Friday, February 26, 2010

#MeatCamp - Cooking Head To Tail

The Head to Tail philosophy of eating is, thankfully, one of the fastest growing food trends. At this week's MeatCamp(tm) chat, we held an introductory session on how to identify and cook the not-so-fancy cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, including offal.

We were joined by a few formal guests including Larry Liang (@DJPegLeg), an avid home cook and apprentice to Becky Selengut (@ChefReinvented - watch for her upcoming cookbook on sustainable seafood) and The Unknown Chef (@TheUnknownChef) of EastVillageRadio. If you don't know these folks yet, you will. Give them a follow!

As usual, participants ran the gamut from Mike Smuckers (@Tweef_32), an artisan butcher in Pennsylvania to those who love offal (@FoodiePrints) and those who don't (too many tripe-haters out there to mention). We had grass-fed and grain-fed beef ranchers, chefs, home cooks, BBQ fanatics, food activists and entrepreneurs, 4-H farmers, restaurateurs, and lots of lurkers.

Much of the comments were on beef (no doubt because that's been my main focus to date) but the principles are the same for all meats. You can read the full transcript here.


Cuts from the front (Chuck) and back (Round), where the muscles get more exercise, can be a bit tougher than those from the middle, where the well known New York Strip Loin (Kansas City Steak), Filet Mignon, Rib-Eye, and Sirloin steaks are found.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to cook meat cuts from the front and back ends. Dutch ovens, crock pots, and learning to braise and stew are simple and easy.

DJPegLeg For beef cheeks, short ribs, and oxtail I’ll braise them. Oxtail in a chinese style braise: #meatcamp -8:21 PM

DJPegLeg Sure, so braising is essentially cooking something at a relatively low temperature for a long time using moist heat.#meatcamp -8:25 PM

DJPegLeg Typically you sear your meat first to help build some flavor. Braising is good for tougher cuts of meat because it helps break…#meatcamp -8:26 PM

TheUnknownChef @carrieoliver Braising is slow low temp cookin w/moisture always present. Stewing is small pieces submerged in liquid & braised. #meatcamp -8:35 PM

TheUnknownChef @carrieoliver Roastin is dry heat 4not so tough cuts u can do MR. Moist heat is 4 tough cuts that R loaded w/collagen.#meatcamp -8:39 PM

TheUnknownChef Now Braising is ANY situation where moisture stays present. You can braise in a dutch oven with NO ADDED LIQUID & U’ll luv me 4it #meatcamp -8:46 PM

Some don't agree that Chuck & Round cuts are tougher

tweef32 @meatcamp demand is growing for the ends but I think percp is tough but totally not true. #meatcamp -8:24 PM Feb 25th, 2010

Offal is a real challenge, despite some great efforts by individual chefs and some TV shows.

CamBrownJax @andreabakes When I was little I went into the kitchen once to see a giant cow’s tongue on the counter and was horrified,.#meatcamp -8:49

masterbutcher @meatcamp tripe tastes like it smells to me: wet dog. Something I don’t care for. #meatcamp -9:00 PM

Fortunately, some people love it and there are some ways to cook it to overcome barriers.

TheUnknownChef Big flavor OFFAL needs big flavored accompaniments to BALANCE out the richness & intensity of flavor of the meat.#meatcamp -9:09 PM

DJPegLeg I became a heart fan when I had anticucho, which is a Peruvian preparation where they grill the heart after marinating.#meatcamp -8:16 PM

Feastfinefoods @iTweetMeat sweetbreads, pigs ears, lamb brains, lamb tongue, lamb liver are all top notch IMO #meatcamp -8:56 PM

The key barriers to offal include:

TheUnknownChef @carrieoliver freshness is the biggest barrier w/offal. Most often its not fresh at butcher so its even more “gamey”#meatcamp -9:03 PM

DJPegLeg @carrieoliver I think the biggest barrier is the unknown. Not knowing how to cook it or what it’ll taste like. #meatcamp -9:03 PM

tgnh Biggest barrier: not easy to find supply. Will have to make arrangements with local purveyors from farmers mrk #meatcamp -9:04 PM

winemedineme @CarrieOliver I am a bit freaked about messing it up.#meatcamp -9:04 PM

Bev_W @CarrieOliver Could be it has seeds in class struggles. Offal for the poor. With restos doing great stuff w/cheap cuts, ppl see what's poss. #meatcamp -7:27 PM

Asked how we'd make offal more hip led to some great ideas.

