Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Meat Hook Brooklyn NY

  A couple weeks ago I got up early and braved the tangled roads,bridges and construction to visit with the butchers at the Meat Hook in Brooklyn. I've known about the place for a long time and been meaning to get there to see whats going on. They are located within the confines of the Brooklyn Kitchen store on 100 Frost St. Meat Hook features some amazing dry aged grass fed beef, small farm pork and poultry, unique sausages and a ton of prepared products including their own lardo, marrow butter, smoked bacons. Ben Turley was glad to show me around and explained how and where they get all their meats. The concepts of Meat Hook include absolute integrity when it comes to being able to tell their customers how and where their meat is raised. They do this without being pretentious or "preachy". Ben explained the relationship between the shop and their customers as "Here is our product. Its really good and we like it. Its kind of expensive but we understand if you don't like it or don't want to afford it." They don't scream "how can you even consider eating anything but or local product?" But their product is really good! The pork had lots of marbling, the grass fed beef had good color and some marbling and lots of intermuscular fat. The sausages were well made and loaded with flavor. The Szechuan Sausage was great and the Toasted Fennel and Garlic was a fine choice. They were making a green Chorizo called Toluca when I showed up. That one was superb. All their stuff is made in-house and not off sight unless it is made in their close-by sandwich shop location.
  The Meat Hook Sandwich Shop is about three blocks away from the main location and offers really nice large sandwiches, quality beverages, and good sides. They roast all their own meats and use locally sourced baked goods. If you find yourself in Brooklyn, head over to the shop and buy some quality grass fed steaks and then walk over to the sandwich shop and get a killer lunch sandwich.

 The Butcher Shop
100 Frost Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 349-5032
Monday - Saturday 10AM - 8PM, Sunday 11AM - 7PM

The Sandwich Shop
495 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Monday - Saturday  11am - 9pm, Sunday 11AM - 4PM

Monday, August 3, 2015

Readings....Year of the Cow

The other day I was getting some work done on my driveway. The guy running the excavator was waiting for a load of stone and we got to talking about food. He recently bought the machinery from a small butcher shop in Hudson NY and now he and his family cut and process all of their own meat. He buys beef from a local grower and breaks it all down into meal size parts. Many people today are considering this type of purchase which goes back to a much earlier time of subsistance farming. Most are buying locally raised meat and having a small processor break it all down and package it for the freezer. Meiler's in Pine Plains does this and so do some other small local plants.
 Back in the early summer I was contacted by a publisher about a book that was just coming out, Year of the Cow by Jared Stone. Its a story of a TV producer in LA that buys a large chest freezer and then finds a farm thats producing some quality beef and buys a full steer. Its a great story of nose to tail cooking presented not by a chef but by a quality home cook. Jared loves cooking and is willing to take the time to slow down from his very hectic life and actually cook! Jared slowly cooks his way through the beef for a whole year, preparing all sorts of delicious braises, steaks, jerky and some unique offal dishes. The book is also about how his family changes the way they eat and what the effect is on their health and energy level. It as much about eating whole foods as it is about eating local. He describes his lifestyle changes and how his energy levels go up when he changes what he eats.
 I hear and read about people who want to eat local and how its the right thing to do. Many race out to their high end market or stop by a booth at the farmers market to buy some local meat. They will ask "do you have any striploin or rib eye steaks?" and then balk at the pricetag. Most people don't realize that the precentage of beef that is the recognizable high quality steaks (striploin, tenderloin, rib eye) make up only a very small fraction of the full carcass. The lrgest parts are the huge solid roast sections of the round and the complicated muscle layers of the chuck, both of which don't make the same quality level steaks as the previously mentioned. But they can be made into steaks if tenderized or used as braising slow cook steaks, which have tons of flavor but require cooking knowledge. This book gives some great ideas.
 Year of the Cow is published by Flatiron Books NY NY and can be found on Amazon for about $16. Its a quick summer read and will make you hungry.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Divide and conquer...or not?

