Beef Art: Bresaola

Beef Art: Bresaola

The Goal: Silky, paper thin, marinated, air-dried beef from the river cottage meat book

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Remember the huge crush I have on Paul Bertolli? And his tomatoes 12 ways project? And my idea to copy his idea using beef instead of tomatoes?

You thought I forgot about it didn’t you?  Well, I admit I’ve been slow to come up with a new way, but not to worry; I’m on it now.  And I’m especially excited about this one.

Everyone loves prosciutto, the paper-thin, silky, salty, air-cured ham from Italy.  But prosciutto’s less known beef cousin bresaola can be just as amazing.

Of course, leave it to our Italian friends to turn thinly sliced air-cured beef drizzled with olive oil & lemon juice into an art form while our American version of dried beef is known by millions of GIs as the main ingredient in a dish called Shit on a Shingle. What can I say? It doesn’t have to be that way…

Since I’m out of everything but burger at the moment, my eye of round is from Ron Gargasz Organic Farms just outside Slippery Rock, PA.  Now, don’t tell the Ladies I said this, and if you do I’ll never admit it, but the Angus cows at Ron Gargasz’s farm are pretty amazing too. They’ve never eaten anything but organic grass and hay grown right there at home and lead companionable, social lives. With plenty of doting too…

So, with a beautiful, grass-fed organic eye of round in my freezer, I’m not about to waste a chance to take an imaginary road trip to Italy.

The esteemed panel of experts on my bookshelf  had much to say about making Bresaola.  Sadly, just like he did when I made consommé, Paul Bertolli left me to fend for myself.  But Darina Allen, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Josh and Jessica Applestone and Michael Ruhlman; they all had lots of good advice.

All four books have great recipes and a slightly different take on making bresaola.  I had a hard time making up my mind which one to follow, but ended up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  My super-close second was the Applestone’s recipe which was the only one to call for cold smoking the roast before air drying. Very intriguing and I will be trying it soon.

Why was I so taken with HFW’s recipe? The brine was a little more elaborate, without being ridiculous. I always hate to over season well-raised beef because I think it tastes so great as it is.  But the small amount of lemon zest, orange zest, bay leaves, black pepper and red pepper flakes in the wine & salt brine seemed like just the right blend to really call attention to the beef.  You may not agree, but I think there’s something magic about the combo of beef and orange zest… add red pepper flakes and oh, my.

So this week, I mixed up my brine and soaked that roast turning twice a day. Tomorrow begins the tricky air-drying process which will last three to four weeks. Then, if I don’t blow it, comes the best part of all, eating the bresaola!

Very exciting stuff for me. I know.  I know.  I  SHOULD get out more.

If you missed my other beefy adventures,  here they are:

Beef & Pork Belly Dan Barber’s Way

Corned Beef Tongue & Red Flannel Hash

Creamy Corned Beef (Tongue) Spread

Oxtail Consommé & My Very Favorite Ravioli Filling

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

THINKING THURSDAY: SOMETHING TO PONDER IN THE WORLD OF FOOD AND FARMING.

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Have you heard? The New York Times is calling all carnivores to tell them why we believe it is ethical to eat meat.

Since this is a topic front and center in my mind nearly every day and I planned to discuss it with you anyway,  how about right now?

The stingy 600 word limit was a real hardship for a chatty girl like myself; hopefully Word’s word count tool is accurate!   I sent my blood, sweat and tears off into the electronic sunset, and from there, who knows?

Weigh in with your opinions in the comments below, but do play nice. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

So, here it is; my big New York Times minute:

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This question of whether it is ethical to eat meat cannot be deeply understood by anyone with clean hands.

My point?  A formal decree from above is not coming. Fancy panel of judges or no, there isn’t a single right answer to this dilemma.  Like death itself, we each have to wrestle this contradiction alone. The real ethical question?

Will we humble ourselves by taking a ruthlessly honest look at the toll our lives extract from others? My guess is we’d rather shield ourselves from introspection with dueling data, finger-pointing and clever bumper-sticker retorts.

