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!