I like a nice rib eye steak. I like it thickish and cut from the chuck side. I like it with some rich intermuscular fat (fat between the muscles) and I like it grilled at a high heat over hickory coals to give it lots of crust. I season it a day ahead with salt, pepper and chopped garlic. That fat drips down into the coals and flares up in a smoky swirl. It goes perfect with a large salad of greens out of the garden and some nice basic apple cider vinaigrette which helps cut the richness of the steak. That, and a nice glass of Montepulciano (12 bucks for the big bottle!), is a perfect steak dinner. This may be a meal I have 4 or 5 times a year. Is it healthy? I'm not sure, nor do I consider that part of it. The fat is rich but I'm not eating this everyday. I suspect the processed fat in french fries or nuggets, with its antifoaming agents, is also harmful.
 Enough about what I like, lets discuss the trend in foodservice to take traditional steak cuts and divide them into smaller pieces that all seem to resemble a tenderloin medallion. We do this in class all the time. I've been teaching how to divide the top sirloin butt into medallions for the past ten years, showcasing the baseball steak and attempting to convert even the cap into medallions. ( If you are not following this here is a link) This cut, traditionally, would be a large slicing steak. I still think that is a great way to cook it, with some exterior fat left on the edge.
 Another presentation is to denude the striploin and divide it in half the long way and make striploin medallions. This is a way to cut the steak thicker and not serve such a huge portion. The trouble with this is that the steaks can sometimes look like a half moon.
 We also see the rib eye being divided. This process involves taking the cap or inner deckle off and isolating the longissumus dorsi ( which is basically the same muscle that runs along the entire back of the animal and is the striploin). The problem with this is the nuscle that is isolated for medallions is conical in shape and difficult to portion into even looking cuts and the cap ( deckle) must be sold as a seperate piece.
 A big part of all this dividing thats going on is chefs wanting to serve smaller, thicker cut portions. This may make sense but there really needs to be some serious yield testing done on these. Every cut I mentioned requires a lot of trimming and denuding of fat. These, other than the tenderloin, are the most expensive cuts you can buy. Taking them apart, trimming them into "unnatural" shapes really cuts into the profits if you aren't charging enough.
 Another reason I think the beef industry likes these innovations is that beef in general has gotten larger over the years and many chefs were complaining they cannot cut a nice thick steak at a reasonable weight. This way of cutting enables the beef industry to grow monster size cuts and not worry because chefs will be cutting everything in half.
 I am not the one to suggest whether these cutting styles are a good idea or not. Chefs need to cost and experiment with these cuts to see if they are profit worthy. But don't forget fat is flavor.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cochon 555...turns that butcher loose!!

Over the past 5 years I've been involved with the Cochon555 events that travel around the country. I typically get a bunch of student volunteers to help out at the NYC event and have helped with demos there and in Vail. If you are not familiar with Cochon check it out here  It is an amazing competition that features five area chefs preparing five heritage breed pigs and also five quality vintners but also other great foods and distilled drinks. The chefs create numerous nose to tail menu items and their creativity is totally unleashed.
  Brady Lowe, the grand idea master who came up with this incredible party, is an advocate for locally raised and heritage breed pigs and one of the main goals has been to showcase the farmers as well as the chefs. It really is a truly great time had by all.
 There is one part of the event that trumps all others for me, and that is the butchery demo. Each event features a whole hog being cut up by a star/craft butcher. The butcher typically works with heritage breed pork on a regular basis and gets a chance to show their skill to hundreds of on lookers. This is the cool part... the hog is whole, unsplit and the butcher can cut it any way they like! So how many ways are there to cut a pig? Don't you just cut it into primals etc just like the big companies? Absolutely not. The styles I've seen at these events allow the butcher to go beyond the norm and let their culinary mind take over to create cuts that you just don't see in a supermarket or purveyor's box. The commodity pork we see presented out there doesn't follow seams or leave any fat on cuts. The breakdown doesn't take into account muscle shapes. But at Cochon they TURN THAT BUTCHER LOOSE!! and the resulting work is truly unique to that person.
 Over the years I've broken down many quality local pigs and I typically show my students the standard commercial cuts so they can recognize them when they buy it but we talk a lot about alternative methods. I've also cut pigs at my nephew Austin's after we do a slaughter. In both cases I don't use a band saw and barely use the hand saw.
 The term "artisan" butcher gets kicked around a lot. What makes a butcher artisan? All of the butchers I know or have known over the years were hardworking tradesmen or craftspeople if you must put a label on them. They cut to fill showcases or prepare meats for grind, sausage, charcuterie, salumi etc. They do it with speed and dexterity and not always thinking about "art". But on this Sunday Jan. 25th 2015, Erika Nakamura will be the artist, front and center at Cochon 555.... and I'll be watching with my glass held high!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Beef Impact Study....Not New News