Nature has an uncomplicated relationship with death. Nobody, two-legged or four is spared. We try hard to find a loophole, and Nature humors us. But she never lets us hide from her truth for long.

To Nature, death is just part of life. Creatures are born, creatures die.  The dead feed the living and the living eventually become the dead. Nature builds in harsh but perfect circles, not the logjams and cul-de-sacs we construct to avoid uncomfortable truths.

Remember the scene in the movie Cold Mountain where the old lady kills the goat?  The loving kindness the Goat-lady gave that trusting goat as she pierced its heart is a stunning moment.  Is it cruel betrayal or the heartfelt kindness of a true shepherd?  That goat didn’t suffer one bit, but sweetly laid down its head in eternal sleep, feeling safe in the trusted shelter of the Goat-lady’s lap.

Somehow, the intentionality of the Goat-Lady’s act really jams our brains. The abrupt killing contradicts the peaceful mercy of that death. The dichotomy rocks our certainty. We’d rather cover our eyes.

I raise cattle with love and tenderness, and I admit I cry every time I deliver one to slaughter. I don’t like slick words like “harvested” or “processed”. I prefer the unvarnished facts. A cow was killed because I decided it would be so. I won’t shirk my sadness or culpability with a perky elevator speech selling the rightness of my decision.

My beautiful, one-and-a-half-inch thick piece of well-raised beef is carefully cooked: rare with a perfectly browned crust.  I eat my steak mindfully with gratitude and pleasure. That steak is meaningful to me. I appreciate its full, bittersweet cost and I don’t waste a single scrap.  It’s delicious.

Recently, I plowed a field so I could plant some Monsanto-free organic vegetables.  A commendable act most Vegans would agree.  In doing so, I disturbed nests of bunnies and a home some peace-loving groundhogs have enjoyed for some time.  It was traumatic for those little creatures, and the hawks that trawl my pastures were elated. Thanks to my vegetables, there was a new all you can eat buffet in town. I didn’t kill anything myself, but I knew creatures would be living there. They live everywhere. Ethical?

We need to step away from our computers, books and chattering brains and deepen our understanding of Nature’s ways.  Only by maintaining a distant, academic understanding of Nature can you believe in the moral superiority of tofu.

When someone comes up with a real, actionable plan to free the animals, not rely on industrial foods and feed the soil in a sustainable way, my mind is open. Today, the most ethical thing I can do is provide a joyful, carefree life for my meat.

In this way, and only this way, I say yes.  It is ethical to eat meat. Life is grand, messy, confusing business.  I accept my assignment of hands-on, eyes-open, deliberate participation.

That’s as ethical as it gets.

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

Pink Slime is not my problem. And it doesn’t have to be yours either.

No worries about pink slime when you buy beef from small farms and trusted butchers.

I cannot help but be amazed by how many Google searches there have been for pink slime since Diane Sawyer’s report about this most charming of meat industry secrets. At first I was blushing with the new popularity my little blog had found until I realized it was all just a sad misunderstanding.

I had written this post about the marketing of meat by our local grocery store chain and the carefully crafted language used to head off growing interest in humanely raised grass-fed beef by the grocery store, The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Little did I know, but this week, my article contained all the right words to become an overnight Google sensation: Giant Eagle, pink slime, and beef.  I don’t know why this is just today such big news; pink slime has been public knowledge as early as 2002. But, thanks to ABC, today it’s a big deal.

I don’t want to get too scientific here; I am not a scientist.  I’ve read quite a few of the articles and I do suspect the indignant exposés are guilty of a little sensationalism of their own.  Does pink slime contain the household cleaning agent we’re all envisioning? Or is it just a hazing of ammonia gas? Or maybe a different form of ammonia with a bark much worse than its bite?

This online article, published in 2009 by Food Insight, is a very level-headed explanation about the use of ammonium hydroxide in the food industry. Before you get too lathered up, I recommend you give it a read.

After you’re done getting mad about your ground beef, better check to see if you’ve got any baked goods, cheeses, chocolates, candies like caramel or puddings in your pantry because ammonium hydroxide is commonly used to manufacture those too.

