Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat

If you're lucky enough to live in Brooklyn or Kingston NY, then you can go right to the source for all your butcher shop needs.  That's where you'll find Fleisher's Grass Fed & Organic Meats   and Joshua & Jessica (previously vegan & vegetarian) owners and authors of The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat.

For the rest of us, there are a few different options.  If you live in a large metropolitan area you might be able to find such a place.They definitely are becoming more popular as people are becoming more concerned about where their food comes from and are looking for sustainably farmed, ethically treated, organically raised meats.   When I lived in Toronto, there were a few, now when I go back for a visit, there are many.   When I moved to Halifax, five years ago, there was only one - a lovely counter called The British Butcher in our one and only Whole Foodesque grocery story - Pete's Frootique.   Now there is a real butcher shop - Getaway Farm raises beef (and now pork as well) and brought their fresh meat to the Halifax Farmers Market that was only  open on Saturdays,  Their meat so popular and the dream of owning a "real" butcher shop so strong, that now they are open throughout the week.  

That said, I'm one of the lucky ones.  Many, if not most of us buy our meat at the grocery store and the cuts available are butchered and packaged somewhere else.  Things are rarely cut to order.  Add to that, the new surge in people experimenting in the kitchen, following recipes from around the world where different cuts of meat  are called  by different names,  and cooked by different methods.   All of which add an additional level of complexity .  

And finally... after all this is the place where I review books, not babble about my life... Let me tell you about The Butcher's Guide.   The subtitle says it all "How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry & More".

The book starts out with the story of Joshua & Jessica, their philosophy and their journey through the process of opening Fleisher's, which is quite eye-opening.  And moves on to some history about farming and the move to a more industrialized system we're seeing today.

Then it moves on to The Art of Butchery - which is the main reason I wanted this book.  In fact, Page 58 is titled "Cuts to Make Your Butcher Crazy" says it all.  You have a recipe that calls for... X.... and  more likely than not, the "butcher" (I use the term loosely) at the grocery store doesn't have a clue.  My favorite challenging cut is flanken - short ribs cut across the ribs rather than longer individual beef ribs about 4-6 inches long, favored in Britain.   I grew up in an Askenazi Jewish home (Northern European) where flanken cut  1-2" thick across three to four ribs, was used for slow braises, stews and hearty winter soups.   Then, (I think perhaps a Cuban influence on my grandparents generation - first of the Snow Birds to head south to Florida for the winter) came "Miami-cut"  which were cut about 1/4 inch thick, marinated and grilled.  They're also common in Korean BBQ cooking.  

Since I could rarely find the cuts of meat I like (Flank steak, then skirt steak, then hangar steak) I loved the notion of bringing the book to a butcher and showing them exactly what I wanted.    There is a section on home butchering for the adventurous, but other than honing knives and doing final cutting and prep,  I probably won't be doing much of that myself.   Somehow, with just the two of us at home, I don't see me buying even a quarter of a cow.

That said, I love the way the book is laid out, the photos to help you visualize - even a page of fats - sounds less than lovely, but is actually pretty and gives you a better understanding of the differences between lard, bacon fat, duck fat, etc.,

Throughout the book there are guides to buying, storing and preparing all sorts of meat from beef to lamb, pork and poultry with lots of simple recipes peppered (excuse the pun) along the way.  Chapters are organized by animal and each comes with a chart as to what meat comes from what part, which cuts are tender enough for a quick grill, and which need long and slow simmering to break down the tough muscle for fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mounth flavor.
Normally, when reviewing a cookbook, I stick to the recipe exactly.   This time I did stick to the marinade, but since their recipe is for flanken cut 1 inch across (which I didn't have),  I decided the marinade would be absolutely perfect for some skirt steak.   So here's my take on Flanken Fleisher's Style.   I call it


Bottom line:   If you want to learn more about the entire cycle of farm to table, this book is a great read.  If you need a book to guide you through the anatomy and help you figure out what to cook quickly and what to cook slowly, this book is invaluable.  If you want to show/tell your butcher about a particular cut of meat, this book does the trick.

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