Herbguy Make illegal except 4 royality;) clever suggestions on how to make offal & lesser cuts hip (beyond restaurant)? #meatcamp /via@CarrieOliver -9:12 PM

cbsop @CarrieOliver just call ‘em the good bits ;) #meatcamp -9:15 PM

nel1jack Rachel Ray could do it #meatcamp -9:20 PM

fourgreenis @iTweetMeat Took tongue to a potluck, had a great sauce and I only said it was beef. All liked it. #meatcamp -9:12 PM

Finally, some great recipe links:

DJPegLeg I really like this brisket recipe, it’s super easy: #meatcamp -8:31 PM

meatcamp If anyone has recipes to share, plz do so. I’ll send my mom’s beef stew. #meatcamp -8:29 PM

andreabakes Recipe for tripe #meatcamp -9:03 PM

Please join us every Thursday at 8pm ET on Twitter or use the #MeatCamp hashtag any time. If you have topics you'd like to see covered or would like to be a guest yourself, please contact me or Chris Raines @iTweetMeat.

MeatCamp (tm) and #MeatCamp (tm) are trademarks of The Oliver Ranch Company (tm) and The Artisan Beef Institute (tm). Twitter use is an extension of this education and tasting program designed to create an open, friendly forum in which I and Dr. Chris Raines, Extension Meats Specialist and Assistant Professor at Penn State University's Department of Dairy & Animal Science, seek to demystify meat and to celebrate the great artisan farmers, ranchers, truckers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, chefs and home cooks who help bring it to our plates.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mom's Best Beef Stew "Recipe"

In honor of tonight's #meatcamp chat on Twitter, The Secrets of Finding & Cooking the Not-So-Fancy Cuts, I thought I'd share my mom's beef stew "recipe." The quotes don't mean that the stew isn't fabulous, it is good enough that I've served it to guests as a fancy meal. What they do mean is that there isn't really a set recipe, my mom just made it up one time and recreates it again each time - sorta - with what she has on hand that day. That's right, she just wings it and now, so do I.

For the fun of it, I'll just share it as it came to me by email a few years back. The bold italics are my comments.

"Hi Carrie - Dad said you need my stew recipe as you had lost the one I gave you earlier. I don't really have a set recipe, but here goes:

  • 1 Pound stew meat [preferably artisan or at least 100% grass-fed]
  • 1/2 an onion or more chopped
  • Two celery stalks if possible cut into 2-3" pieces
  • 2-3 three carrots cut into 2-3" pieces
  • Mushrooms, as many as you want, sliced
  • Several garlic cloves, minced or finally chopped
[This first part is pretty standard, just wait]

Brown the meat in olive oil 'til brown on all sides. I use an old cast iron Dutch oven type, one with a good fitting lid, but any heavy duty pan/pot will do. Remove to separate plate or bowl.

Sauté or braise the vegetables in the pot and then set aside.

Add red wine and bring to boil scraping up any browned bits.

Put everything back into pan used for browning and sautéing.

[Now she's going to start winging it]

I season this whole thing with A-1 sauce, Kikko Man soy sauce, any favorite herb, Beau Monde seasoning, and of course, Lawry's garlic salt (just in case the garlic isn't enough). Add some water, and maybe some tomato sauce or canned tomatoes, ketchup or whatever, cover and simmer for about 2-3 hours. The celery makes the difference, something Samantha taught me. [Samantha is an old baby sitter of mine who grew up in the south]

Serve with noodles, rice or potatoes.

Enjoy!! Hope this helps -

Love, Mom

The secret to this stew is two-fold: good quality meat and celery leaves. If you don't have wine, use water or stock. Use up tired looking vegetables from your refrigerator. Taste the stew every once in a while and if it doesn't seem right, add a little more whatever!

Finally, a money saving tip: Buy a cross-rib or other inexpensive roast and cut it into stew meat cubes yourself. It's easy and you'll likely save a few $ per lb.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Debunking One More Myth - Tastes Like Chicken

I am long overdue for a post on an Artisan Chicken Tasting with Heritage Breeds that I helped host along with Mark Trealout of Kawartha Ecological Growers and sponsored by Slow Food Toronto via my Artisan Beef Institute's (tm) sister, Artisan Poultry Institute (tm). Fortunately, there are four great articles written by people who attended the event, I encourage you to read them.

Sarah Elton writes "Heirloom Poultry, The Un-Perdue," in The Atlantic.