Oh, and:

 “Ammonia in other forms (e.g., ammonium sulfate, ammonium alginate) is used in condiments, relishes, soy protein concentrates/isolates, snack foods, jams and jellies, and non-alcoholic beverages.

The World Health Organization has listed hundreds of food types that may be processed using ammonium hydroxide when used in accordance with good manufacturing practices.  These include dairy products, confections, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, breakfast cereals, eggs, fish, beverages such as sports drinks and beer, and meats.”

Yawn.  I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t matter, not because it’s unimportant, but because this is the sort of thing I expect from industrial food.

Do you really expect big packers to NOT be stretching to feed you every scrap they possibly can? And if they can’t feed it to you, you can be sure they’re feeding it to your pet.

I suspect that the pink slime enhanced beef isn’t all that much more dangerous than any of the other highly processed crap foods we’re eating. But what does bother me, and I think everyone else, is the breach of trust.

They have taken a processed product with massive ick factor, pink slime, and added it to a supposedly unprocessed product, beef. Without labeling it as processed. All government approved.

If you want to be big industry, be proud of your big industry.  If your science adds value to your product by making it safer, then that’s great. Share it with pride. Inventing pink slime is no small feat – I wouldn’t couldn’t have done it, could you?

But, big industry isn’t satisfied with targeting their segment of the market and serving it well.  They want to squash and dominate everyone else’s market share too by claiming to be something they can never be; capable of providing the same degree of quality and attention to detail as small artisan craftsmen.

So, they manipulate labeling, crush marketing differentiation by small craft companies, and obscure practices they know don’t sound so friendly or farm-fresh. And they spend millions on media,  lobbyists and campaign contributions helping enforce secrecy, silencing competition and buying government support.

Like the old Aesop’s fable about the frog and the scorpion, I suppose to a point I have to accept that’s just the world I live in.  I don’t need to know any more about pink slime because I won’t be eating any of it. Or any more than absolutely unavoidable of any other processed foods either.

I buy meat, cheese, eggs & dairy only from farmers or butchers who can tell me all about the provenance of the animals and how they were processed.  And I highly recommend you do too.

We’ve seen it again and again,  and fortunately for corporations, we Americans have short memories.   We’re about to see a circus of  backpedaling, distancing, and holier than thou vowing to not serve beef with pink slime from a bunch of restaurants & grocery chains.

And The Cattlemen’s Beef Board and The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association?  Well, I’m not sure how they’ll spin this one.  I do expect to see plenty of the latest heartwarming Beef Checkoff campaign designed to focus our attention on family cattle farmers and away from the Big Industry hiding behind them.

OK people. Your mission? Go find some well raised meat asap!

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, contact us for our summer beef offering.

Not from Pittsburgh? Visit www.localharvest.com, or www.eatwild.com to find your local farmer today.

in which we have a Steak in the outcome

in which we have a Steak in the outcome

Can you tell I really liked this book? Entertaining, bright and funny...

Bacon, called by some “the gateway meat”, is often the animal flesh that rocks the strongest vegetarian resolve. Crazy as it sounds, my path to beef farming began with my attempts to be a vegetarian.  Obviously, a not very good one.

For me, the irresistible wasn’t bacon. It was steak.  A manly steak; New York Strip or rib eye, medium rare at most.  A beautiful, one-and-a-half-inch thick piece of well-raised beef, sporting a perfectly browned crust and sitting well rested and alone on a generous plate…

I know, I’ve said this before, but it makes me sad that consistent has come to define good with regard to food in America. And that’s exactly and all commodity grain-fed beef has become: consistent.  And now, being generations of Americans who have never tasted anything other, we believe tender = mushy, and flavor = rub, marinade and/or sauce when it comes to good beef.  Steak as we know it has become the chef’s blank canvas rather than the farmer’s art.

I suppose that’s why a truly extraordinary steak is as rare, haunting and mythic as the Loch Ness Monster. It’s amazing how many people can tell you exactly where and when that nostalgic meal took place. And one man, Mark Schatzker, loves his steak so much, he took it on as a Quest.  Capital Q, Quest, that is.

