Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The Butcher's Guide To Well-Raised Meat
It is no secret that I love the taste of meat, from simple cows and pigs to more exotic yaks and llamas. A thick, juicy hamburger, some crispy bacon, a tender veal cutlet, an oven-roasted lamb, and so much more. Yet the typical factory farms that raise many of our animals are producing meat that lacks much flavor, and that is not even addressing the greater issues of pollution, cruelty, chemicals, food poisoning, and more. There are solutions though, such as small, local independent farmers that are raising more sustainable, and much tastier, animals. But people need more information about such matters, to help them make proper decisions.
"Where you shop is as important as what you shop for." (p.220)
An excellent, new resource for consumers and others is The Butcher's Guide To Well-Raised Meat: How To Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More ($27.50) by Joshua & Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu. The book was just released today by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, and is a hardcover of 240 pages. It is also available for the Nook, though not the Kindle yet. This is a book that meat lovers definitely need to read.
"We don't sell meat, we sell trust." (p.25)
The Applestones run Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats, an old-school butcher shop in New York that sources and sells only grass-fed and organic meat. That is especially interesting as Joshua had previously been a devout vegan, for sixteen years, and Jessica had been a sometime vegetarian (except for bacon). They know consider themselves ethical carnivores. Alexandra Zissu is a writer and her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Green Guide, Cookie, Details, Bon Appétit, Self, and Health, among other publications. I previously reviewed her book, The Conscious Kitchen.
"Pork is the sexiest of all meats...Pork is a meat so purely sensual that it has become a verb. No matter the cut, if you ask people what really rocks their world, the answer is always the pig." (p.130)
The book is part memoir, history, cookbook, and reference guide, with a mission of promoting local, sustainable meat. You will learn much about the art of butchery, proper cooking techniques, the differences of heritage animals, uses for offal, how to shop, and plenty more. There are a number of receipes, from Quick Lamb Meatballs to Japanese Fried Chicken, from Bite-Your-Tongue Tacos to Chicken Liver Pate. The final chapter, Sourcing, contains great information for consumers, providing assistance in understanding the labels on food, and what specific phrases actually mean, from cage-free to free-range. There is so much valuable information within this guide.
"The local slaughterhouse is a farmer's best friend." (p.43)
The book limits itself to lamb, pork, beef and poultry, ignoring the more exotic meats as well as most charcuterie. This is mainly because the focus of their butcher shop is the same, and they desire to concentrate on making a small line of products in an excellent manner. As the vast majority of consumers eat only these four types of meat, that is not much of an issue. If you seek a more specialized meat topic, there are other resources available to you.
"Love it or hate it, a whole, skinned animal is striking." (p.108)
Though there is lots of information in this book, not all of it might be directly useful for many home cooks, such as butchering a lamb. But, I still think it is good to read such sections, to gain a better comprehension of the meat on your plate. We sometimes get so separated from the animal and our food, and it is good to understand the entire process, even if we might never butcher an animal ourselves. So don't be sequeamish and read through the entire book, just so you will know how that animal ended up on your plate.
"The farmer and activist Joel Salantin belives that what America needs is glass abbatoirs, and we agree." (p.51)
Do not gloss over the sections on slaughterhouses or the history of butcher shops. Delve into the uses of offal, which they make easy with a two-page chart of the best ways to cook all of the various offal. Enjoy the vivid butchery photographs. There is even a diagram of a person, showing where the primal cuts would be, ostensibly to give customers a better idea of the primal cuts on an animal. (Cue up the long pig jokes!) For the more adventurous, willing to practice some home butchery, there is plenty of good and practical advice, from the type of equipment to use to how to separate the animal.
"Ground beef should taste like earth, sun, and grass and feel good on your tongue." (p.163)
I was glad to see they even addressed the issue of the high cost of grass-fed and organic meat. Though it is more expensive than other meat, it is still not out of reach for most people. They suggest eating less meat and reducing portion sizes, as many Americans eat far too much meat anyways. That would then reduce the overall expense for these products. Plus, if you buy smart, you will find you can afford much more than you thought. As an example, they show how $50 can buy enough meat and eggs for ten meals, certainly a good buy for anyone.
"When you picture a steak you think of a cowboy, but when you picture chicken you think of mom." (p.192)
It was a real pleasure to have read this book and I highly recommend it. It is well written, fascinating, passionate and educational. Though it has a clear and compelling philosophy, it is not preachy, and thus may be even more convincing because of that. It will also help you appreciate the art of butchery, giving you a better sense of where your food actually comes from. This is a reference guide that belongs with your cookbooks, and one which will help you best choose and prepare the meats you eat.
"There are chefs who have built their entire reputations on serving things that some folks think should be dumped in the trash." (p.63)