Calling all meat eaters who are curious and committed to learning how to cook all parts of an animal in the name of ethics (produce no waste), flavor and, most importantly, adventure: Farmstead Meatsmith are writing a book on how the heck to cook all the tricky bits.
“If the pastured meat on your plate is dry and chewy, it is because it was cooked improperly, wasting the milky grass fat marbling it took the steer two years to develop. The worst of it is that poorly cooked pastured beef will taste no better, if not worse than the factory beef, and there can be no greater insult to the cow’s sacrifice and the farmer’s labor.
If we are going to ensure that pasturing livestock responsibly can endure, we have got to stop burning steaks.”
While I’ve come across a couple of ‘how to cook the whole pig/steer etc’ cookbooks, they’ve all assumed a bunch of knowledge that I didn’t have at the time – the differences between parts of the animal, why they were different, how they were different. How they were similar. And why each bit was exciting.
This offering however assumes you are an intelligent human who may or may not have only a very rudimentary knowledge of how a carcass of cuts relate to their animal of origin, and also that you will ultimately succeed in your quest towards fantastic meat cookery, regardless of your starting point.
Don’t get me wrong – I love cooking, and I like to think I know my hock from my hindquarter. But I also like it when someone explains the fundamentals with loving intent, and somehow maintains a narrative about the intrinsic ‘pigness of the pig’ (as Joel Salatin would say) all the way to the table.
I have not ever seen a cookbook constructed with this particular attitude.
It feels like a conversation with a friend who is very knowledgeable yet understands that, due to our society’s dwindling relationship with the whole animal (as opposed to just it’s chops and roasts), we might need a fair bit of help to get up to speed, sometimes in areas that we didn’t even know we were ignorant of.
From ‘Meat Cookery’ chapter:
“Belly – The lower half of the middle is called belly on a pig and flank on beef, lamb and goat. The key feature of these muscles is elasticity. They must expand and contract with every breath and with every stride. Think of how radically this part of a cheetah expands and contracts when in a full sprint.
Fortunately, hogs don’t run that fast, but they still require lots of fat in their bellies because fat is stretchy. A slice of bacon, being made from belly, illustrates this: thin layers of meat separated by fat. The flanks of beef have the same structure before they are trimmed for retail.”
And another from the ‘Stock’ chapter:
“Stock is made from water and bones. You have to start making it before you can understand just how much you needed it all along. Act on the absurd truth that meat flavored water is essential to everything you do in the kitchen and you will never turn back.
There is something deeply rewarding in focusing intently on a task whose gratification is not only delayed, but unknown. As you make the stock, attentively nursing it from dirty water to liquid gold, you don’t even know how it will be used. It might not come out of the freezer for a month! Nonetheless, you care for it intently, relishing the certainty that one day it will emerge and blossom into a perfect meal.”
As a beginner farmer and someone who looks forward (with only mild trepidation) to our first home pig processing session in the spring, I really appreciate someone spelling out the joys of physiology and flavor as it relates to what we’ll have to work with.
I also like that the 3 chapters completed so far are big on encouragement and the fundamentals of technique, rather than crazy new (or re-discovered) recipes. I think the Farmstead Meatsmith crew know and appreciate that we all have access to a gazillion pork belly recipes.
What I didn’t have (till now) was someone spending 6 pages calmly yet enthusiastically explaining why there is so much to love about leaf lard. I am convinced, and await the spring.
You too can support Farmstead Meatsmith and the excellent and independent work they’re doing by buying a chapter (or three) of their new e-book on Meat Cookery at their website. The rest of the book is in progress.
And a note that we wrote this review because we love supporting good stuff. We bought all 3 chapters of the above e-book and they were well worth the 5 bucks total!
All images © 2012 Farmstead Meatsmith