The book Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef is exactly what it claims to be: Mark Schatzker’s search around the world for the tastiest piece of beef. I’m a bit jealous, I admit, but he writes about it in such an entertaining and conversational way, I almost feel like I got to tag along. He starts in Texas (wow), heads to France (super-wow) where he finds a herd of ancient auroch, then Scotland, home of the esteemed Aberdeen Angus. After that, it’s Italy where I find the words to describe the thoughts I’ve had about my farm.

“There is a term that describes this [a distinctive taste for each distinctive region] phenomenon.  It is a foreign word—from France—and one that is often bandied about by pretentious people who stifle the atmosphere at dinner parties.  It is, nevertheless, a good word: terroir.”

It is a good word and Mark’s description is the perfect illustration of why I rarely use it. It makes me feel like a pompous ass. But, it is an important word here, since it describes everything I do.  Mark’s Italian friend Tilda uses the term “pure savor” which may be even more descriptive to me:

A pure savor is “any food where you can taste the nature that produced it.”

So, “ A Podolica [a breed of cattle indigenous to Italy] steak raised on Monte Tresino is a pure savor, but a feedlot steak from Texas, fed Nebraskan corn, coated with Montreal steak rub and swimming in a puddle of canned broth produced in some unknown factory, is not.”

Now, don’t let me get stuck in Italy. Mark moves on to Japan (fascinating), Argentina (nothing’s sacred), back home to Canada where he raises his own cow, then returns to the Heartland to wrap it up with his American team of grass & beef experts.  Each location contributes something unique, insightful and remarkably consistent  about what makes the best beef.  And, can I share a secret? Not that I recommend it, but:

“Start with good meat and it will be good even if you boil it.”

 “The secret to great steak isn’t the thickness, or ultra-low heat or ultra-high heat.  It isn’t dry aging, either, which is commendable but overrated— any rib eye that needs to be aged for sixty days isn’t a good rib eye to begin with.  The secret to great steak isn’t salting the day before, marinating in olive oil, or any other lost technique from the old country.  The secret to great steak is great steak.”

And, the USDA grading system isn’t even close to being comprehensive about what makes meat good. Tip: it’s not all about marbling.  Put all your steak buying decisions in the hands of the USDA grading system and you’re pretty much guaranteed to miss out on that elusive, mythic experience of a pure, beefy savor.

Time and time again, the flavor dial tilts in favor of grass-fed.  But, some of the worst steaks were also the grass-fed.  Grain-fed feedlot beef is easy to make consistent. Rations are mixed to be the same, all you have to do is dump the bucket full of grain into the trough and watch the cows get fat.

Grass-fed beef on the other hand is more complex – it  requires the farmer to demonstrate some thoughtfulness and skill.  You need to orchestrate your grasses, birth and slaughter times and even deeper, become a master of enriching your soil.  Because, it is true that two cows of the same age and breed can consume the same types and quantities of grass but live on different farms. You may expect them to taste the same, but no. They will taste different. The minerals in the soil of their different farms make their contribution to final flavor as does the level of contentment/stress the cows experience.

It takes more than simplified labels to identify good beef. A grass-fed label does not say anything about flavor, quality & texture.  It just tells you that cow did not eat grain.

I worry because some of the beef I see being sold as grass-fed has not been finished at all. I know that the farmer simply did not feed his cow grain which means that while it may be healthier, it will not be enjoyable.  And you are likely to blame your  disappointment on the fact the cow was grass-fed instead of the fact that it was the beef “equivalent of bad home-made wine.”  Mark has much to say about this:

“Grass isn’t so easy. Williams likens finishing cattle to playing guitar. ‘Feeding grain,’  he explained to me,  ‘is like knowing a few chords and playing an easy song. Finishing on grass is like being a virtuoso.’ ”

and

“One snowy winter day, I visited a farm where the farmer was letting the wrong kind of cows eat the wrong kind of grass.  The farmer and his wife were salt-of-the-earth types-three dogs, five kids-and lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse.  Most of their cows were fed corn, but a few of them ate grass and only grass, because growing numbers of precious foodie types down in the city had been clamoring for healthy, earth-friendly grass-fed beef.  I drove back to the city with a grass-fed sirloin and grilled it that night. …While chewing it, I debated whether the meat would make a better sandal or boot.”

