Omakase 2016 Top 10: Meats / "Meats"
(Ian Coker has strong opinions on meats, "meats." Here are his 2016 meat rankings. - Ed.)
Beef… it’s what’s for dinner.
Well not quite. It’s not beef and it’s not limited to meats either. This right here is the definitive, totally not arbitrary, ranking of my top 10 dietary proteins….. of 2016.
Entrants were ranked based on their versatility, availability, price point, taste and, most importantly, if they were not chicken breast.
10,000,000. Chicken Breast
Hottaketime: Chicken breast is the worst part of the chicken. It’s bland, dry, nutritionally barren and can only be rescued by exceptionally talented chefs – or the deep fryer. It’s expensive compared to the thigh meat, it’s mistakenly been categorized as “healthy” and is the epitome of everything wrong with White American Cooking. Or White America come to think of it. Those breasts are pretty damn big and definitely not natural and are we still talking about the chicken?
Veal is good. Good veal is very very good. The reason veal falls so far down our list is because of availability, price point and availability. Veal is expensive to get in a restaurant and even more so in the store. Morality aside, force feeding baby calves is not cheap. Morality not-aside, veal production is sketchy. As a result, it can be hard to find and harder to afford. Furthermore, the lack of flexibility in the price point lowers the amount of uses for the meat. It’s tender and delicious as a burger or medallion and no one strays far from that use.
Dark horse candidate here. Beans are not meat but they can be done quite well and in a wide variety of dishes. Black bean burgers, refried beans, pork ‘n’ beans, red beans and rice, chili, etc etc are all heavily dependent on the beans. Put it this way, a good chili has good meat, but a great chili has good meat and good beans. Bad chili has no beans and isn’t chili and Texas Chili can go fuck itself. They’re cheap and readily available in the can but are best done when reconstituted fresh. Also red beans and rice is worth the huge bump in your cholesterol.
Beef takes a hit on this list for similar reasons to veal. It can be expensive, it’s not the easiest meat to work with and while it is more versatile than veal, it’s not always as tasty. That said, beef climbs the ladder due to one specific use: Steak. A well-prepared steak is one of the best, most consistently delicious meals you can have. However, a well-prepared steak is not a well-done steak and with the equipment many are working with at home, an excellent steak quickly can become a well-done steak and a well-done steak is not a good time.
7. Duck/Vension/Game Meats
I lumped these together as game meats because they tend to be more niche and, depending on where you live and what your hobbies are, are either readily available or nonexistent. Most game meats are… well… gamey. But their preparations are often refreshingly simple and the flavors stand out. This entry may benefit most from being different than most protein options, but there is a place for variety and on this list, it’s number 7.
Sausage was a hard one to rank. A bad, overly greasy sausage can leave you feeling gross, but the vast majority of sausages are not bad, but neither are they great either. Sure, there are artisan sausages, blood sausages, exquisitely cured and curated sausages from that remote town in Italia that your friend with the trust fund won’t stop talking about. For most of us however, there are sausages. And sausages are delicious, versatile, relatively cheap, and fundamentally an improvement on many cheap cuts of meat. For that they land right in the middle of our list, neither exceptionally bad nor exceptionally good.
Have you ever had non-American vegetarian food? Did you even realize it was vegetarian food? Well prepared tofu is a wonderful thing. The texture might take some adjustment, but it takes flavors very well and has a wide variety of uses. It plays well in curries, soups, stir-fries, is quite tasty when grilled or roasted and is even used in some desserts. Tofu gets a bad rap because there is something of a learning curve to preparing it. Once that curve is passed however, your life will improve quite a bit. You’ll also be one step closer to food nirvana Mr. Whiteman.
No other protein option plays quite as well with spice as lamb. The natural flavor of lamb is mildly gamey while also being strong enough to cut through many different preparations. This interplay allows for increased versatility in the balance of the dish and serves it well in curries, kabobs, stews, sandwiches and other various dishes. The resilience of this flavor profile also increases its ease of access, allowing for even inexperienced chefs to create something delicious. That said, some people don’t care for the strong taste of lamb. Those people are wrong and you do not need them in your life.
Guy Fieri be damned, egg yolks provide some of the richest, smoothest flavors your mouth has ever tasted. Eggs climb this high on the list for the aforementioned flavor, but also for their overwhelming variety of uses. They’re excellent on their own but can also elevate a dish such as fried rice or ramen. They are used frequently in a variety of savory and sweet dishes as a binding agent, which is of vital importance to many dishes. Even when you fuck up an egg, it’s still good. Undercooked it? Still edible. Overcooked it? Well some people like eggs overdone so… still edible. Cooked it just right? Good. Now enjoy it.
2. Chicken Thigh
Oh chicken thigh, thank you for not being chicken breast. Thank you for having flavor, for having vitamins and nutrients, for being cheaper and more readily available and for having the best interest of my mouth in mind. Thank you for being wonderful roasted, sautéed and slow-cooked. Thank you for being delicious on and off the bone. Thank you for being you chicken thigh and it is with great regret that I cannot place you higher on this list.
It was always going to be pork. No matter how much we try and look for another king of the proteins. Pork is not this high simply for bacon, the Portland of pork products. Bacon is good, more than a bit played out at this point (lookin’ at you Portland!) but pork is number one on this list because it is consistently delicious regardless of cut. Pork belly, pork, shoulder, pork butt, even ham hocks are wonderfully rich in flavor and take seasoning exceptionally well. Fry it, stew it, slow cook it, roast it. You’ll be happy. It’s reasonably affordable and consistently well prepared. Cheers to you pork.
Stay tasty America.