Saturday, August 29, 2009

Foraged Burger

I was out riding my bike in the woods the other day and I came upon a huge patch of Chanterelle mushrooms. What does this have to do with butchering? Well I began thinkinag about how we eat and how much of our food is "arranged" for us by stores. I brought home a handful stuffed into my emptied water bottle and thought about lunch. I scoured the fridge and found I had some hamburger, home smoked bacon ( from Bob Schneller) a lttile crusty end peice of Tol Epi Swiss cheese, a half of a Vidalia onion, a cheapo roll and some fresh picked red leaf lettuce from the garden. I was foraging through my own fridge to make a super burger. Oh yeah, I had some homemade, fremented garlic dill pickles too! I sauteed the mushrooms and onions, fried off the bacon, grilled the burgerand melted the cheese over the top. I had successfully foraged some great mushrooms ( I later went back on foot and harvested overr 12 lbs!!) but I also had "foraged " through my fridge to make the combination. This is an act that many of us do all the time. Instead of planning a meal we look at what is in the fridge and pantry and concoct something.

Butchery?? Where is the connection here? Well at the CIA we are starting a new concept restaurant that will focus on local, sustainable foods. The meat components are partially my responsibility in that we will no longer be receiving HRI type cuts that are in the bag but instead, whole carcasses of locally raised pork, lamb and beef. It will be easy to sell the high end middle meat cuts such as the racks, loins, high end steaks etc. but what do we do with all of the rest? Only about 20% of the beef carcass is ribeye, striploins, tenderloin, sirloin. The rest are big bulky cuts from the chuck and round as well as the fatty cuts from the plate and brisket. How can a chef sell these cuts? It is a challenge. The menu might need to change often and things may be 86ed throughout service. Dishes might need to be planned using interchangeable cuts. A braise? Does it need to be a specfic cut? It makes it alot more difficult to recreate the same dish with different cuts that may cook slower or faster than others but this is the exciting challenge that chefs that choose to use the whole carcass enjoy.

I like the idea of the fridge forager. What do we have left? Think on your feet, create 20 portions of this or that and when they are gone move on to the next cut. You have to explain this to the waitstaff and communication will need to be instant. The chalkboard updated! You also need to train the customer to trust the kitchen in that whatever is on the menu will live up to their expectations. And, oh yeah.... you can always grind a variety of cuts to make that ever popular dish that was featured on the cover of Saveur recently....the burger.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Grass Fed Brisket and Gab

Fleischer's in Kingston had some nice grass fed brisket of beef the other day so I purchased a piece and did a basic BBQ. Slow cooked until it shredded and dropped on a roll with some cole slaw for a summer treat! If you don't know Fleischer's you should take a trip up to Kingston, NY to check it out. They break down all their beef on a table and all of it is from whole local carcasses where they know how the animals were raised. It isn't an inexpensive shop but thats not what they are about. Its about artisan butchery and traceability of the meat. I worked with Jessica and Josh for about a year, just cutting and re connecting with my small shop experiences of my youth. We cut whole beef carcasses, lamb, half hogs etc and I developed a great friendship with them. The skill level you can achieve when breaking down a whole carcass as far as it will go is amazing. Bench breaking a beef primal is like a wrestling match. Alot of it is leverage and using the handsaw. The chuck was the most challenging. I would come in and they would say " Oh we already did the loins and ribs, but we saved you the arm chucks" Thanks alot! It was a good workout any way.

The other skill I re- honed was the gift of gab with customers. I actually had the chance to wait on a few of our old customers from Schneller's Meats while I was there. We closed up shop more than 10 years ago but our customers still remember the place. We talked about family and food etc. The relationship between the local butcher and customer rekindled.

Another part of my time there was the comeraderie and joke telling with Josh and Jessica, their crew and some of the other "guest" butchers we had work there from time to time. My old friend Bill Swann came by a few days to cut. He is a classic butcher with lots of stories and a lousy golf game ( except for his drive!) My own father, Bob Schneller, would stop by and tell a few jokes and give hints on how to sell some cuts. We worked with Julie Powell for a while while she was researching her next book. You know, Jule and Julia ? She was a rank beginner but by the time she left she could cut pretty good. I brought in some of my students and they were always so intrigued by the carcasses and the shop. Also the fact that we would listen to everything from ACDC, Mozart and old disco while cutting! It was work but fun and different than the experiences at a restaurant kitchen setting.

In my class, I recently hosted Bill Angelleti, a butcher at the prestigious Eli Zabar's Vinegar Factory in NYC. He conducted a demo for my class and we talked over a light lunch. He has a very upscale clientele who are demanding yet he develops relationships with them and they trust his judgement. They believe him when he says "No, tenderloin is not the best cut for stew, even though it is $40 per lb." They also known he his providing some great quality not only in the meat itself, but in his craftsmanship to cut it correctly.

Local butchers were once a trusted source of information on how to cook meat and how much to buy ( they would always sell you just a little too much!). They were part of the shopping experience and the larger community as a whole. Today we find high quality artisan butchers making a comeback in some neighborhoods. Sure they are more expensive than supermarkets but it may be worth it for more than just the meat itself.