So, someone who values well—raised beef and its healthful benefits is in danger of spending good money and getting a disappointing hunk of shoe leather.  And, ever after, believe the experience is proof that while grass-fed beef may be better for you, it is more health food than treat.  Which is completely false and leaves you in danger of missing out on the best steak experience of your life.

I was pretty excited also to see my belief that  old—fashioned unimproved breeds of cattle produce the most memorable beef was confirmed by experts. In particular, the old, un-“improved” British breeds are recognized as being superior in both flavor and texture and science is now beginning to demonstrate why.

Great news for our herd of compact Devon cattle - exactly the type of breed grass-fed beef experts recommend

Our Devons are as close to their original, smaller, slower growing British ancestors as can be. And their milk is high in butterfat, which, surprise surprise, is a significant indicator of good beef.

There is a documented relationship between cows producing milk with high butterfat content and superior marbling. And, a scientific reason the flavor and texture of the meat from smaller breeds who are slower to mature is so much finer.

So, you see, this book means a lot to me, especially since it reassures me that my farming decisions, exploratory and intuitive as they’ve been, are supported with data and the experience of farmers, experts and scientists I don’t get to chat with here in my small town.

Here, I’m the eccentric lady with the herd of “exotics” even though my “exotics” pre-date Roman times and the locally popular and hefty grain-fed Angus Hummers are evolutionary babies.  I could go on and on and actually paraphrase the entire book for you, but I won’t torture you that way.  I want you to read the book—it’s a four hooves up.

I could have highlighted the whole thing - important steak-y stuff from all around the world. Tag along on Mark's road trip and find yourself really hungry for something not so easy to find...

If you love beef but have felt it is somehow mysteriously lacking, you’ll gobble it up and learn something in spite of yourself. Makes me excited to get back to my work preserving and sharing something we are in real danger of losing.  And it should make you want to go out and find yourself a great steak.

If you decide to take up the Quest yourself, Mark has a website featuring contacts for some of the farms featured in the book. Also, be sure to check out eatwild.com and localharvest.org to find farmers in your area raising breeds you won’t find in the grocery store.

OK people, you have your mission….. readysetGO! And don’t forget to come back and share what you’ve found….

In which we are very clear

In which we are very clear

I'm not proud of myself or anything but look what I made! A kitchen basic every serious cook should learn...

Following an extended cookie/cheese/charcuterie season, I feel like a fatted calf myself.

I’m craving light, fresh, green, you know, the stuff that isn’t in season in Pennsylvania now.  The greenest things in my kitchen today are the pangs of envy I’m feeling for those of you blessed with citrus fruits in your yards  – some bright, lemony deliciousness would be a welcome treat.

But, we Pennsylvanians are not without our own winter brightness.  Thank goodness for cabbage, parsley and apples, I say.

I’ve decided this year to focus on improving my most basic kitchen skills. The ones we tend to skip because they’re too boring and fussy.  It’s much more fun to fast-forward to the more exciting stuff like splashing  sauces with flourish and setting things on fire.

Without mastering the basics, you will still make some fine, enjoyable meals.  But, you will remain dependent on recipes and the store for spices and ingredients.  Master the basics and you advance to creating memorable, haunting dishes from nothing more than you can scrounge from the freezer or pantry.

Since beef is my thing, I thought beef consommé would be a good project to start.  When you have good quality stock or broth on hand, you’re ready to make so many quick yet amazing meals on the fly.  Making stock has been part of my weekly routine for a long time. I swear, it’s not really a big time hog; my stove does most of the work while I sleep.

I make good stock, but because I usually choose the quick and dirty method, I tend to skip the little tedious steps that would make my stock great.  I happily eat rustic, rough-around-the-edges foods with bits and chunks, but for some reason after weeks of holiday excess I really, really wanted some beautiful, super clear, purest of pure essence of beef. So, consommé it is.

