry
  9. Don't worry about germs, dirt, or bugs . . . the meat will be perfectly safe to eat after boiling for so long!!

If you've eaten local beef, at least in Africa, you know that it's quite tough! But we've found that meat cooked this way becomes nice and tender. If you have a pressure cooker, you can use that instead and shorten the cooking time significantly . . . but I've never used one. When it's done cooking, I package it into meal-size portions, and put it all in the freezer. Then I can pull a package out anytime to quickly add meat to stir fry, stew, spaghetti sauce, rice pilaf, or whatever I might be making for supper. And don't forget to use the rich broth from cooking to make some delicious gravy or wonderful soup! You really can't taste the soy sauce (unless you put way too much in), it just makes the meat/broth taste rich and salty.

The other meat that we commonly ate was chicken. We actually bought frozen chicken leg quarters from those little "cold stores" by the case (25lb box) and it was usually Tyson brand! I would fill up my biggest pot with as much chicken as would easily fit, add an onion and some garlic (but skip the soy sauce) and boil it for about 45 minutes. After letting it cool for an hour, I would debone it, and then package the meat into meal-sized portions and freeze. It's so convenient to use in everything from fried rice to alfredo sauce and even my rendition of some of the local dishes. {I actually still do this now that we're in the States, buying 10-20 lbs of chicken and cooking it up all at once!}

Most of my main dish recipes depend on one of these two meats - cut up and precooked, frozen in meal-size portions, and ready to add to whatever I'm cooking. I found this to be so convenient, significantly shortening prep time for many of my meals. And SO much better than that slimy canned meat at the store! :-)

Any tips to add? Have you used a pressure cooker for meat? How do you get/use meat where you live?

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