Rebecca Tucker writes "Tastes Like Chicken, But What Kind?" in The National Post.

Sheryl Kirby writes "Don't Count Your Chickens Before You've Tasted Them," on

Laura Boyd, one of the Kawartha Ecological Growers, asks "Does All Chicken Taste The Same?"

Special thanks go to the three chefs and their teams who donated their time and incredible talents (and I must say self-restraint, they let the Texture, Personality, and Impression of each chicken stand for themselves):

David Chrystian, Victor
Donna Dooher, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
Scott Vivian and Marc Dufour, The Wine Bar

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Cowbell Restaurant - Creating A New, ProFood Culture

Much has been written of late about a renaissance in butchery. I've seen demonstrations by artisan (and not so artisan) butchers of beef and pork carcasses but friends Dana and Joel of tipped me off about a venison demonstration at Cowbell Restaurant in Toronto, Ontario.

Chef Mark Cutrara was an honored guest at one of my artisan steak tastings and he and I co-hosted a tasting in conjunction City Bites, so I was familiar with his philosophy toward meat. The intimate group on hand this Sunday was in for a bigger treat than learning the art of venison butchery, though: we were introduced to a broader philosophy that Mark and in-house butcher, Ryan Donovan, are introducing to the restaurant scene in Ontario. I am impressed.

The demonstration first. Most of us love to complain about the cost of steaks. I've written before that in a 1,150 lb. beef steer or heifer one typically sees only 80 lbs total of Filet Mignon, New York Strip Loin, Rib-Eye, and Sirloin steaks. Did you know there are only a few pounds of tenderloin (filet mignon) steaks in a 90 lb. deer carcass?

Consider the skirt steak, one of my favorite cuts. The average beef cattle might offer 3 lbs. of skirt steak, total, after aging and trimming. Look at the skirt steak in this deer. Mark spent about 5 minutes trimming this baby, he knows how precious it is.

And this is where Cowbell shines. Perhaps one or two people might be lucky enough to savor one of the two tiny skirt steaks that came from this particular pasture-raised and finished New Zealand Red Deer. Can you imagine walking into a nationally recognized steak house and asking for the skirt steak and having them say, I'm sorry, we only had two and they sold out at 6pm tonight? Well, unless you're there at the right time, you will not have the opportunity to savor this week's harvest of venison skirt steaks at Cowbell.

For someone who appreciates the focus on head to tail eating but thinks we need to move beyond the feel-good, Mark, Ryan, and team don't stop here but can go on to tell you the exact source of the meat, how it was raised, who slaughtered it how and why, and the way they butcher and why.

And herein lies the bigger idea: if we buy, cook, and savor food from different growing regions - whether our own or elsewhere - each item will have it's own signature flavor and texture and will by nature be a scarce resource. One cannot expect to have a filet mignon on demand any more than expecting to catch a sunburn in February. Food has a natural cycle, it will be available as it is available. Depending on the variety, growing region, and husbandry, flavor and texture will also vary. Let us celebrate and savor it as such.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Is it Grass-Fed or Grass-Fattened Beef?

I just got off the phone with a new, exciting discovery, an Artisan Butcher named Bill McCann, from the Fresno, California, area. I hope to introduce you to him in more detail soon but I wanted to share a fabulous distinction that he made regarding grass-fed beef.

I'm simplifying this a bit but only because it feels like a great place to plant a seed for a future, in-depth conversation.

"There is a difference between grass-fattened beef and grass-fed beef."

That's a direct quote, this is paraphrasing: You can get grass-fed beef any time of year. Grass-fattened cattle come from graziers who know how to fatten beef on a grass (and legume) diet, no different than others who have learned to fatten beef on a diet that includes grain. With grass-fattened cattle you typically see white colored fat and you can get more intense flavors.

If you've spoken to or read enough about grass-finishers, you'll know that in much of North America it takes a lot of talent and the right genetics to have a year round grass-fed program. I've shared a few of these producers with you before. But I personally think it's worth considering this:

Wine grapes are harvested at their peak and, when wine aficionados find a wine they like, they stock up on it (often getting a discount in turn). Why don't we apply the same concept to beef, pork, lamb, and poultry? Exactly, why don't we?

Thank you to Renee and Fredo Martin of Slow Food Madera for providing me the opportunity to meet and learn from Bill. I see a wonderful future for Bill, he can help us demystify and better understand meat, not just beef, so we can find and celebrate the artisan ranchers, truckers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, and purveyors who today are so very hard to find.