My mission had several goals:

  1. To make quality use of typically wasted parts of the cow 
  2. To experience the difference the extra fussery makes in the final stock 
  3. To decide if said fussery is worthwhile 
  4. To see if I could

My imaginary helpers for this project were Darina Allen, author of my go-to cookbook Forgotten Skills of Cooking, Queen of Bones & Fat Jennifer McLagan and a tip or two from Paul Bertolli of Cooking by Hand fame. I know. How intimidated lucky can I be?

Important Step One: Start with good beef.

I was fortunate to have access to 3 whole ox tails, a part of the cow often ignored. My tails were purchased directly from a local farmer who raises lovely, healthy, grass-fed Angus beef. OK, I will confess ox tail is not my favorite cut of beef, but this is mainly due to laziness on my part. A low slow braise turns it into yummy pot-roast like shreds and ox tail makes some of the best stock ever – lots of rich beefy flavor and super-silky texture.

My ox tails on a bed of carrots, onion and celery, ready for a good roasting. Ox tails are usually cut more conveniently than this; if not, ask your butcher to be sure and score them for easier handling.

About your meat choice, my esteemed helpers say:

Paul Bertolli:  “It is important that the meat and poultry you use be impeccably fresh.  The broth pot is not the place for old or ‘high’ meat, as their off aromas do not cook away.”

Jennifer McLagan:  “Don’t buy your beef and veal just anywhere.  A good butcher, or a local small producer, can ensure the provenance of your meat and guarantee that your veal is humanely raised.  The tenderness of beef cuts can’t be judged by simply looking at them; a good butcher carefully ages his meat to ensure its flavor and tenderness.”

Darina Allen: “For strength of flavor in this, the meat really needs to be aged.  Fresh meat will not give you the depth of flavor you need for good consommé.”

My Note: you may feel confused by possible conflict between the advice of Paul Bertolli and Darina Allen. There is in fact none. Off or spoiled is not the same as aged. Aged meat is not rancid. Rather, it has been allowed to rest in a climate-controlled environment after slaughter to allow excess water to evaporate and enzymes to break down the strands of muscle fiber. Aging is what makes the meat more tender and flavorful. So, it is possible for your beef to be both aged and impeccably fresh.

One other confusing factoid: Darina comes from a background of small, diversified farming in Ireland where it is commonly understood that the meat from older cows produces more flavorful meat. In the US, we have become accustomed to our beef coming from very young cattle and are not often able to experience the difference age adds to the meat. If you can, give mature beef a try. It’s true; old animals make the best broth.

Important Step Two: Make good stock.

Usually, I make stock from leftovers. Bones of earlier meals, scraps of veggies, whatever needs to be used up, thrown straight into a pot, covered with cold water and allowed to simmer all day. I admit to skipping the roasting step that really does make a big difference.

Today, before starting, browning convert that I am, I always begin by throwing my veggies and/or meat into a roasting pan and roasting first.  When using onions, leave the skins on for a small shortcut and additional color.

Paul Bertolli: Uses a stove top method, browning the meat in batches in an oil coated heavy bottomed stockpot though he says, “It is not necessary to brown the meat to the point that its surface develops a crust.” Another Bertolli difference: He uses a mixture of 70 percent beef (made from a combination of meat and meaty bones) for meaty flavor, 20 percent poultry to which he attributes a “soft and homey dimension of flavor”,  and 10 percent gelatinous pork for collagen and silky texture. He uses no vegetables or seasoning – his is meat juice straight up. He prefers the pure flavor of the meat extraction and since the broth will be later used in preparations that  contain vegetables, adding them sooner is unnecessary.

Jennifer McLagan: Roasts meat first in the oven at 425°. She also scatters carrots, celery, onion and leek over the bottom of the roaster, and places rinsed bones patted dry on the vegetable bed. She roasts the meat for an hour, turning several times until  well browned.

Darina Allen: Also uses aromatic vegetables and an oven roast, but she uses a 450° oven, roasts her beef bones w/scraps of meat on them for 30 minutes alone, then adds the veggies until they are colored at the edges. She also adds garlic, clove, peppercorns, bouquet garni and tomato paste to the liquid.