 Ruminants are not efficient eaters! If you feed a pig some carbs it will put on fat and grow quickly. The same goes for chickens and most other poultry. But beef? They eat and then ferment their foodstuffs and produce all sorts of gas. They take much longer to reach full size. They drink a lot of water and the feeds they eat require irrigation, fertilizer, harvesting, storage and lots of energy! Here is an article explaining the study. It states beef causes at least 10 times the impact on the environment than other meats. This is not really new news. The question of whether or not to eat meat is one that many people are considering today but it may come to another layer, not whether or not to eat meat but if you decide to eat it, what types have the least impact? This study shows how much less poultry and pork require much less feed and water per pound. They don't require pasture lands and can be raised in a lot of environments.
   Here are a few other things to consider. If you don't eat meat, and choose strictly a vegetarian diet what is your impact? Certainly there is a reduction in greenhouse gases and this fact is as an absolute. But how and what are you buying? How far away did your food come from? Its ironic to state you don't eat meat because of the impact on the environment but then buy olive oil imported all the way from Italy, drink wine from Chile or Spain, eat lettuce produced in California in winter, cook with chopped garlic that originated in China. What about the processed foods? Breads, crackers, boxed cereals, all packaged in plastics etc. An example is the super nutritious food, Quinoa. Its attributes are fantastic but it is grown in the high Andes Mountains. How does it get to us? Our food's environmental impact is enormous and meat is a major part of it, but we need to consider many things beyond the farming impacts. We need to consider travel and packaging.
  Back to beef....I would like to see a study on the impact of raising beef on pasture compared to grain finished. Beef raised close to the consumer, without the feedlot and the crop impacts that go along with that, in areas that can support pasture raised beef. I'll bet the impact would drop considerably. There are a lot of conflicting papers and articles on this subject. On one hand you have the conventional beef industry claiming grass fed impacts just as much as regular beef because it takes longer for cattle to reach their market weight. This may be true but they are not considering breed and pasture quality. There are breeds that will finish better on grass than others, Red Devon comes to mind. These cattle are smaller which, as a chef , I find appealing. Beef size has gotten huge in the past few years. On the other hand, studies that are designed to refute the pluses from grass feeding also come from the vegetarian side. Grass feeding impacts the planet, that is for sure, but there are different styles of grass feeding. If you finish the animal on stored "grass" which can be a number of feeds and the resulting impact will not be that much different than feedlot beef. If you use this as your model then it won't show a big difference between the two styles. Real pasture raised, where rotational grazing techniques are used, and pasture lands are sequestering a certain amount of carbon must have less of an impact than regular grain finished feed-lot beef. That just seems like common sense.
  One way or the other, ruminants are less efficient than other meats. The price of it should reflect that and often does, and therefore the consumers would naturally reduce the consumption. The problem is when we allow cheap meats from Brazil, Mexico or Uruguay that keep our burger prices artificially low and consumption high.
  The spin on this subject is well funded and passionate. Fingers are pointed and accusations are made from the vegetarian and conventional beef industry sides....but the impacts are real and consumption is increasing due to the increases in wealth in China. Here is an article that lists the amount of meat waste the world allows... This is a way to reduce the impact also.

