Why do we clean meat, poultry, and seafood before cooking? That’s a great question to ask. Cleaning Meat, Poultry, and Seafood is an essential cooking method in Caribbean cuisine. It is also crucial in many other cuisines, and this cooking tradition has passed on from generation to generation.
My opinion about cleaning meat, poultry, and seafood
I learned to cook at a very young age, and over the years, I have appreciated having unlimited access to other cuisines. I enjoy a good plate of griot with fried green plantains and a good Brazilian Churrasco or Mixed Grill (meats cooked on a rotisserie).
We can all agree that food safety is the number priority for our well-being. So why are we not more careful? I always ask myself why many people are not careful when handling food, especially in restaurants. Why aren’t professional cooking shows making it a priority?
This is a sensitive topic, and so far, I have not heard any complaint from anyone following this method. I have been cooking for many years and have never gotten food poisoning from my cooking or had a cross-contamination issue in my kitchen. I understand it can happen if you are not careful, but hygiene is personal.
Food Safety is important in our every day lives
Food safety is the number one topic globally because of diseases and illnesses. A person can eliminate many germs and bacteria when handling foods with proper hygiene and sanitation.
The word cleaning has lost its value. A quick rinse is not sufficient. Think about what happened to the meat before you purchased it from your local farmer’s market or your local supermarket? Think about the handling process at the family-owned farm or factory farms?
Can we swear that the seafood, poultry, or meat was managed correctly the way we want it? If you can answer this question and feel confident about handling your meat, poultry, or seafood, then don’t bother cleaning; continue to cook it right from its packaging. If you have any doubt, clean the meat or poultry; the same goes for seafood.
Food Safety is a top priority, we get it!
Food Safety is a top priority in everyone’s kitchen. No matter where you live or travel, every culture and people, in general, have their ways of cleaning foods.
The Meat Industry has seen its share of trials and tribulations with contamination and food safety. Many consumers have adapted and created ways to keep themselves safe from food poisoning and cross-contamination.
The most important way to prevent cross-contamination from raw meat or poultry juices, as mentioned on the USDA Website (United States Department of Agriculture), is by washing countertops and sinks with hot soapy water. And for extra protection, sanitize with a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. But is that enough to keep bacteria away from our foods?
Cooking meat thoroughly is the best way to kill unwanted bacteria. When meat or seafood is handled, sorted, or processed in markets, etc., it becomes in contact with other bacteria that may be harmful if not cleaned or cooked correctly. A simple rinse with cold water is not the answer to proper meat cleaning.
When handling certain types of meat, an excellent acidic agent such as vinegar or lemon/lime is needed to remove any unwanted smell and maybe some bacteria as long as the meat is not spoiled. If spoiled, the meat or seafood must be discarded.
These acidic agents are natural and contain elements that break the protein bundles for moisture and tighten the fibers when exposed to air for too long. These agents also make particular meat and seafood easier to cook. That is why they are widely used in marinades.
It is a normal way of food preparation
In many countries, people have become accustomed to cleaning their meat and seafood with vinegar, lime, or lemon. It is the norm to clean meat and seafood with vinegar, sour orange, or lime in the Caribbean. The same acidic agents are also used to marinate meat and seafood with added spices. And since lime is mainly found on tropical islands, islanders use it instead of lemon.
Writing about this topic may satisfy the curious minds of readers and provide enough information. As many individuals are using these acidic agents to clean meat and seafood, it is fair to say that it is a tradition that has been around for a long time and will not be ignored.
Whether right or wrong, these customs or traditions have been passed down from generations and adapted into many Caribbean cultures. I chose to write about this topic to enlighten people and share how to clean meat and seafood, and invite others to share their habits and customs.
Economic trends and time to cook have led many people to avoid soaking meat with warm water and salt. When that process is not followed, vinegar, sour orange, or lime is only used to clean meat or seafood. This may seem long or tedious, but it is practical and resourceful according to their own beliefs for many.
Poultry is usually cleaned with lime, warm water, and salt. Lime sections or pieces are rubbed all over the poultry, whether whole or cut in pieces. After a quick soak in salt and warm water, the poultry is rinsed with water. When poultry pieces are soaked in warm water and salt, the transparent or white slimy layer is easily removed.
Red Meat and Pork Cleaning
Cleaning red meat such as beef, goat, or lamb is almost the same as cleaning poultry. Red meat can be cleaned with lime and sometimes white or apple cider vinegar. Lime or apple cider are also used to marinate the meat and spices. When using vinegar, just a quick soak and a rinse with water are necessary.
Red meat is also cleaned and marinated with sour orange juice, depending on the cook’s preference. Apple cider vinegar or regular vinegar is widely used to remove any foul odor with goat and lamb. The exact process is applied to clean pork meat. Pork meat is usually marinated with sour orange juice because it is believed that it helps the meat to get a nice golden brown color when fried or roasted.
Seafood is usually cleaned with lime and rinsed with water. It is also necessary to clean the seafood quickly as any acid agent will start to cook the flesh unless it intends to make ceviche. As mentioned earlier, cleaning meat is by choice and preference. The tips and helpful information provided will only intrigue those familiar with cleaning meat this way and hopefully help others try new methods.
These methods have not been scientifically proven to eliminate bacteria. However, these methods are just cultural beliefs and norms for many societies, and they will not be forgotten easily. All the meat, poultry, and seafood recipes on this website are cleaned with lemon, lime, or vinegar. You can choose to do otherwise, but before you do, try a few of the tips above and let me know if you have noticed a difference in taste and odor.
I understand that many people may disagree with me. But ask yourself one question. Can you trust the person handling your food? I eat out and always hope that whoever is preparing my food is handling it properly.
This is only intended to remind everyone how important food safety is, and hopefully, we can apply techniques that would allow us to eat healthier. I hope the above information provided is beneficial. I welcome any comments and opinions.
We are learning from each other every day; let’s continue to share and be respectful.
Originally published August 31, 2015: Revised content