My note: good stock is forgiving. All three yield excellent results.  The most important ingredient is time and attention. I tend to mix and match from all three methods and have not been disappointed yet. Can you ruin it? Absolutely – simmer slowly and check on it regularly or you will boil the liquid away and burn the pot. Once the pot is burned dry, there’s no salvation. Your stock is officially ruined.

Find a printable recipe for basic beef stock here.

Important step three: The raft

This is the part where things get freaky. I had never seen this done and it takes a bit of faith because the directions sound a little suspect. A raft is used to clarify the broth. It’s a mixture of pureed carrots, celery, leeks, beef and egg whites, poured into cold skimmed stock, stirred well, brought to a boil slowly over low heat and stirred constantly.  What??  This stuff looks NASTY and my stock is a priceless elixir of beautiful well raised  ox tails plus a day of my time…. I don’t want to do it.

I am not exaggerating the fearsome nasty appearance of the clarifying raft.

But, Jennifer McLagan promises that “… my perseverance will be rewarded with a stunning golden broth with an intense beef flavor.”  And Darina Allen calls consommé the “…pure essence of beef – simple, elegant and nourishing.”  She also says that, “Even for many trained chefs, it’s often a forgotten skill and a real accomplishment when successful.”  Paul Bertolli is silent on the subject of consommé but his devotion to craftsmanship is so evident, if he makes it I’m sure it is the golden-est,  clear-est, most intensely flavored nectar imaginable.

Important tips from the masters:

DA: “As soon as the mixture looks cloudy and slightly milky, stop whisking. Allow the filter of egg whites to rise slowly to the top of the saucepan. DO NOT STIR the consommé; just leave it to simmer gently for 45 minutes – 1 hour to extract all the flavor from the beef and vegetables.”

JL:  “As the liquid approaches the boil, it will appear to curdle; don’t panic, that is what you want.”  “The whites will form a congealed mass on the surface, which will puff up and then crack as the steam escapes.”  Whew…

So anyway, nervously I realize my no-guts-no-glory moment has arrived and I dump the unsightly mess into my lovingly simmered, de-fatted and cold but de-jelled beef jell-o. I trust my mentors to get me through and take extra care to follow instructions precisely, but YIKES!

Well, thankfully, my mentors have not let me down. It worked! After gently simmering this nastiness for 45 minutes, I lift off the scum, slowly strain the clarified broth through a double layer of coffee filters in a wire strainer and LOOK! It’s gorgeous! Golden! And PERFECTLY CLEAR!

Lift off this putrid looking mess

Strain slowly & gently through a dampened double layer of cheesecloth, thin dish towel or two coffee filters

It's clear, golden and delicious. Little black dress in a bowl. Of course I couldn't resist adding those ravioli...

Both chefs strongly warn to resist rushing the straining and to not be tempted to press the mixture through the strainer as that will cloud the consommé.

Click here for a printable recipe for ox tail consommé.

I admit I’m a little excited. It’s delicious too. But, I also know it’s probably one of those things that my eaters will not express proportionate admiration for. After all, isn’t beef broth from a can clear? Isn’t this the sort of punishment food you get in the hospital?

I decide the ultimate garnish is what I need to ensure this broth reads VERY SPECIAL: ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS TO MAKE. The punctuation for my nectar is inspired by recipes from both Jennifer McLagan and Paul Bertolli.

The meat left on the bones after making your stock should not be wasted, but should live on as an unbelievably rich, tender and flavorful filling for pastas and other yummy treats.

Jennifer McLagan’s suggestion that my consomme could be garnished with a wonton wrapper stuffed with diced ox tail and minced parsley (cooked separately of course to not cloud the crystal-clear broth) got me a little excited,  so I adapted some home-made semolina pasta, hand rolled it (don’t give me too much credit here – I didn’t have wonton wrappers, fancy white flour or a pasta machine and I wasn’t going to the store) and made rustic ravioli.

I married Paul Bertolli’s alternate filling from leftover sugo meat recipe to Jennifer McLagan’s minced ox tail and parsley stuffed wonton suggestion. Being so bold as to “improve” Paul Bertolli’s filling recipe, the addition of fresh parsley makes me like it even more.