Monday, July 21, 2014

NYC Local

  I'm looking for more info on this subject and the goal is to encourage all types of restaurants to consider using more local products, so please feel free to add lots of comments.
   The difficulties in serving local meats in a restaurant setting are many but certainly not overcome with some planning and changes in purchasing mindset. First we need to define local. What is an acceptable range for local? Some claim 50 or 100 mile radius but for a restaurant in NYC this may be difficult. There are farms close enough but the volume would be depleted in a day if most restaurants had a “local only” menu. So many restaurants have broadened to a regional area. Purchasing meats in NYC from the region might mean extending out to farms in Pennsylvania, western New York, New England, New Jersey, or even beyond into Virginia, Quebec, Ohio. The focus may drift from locality to the raising style of the meat and of course, price. Some of the prerequisites for “local” might be free roaming or pasture fed, maybe grass fed, or raised outdoors. Restaurants may require specific labeling such as USDA Certified Organic or NOFA, certified American Grass fed, Humanely Raised and Handled and more. Defining local is up to the restaurateur and the customer. Purchasing is another hurdle. Most small farmers that are raising meats in this style are selling their meats for top dollar in the local farmer’s market or as whole freezer orders. Many will not sell a subprimal cut let alone an individual portion cut. So how does the restaurant purchase? Some are buying the whole or half animal, breaking it down in-house. This presents problems of inequality in the types of cuts available. There is only so much Rib Eye compared to chuck cuts.
  Some purveyors have jumped in to try to satisfy the restaurant needs and this area of purchasing is growing. Examples would be Debragga and Spitler selling all grass-fed beef cuts and burgers from their sources in western NY and featuring Mangalitsa pork from NJ as well as specialty poultry from small processors in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Another quality purveyor, Pat LaFrieda, is selling some local products and is adding more. These types of purveyors are servicing the very high quality restaurants in NYC and they allow a restaurant to purchase meat in the “normal” way without having to buy a whole carcass or pick the meats up themselves etc.
   Another option is to buy from some of the smaller niche markets that focus primarily on retail sales. Places like The Meat Hook and Fleishers in Brooklyn or Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport, Conn. are selling cuts customized for restaurants. Many restaurants that sell local make a connection with a farm at a farmers market or off a website where they can make arrangements to either have it delivered or go and pick up directly. Restaurants typically want to feature the name of the farm on their menu so this connection can be very important.
    Many NYC restaurant menus that are featuring local meats are not necessarily 100% local. Some will approach it with a few local items such as a local burger, local chicken or duck, local pork cured products but rarely will you see a local beef striploin or tenderloin steak. There are some but many tend to run these expensive cuts as a featured item as opposed to a regular menu item. Restaurants that feature local also tend to feature meats from a distance but raised in a style that will be appealing to the same type of customers. Meats that feature a specific name brand such as Niman Ranch, Creekstone Farms, Meyer Angus, Berkwood Farms Pork, Bell and Evan’s Poultry. These are examples of quality name brands that are certainly not local but are produced in ways that might have some of the same features that the customer is looking for in a local product. Heritage breed names, feed styles or lack of pharmaceuticals in production are features that many customers will seek out, in addition to local, when considering their purchase.
   There are certainly plenty of restaurants featuring local meats but some are doing a much more comprehensive effort than others. A prime example is Gramercy Tavern where much of their meats are locally sourced. Perla is also featuring some local product and the chef has a lot of butchery skill in utilizing the whole carcass. Bill Telepan, owner of Telepan, does some local products and features lots of local pork on his menus. Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns needs to be mentioned here as well. They are strict about their local offerings and hold to their ideals that serving local is very important. But the truth of the matter is that many other restaurants claim they sell local but the menu reflects only a small portion of their meats are local if any at all. Many “talk” local but are not serious about using local products when it becomes inconvenient.
   Some restaurants are approaching the local menu idea with a different idea. In addition to their regular menu they have a small selection of “nose to tail” items on a separate menu. This gives the chef the freedom to purchase a whole carcass and make all sorts of interesting alternatives. Bar Boulud features a four item nose to tail menu featuring Raven and Boar pork, Feast features Whole Hog Mondays. The term “feast” is becoming a popular way to present a “tasting” menu with a singular meat theme. Resto and Trestle on Tenth both feature unique party menus or “feasts” that are price fixed featuring whole carcass dishes. They require you reserve a few days ahead. Blue Hill offers a summer ”feast” and they showcase seasonality as well as location.
    A good source for locating local meats is the EatWild website. They showcase a number of New York farms and the restaurants that are featuring their food.
    The solution to serving local meat is multi-layered. Flexibility seems to be the key. Being able to feature the whole carcass, especially with beef and lamb, and using all of the variety of cuts is the best way to feature local. Pork is the easiest in that it can also be sold as cured and sausage products and poultry are easy because they are small enough to be sold as whole or cut up portions. Having the staff to break it down and use everything is crucial but also having a chef to think of enough dishes to use it all is also important. The alternative is to leave it up to the purveyor to sell local in typical restaurant cuts. This is a growing area and more places are getting into it. Companies are re-evaluating their products to see if they can cash in on the local movement. An example is Leidy’s Pork from southern PA. They are not a small company compared to others but they are also not a huge conglomerate located thousands of miles away. Olymel is a huge pork producer in Quebec that sends their products around the world, or Taylor Packing Co., a Cargill owned beef processor in western PA that slaughters 4,000 beef cattle a day, can they be considered local? These are the decisions that must be made with care in the restaurant

