Just a few years ago, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s massive River Cottage Meat Book was released in the US. There was already a good buzz about this book, as copies of the UK edition had been leaking into the states for some time. The book was a manifesto for the modern meat eater, laying out almost a philosophy of what it means to be a conscious carnivore. Being conscious carnivores ourselves, we’ve found it a pleasure to own, cook from, and sell in our shop. But the adjustment to more sustainable meats – those farmers’ market buys and cooperative purchases of percentages of whole cows, hogs and lamb – present new challenges. Among them unfamiliar cuts which have languished in the bottom of the reach-in freezer, butchering which can make what should be a delicious piece of meat less than desirable, and perhaps most important, differences in the meat itself, between industrially raised animals and others – different breeds, different feeding histories, organic, grass fed, fat content, etc.
Thankfully, Deborah Krasner’s new book Good Meat, The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat arrived this year, and with it solid, practical advice on how to deal with these and other issues. At the heart of it is encouragement to really understand the whole animal, to become familiar with primal cuts, and the range of retail cuts available. Each section – beef, lamb, poultry, etc. – is well illustrated with photos of the breaking down and the cuts. Deborah also explains how purchasing larger quantities can bring the cost down to the level of the industrially raised animals, exploding the myth that cost is necessarily prohibitive when it comes to better meat choices. She guides us through proper choices in storage, thawing, aging, drying and more. So each step leads to deeper understanding, and therefore more respect, but is still practical. And each section includes a good selection of tasty recipes which address a wide range of cuts and techniques.
As I write this, I’ve started the process of cooking Deborah’s ‘New England-Style Slow Pork Butt Roast’. The recipe immediately attracts me because it uses as its base a ‘shrub’ which she calls “a refreshingly sweet and sour summer drink popular in the eighteenth century” in this case made with vinegar and maple syrup. The bone-in pork butt has been languishing at the bottom of the reach-in, waiting for me to build a smoker in the backyard (it’s going to be a while longer, at least). But this recipe was straightforward and looked delicious, so out came the butt for a thorough defrosting a day or so ago. What I’ve learned from Deborah seems likely to make this tasty dish all that much better. This includes letting the meat sit out to fully come to room temperature, thoroughly rinsing and drying the meat, fitting the cut into a smaller casserole, and placing parchment down over the top to further control condensation. I cant wait for dinner, only seven or so hours away.
This fall, we were lucky enough to have Deborah join us for a talk about sustainable meat and a side-by-side tasting of local and industrially-raised meats. We were also joined by farmers, chefs, butchers and the interested public. What was clear at the end of the discussion was that the issues of sustainable meats are many, and that the way forward to a better meat culture is filled with challenges. But Deborah’s masterful Good Meat can take us a good way toward a better understanding of how to practically and respectfully source and cook the meat for our own dinner tables.