Find the printable ox tail filling recipe here.

Ta-Da! To say I’m proud of myself would be a bit of an understatement, but to say I’m glad I took pictures because this won’t be happening again anytime soon is even more true.

Glad I did it, have learned much about that culinary workhorse stock and the experience has deepened my understanding of broth in many valuable ways. And, now I can spell consommé without looking it up!

Let me also say my thrifty friends, lest you’re fretting about all the wasted beef, vegetables and egg from my raft, no worry. A special staff dinner was held where it was very much appreciated.

Special perks to the extermination staff for a job well done. Nothing goes to waste around here...

In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

From all over the place and Snopes.com. Originally posted in the Daily Journal, Kankakee, Michigan.

 Can this be? Is somebody somewhere having a huge laugh watching this thing go viral? Or is this truly possible in our alternate American universe?

I would never believe that this was anything but a joke except for one thing. I actually know people struggling to maintain this kind of convoluted relationship between their brain, reality and food. Most of them would never go this far  but they can get pretty riled up in their heated rants against hunting.

Of course, I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t understand that somehow the package of plastic wrapped meat they found at the grocery store was at one time a living, breathing animal. They just choose to press that bit of fact out of their rational everyday thoughts.

For a long time, one of my pet peeves has been misleading marketing. As I’ve grown older and hopefully matured, I find my understanding and beliefs about marketing have deepened and evolved. Having spent much of my adult life working in sales and marketing, boy do I understand the spinning of a message. And the power of an image.

Today, I’m reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis. While I’m not finished yet and have much more to say about the book, I couldn’t wait to mention it in relation to this classified ad (hoax or not) because it does much to explain how such ignorance could actually exist in our “smart” modern society.

Successful marketing consists of things like appealing display cases, helpful FAQS, buying guides, recipes and romanticized stories. Since the eating of animals is something we feel squeamish about, marketers know that we will grasp at the flimsiest evidence to either push the whole idea out of our heads completely or to support our belief that what we are doing is OK.

And they are more than happy to make full use of our desire to not know.

Marketers know that a pretty description including very little factual information, or an invented certification seal is usually all it takes to get us to turn a blind eye (whew!) to industry practices that no one would ever feel comfortable performing in their own home.

Marketers also know we no longer have any deep food knowledge with which to judge their products. We have no memory of what makes one cut of beef better than another. We are more than willing to be herded towards the most convenient solution offering the “best” of limited choices, mainly due to our preference to not know the back story.

Meat made at the store, where no animals were harmed…

Friends, pleaseBy far, the unkindest cut of all is willful ignorance.  It’s not cute when you giggle, “Don’t tell me, or I won’t be able to eat it” about your meat and dairy. If you can’t stand the knowledge, then you shouldn’t buy it or eat it. Delegating the dirty work isn’t innocence, and it’s not funny or charming.

I have to quote my meat hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of The River Cottage Meat Book fame; no thinking carnivore should be without this Bible in the kitchen.  Hugh says:

“The cruel practices I have mentioned have been increasingly publicized and clearly do not have popular support. Numerous polls and surveys indicate that the vast majority of the public objects to them and would like to see them banned. So surely they soon will be. Won’t they?

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Not just yet, it seems. Because the same moral majority of the pollster’s main street becomes the immoral majority, once they get behind the wheels of a shopping cart. They continue to buy the products they are so quick to condemn. So these appalling, abusive practices, it turns out, do have popular support – albeit that the supporters are in denial (it seems that nothing suppresses the exercise of conscience as effectively as the words ‘Buy one, get one free’). But there’s no getting away from it: if you buy something, you support the system that produces it.”

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I’m sorry,  I haven’t been much fun lately, but back to the original point. Is it a hoax, or is it genuine? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It, and the scorn and ridicule it has attracted on the internet has reminded me of our complicated relationship with our food and the natural world.

Looks like a long, hard road ahead Ladies…..

This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday, a lively blog hop hosted by our friends at Gastronomical Sovereignty. If you’re looking for tips, recipes, projects and ideas about real food and farming, you need to get over there.

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