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Local Cheers and Woes

 I recently saw a special party menu featuring local beef tenderloin. Sheesh! A large party featuring over twenty beef tenderloins! That's more than 10 whole animals. What was the reasoning behind the menu idea? Many chefs today want to ride the next popular wave and create menus that will catch the customers desire to be eating what is on the cutting edge of the culinary world. The term "local" has jumped on to many menus all over the nation and beyond. Local seasonal vegetables, local free-ranged eggs, beer featuring locally grown hops, wines from local grapes all combined on to menus,
giving the customer a way to support local farmers. Meats are part of this puzzle and featuring local meats is absolutely possible and being done, even on the food truck level.
 So why did this menu irk me so much? My worry is that "local" takes on some sort of elitist tag when viewed on a menu. The last thing the local supporters and farmers want to see is their products becoming an elitist out of reach food source for restaurants.
 Here is a scenario. There's a chef running a nice bistro with and eclectic menu that they've created from experiences and travels. They look to serve local products. Why? In their travels to Spain, Italy or Hungary they found that the best food had was in small places that featured the food and wine from that area. Chefs there had a relationship with a local greengrocer or butcher and they bought through the age old practices of haggling and "working" each other for the best prices. The chef here wants to recreate that experience in the US. Do they want to put this local stuff on their menu because its trendy? The answer should be NO, they want to use the local products because they have a better flavor and they have a relationship with their farmer or purveyor.
 The hard part for a restaurant, especially when concerning the use of local meats, is two fold. First the price tends to be higher and restaurants are always struggling with profit margins. It is sooo tempting to look at the prices from a large distributor and buy pre-cleaned vegis or pre-cut meats that are ready to go and may have decent flavor. Second, buying meats from a local source often means buying a large primal or full carcass. A purveyor that sells cuts that are broken into small subprimals is most likely to not be selling truly local products or they are going to charge a fortune. They also most likely will not have enough of one cut available, especially if it is a small item such as a teres major, tenderloin, lamb loin or middle meat cuts such as striploin or rib eye. The" local only"butcher shops that I know can get top dollar for these cuts in their retail case so why would they want to sell to restaurants at a discount. My friend Kevin at Side Hill Farmers in Syracuse NY would be more than willing to let chefs know what cuts are available that are outside of the normal middle meat cuts.
 The point is if a chef wants to feature local they need to be flexible and inventive in their creations. It showcases much more skill as a chef to create a dish from a beef bottom round or lamb breast than from the middle meat cuts. These types of cuts, although, as local, they may still be more expensive than larger commercial meats, will be reasonable enough to make a good margin.
 So how would a large hotel or banquet hall present local? This may require some really inventive thinking but a chef might consider a grind product as part of the menu or appetizers. A chef might buy a half hog and make a myriad of different sausages that could compliment the meal, or provide a local burger on the lunch menu. A big operation might not be able to do the absolute local product but might consider a regional meat item. A casino in Connecticut could feature pork from a large plant in Pennsylvania rather than from a distant plant. This shows at least the spirit of local and could prove attractive on a menu. The definitions of local can vary from chef to chef.
 Personally, I think beef tenderloin lacks the flavor depth of many other cuts and it takes very little skill to roast it. To put "local" beef tenderloin on any banquet menu reeks of desperation of a chef that is trying to keep up with the "trend" of local without changing from their old mindset and in the end appearing as a food elitist, even if that wasn't the original intention.
Assorted meat dishes at The Cannibal in NYC from local sources
P.S. Local beef tenderloin sold at my friends at the Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport Conn. sells for $38. per lb!