Sunday, December 20, 2009

Get the Lard Out!

Here is a very interesting article about lard and its use in a modern society.

The use of hydrogenated oils has taken over where lard was once king, but this article may change your mind about using it. Fat from hogs that are eating a diet that is higher in Omega 3 will result in fat that is also. Lately I've experienced fat from a Mangalitsa hog that was fed primarily a barley diet with lots of kitchen scraps. It was a creamy fat that is much different than corn fed hog fat. Another example of "healthy" fat was that from the wild Ossabaw hogs found off the coast of Georgia. These hogs actually have the genetic capability to create a lower saturated fat. Both Mangalitsa and Ossabaw pork are niche market and the fat is not available on a large commercial level. Here is where you can find some
There is a producer in Canada that has developed the brand Prarie Orchard Farms that is high in Omega 3 and could help change the lard industry. This company is feeding hogs a plant based high Omega 3 diet consisting of a lot of flax seed.
Some farms are supplementing with fish oil to raise up the Omega 3 acids. Here is an example
The problem with any of these changes is the fact that the cheapest feed available for hog producers is corn and corn creates fat that is not as healthy. Alternative feeds and additives are much more expensive are what you eat and what your food eats.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Big Beef in New York??

Raising high quality beef in NY State is nothing new. There are many small but very high quality cattle producers that raise not just for beef but for genetics. A CIA graduate, Ami Goldstein and her husband Barry operate Brookefield Farm in eastern NY. They raise some of the finest Angus genetics in the country and many of their breeding stock get shipped out of state to rear the next generation of feedlot Angus in the Midwest. But what if they didn't have to travel that far?
There is a proposed large scale beef feedlot and processing plant to be located in Oswego County, NY. The proposed project wouldn't be your standard operation that are found in the mid-west; instead it would be a state of the art facility with the goal of minimizing its environmental impact. Included in this project would be a large ethanol plant, feedlot, processing plant and its location positons it within a market of over 50 million people. The closer proximity to a large population and having a water port further reduces impact by reducing shipping cost and emmissions. The feed operation would handle about 72,000 head of cattle making it the largest feedlot east of the Mississippi. Bion Environmental Technologies is the company that developed the plan and has won preliminary approvals from the local town board near Syracuse. Bion is an innovator in technology that deals with feedlot waste. Bion has proven plans that eliminate waste water runoff and reduce ammonia emmisions while creating ethanol

Like it or not feedlots are part of beef raising today. This project will provide a huge benefit to local dairy farms that can diversify with beef production. It would also supply beef to the northeast at a more regional level and provide about 600 jobs.

Many chefs concerned about the environment are considering alternatives to feedlot beef such as grassfed. They often put on the menus terms like "local" or "sustainably raised". The question is will beef produced in this feedlot be considered local? And with the new technologies this plant could be considered sustainable. These are the terms that each chef must define for themselves. What is local? What is sustainable? In my position as an instructor it is my job not to make those decisions but simply to inform. Personally I can see two sides to this coin. The good part is this project will result in a state of the art facility that will have a reduced environmental impact. The downside is the fact that feedlot beef can require a lot of corn and supplements that might negate the positives. One thing is for sure, whether its grass fed or feedlot finished, upstate New York and its neighboring states, will be producing more beef in the future and we have the genetics and the farmland.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On A Beef Chuck Roll

The beef side is divided into the rib and chuck between the 5th and 6th ribs. The cut is made right through a series of muscles one of which is the longissimus dorsi, otherwise known as the main muscle of the rib eye steak. In the rib it is our popular Delmonico and cowboy steaks, or "prime" rib roasts. In the chuck it becomes the chuck eye roll. This cut is actually a number of layered muscles that vary in toughness somewhat. The chuck roll is the larger section containing the chuck eye roll and is often cut for retail stores as chuck steak. It can be grilled but is not a fine dry cook steak. More typically it would be slow cooked as a pot roast or BBQ.

A few months ago we had Jeanne O'Toole from the NY Beef Council to the school to conduct a demo on the chuck roll and she showed how it can be separated into some palatable steaks. They are being marketed as the Denver Cut, Sierra Cut and the mock Delmonico. These cuts run some risk of being tough and benefit greatly by Jaccarding or marinating them. If considering them for dry cook, choose higher quality beef such as prime or CAB. If the meat is Select, low Choice, or even leaner grass fed, braise/slow cooking is probably best.
The photo here shows the typical chuck roll cross section with all of its many sections and textures. The top part would be the chuck eye which is a continuation of the rib eye and is quite tender. The bottom section is a bit tougher.

The price of the chuck roll remains a little more expensive than beef top round and shoulder clod this time of year due to buying habits. Those cuts rise in the summer when they are sold as London Broil type steaks. The chuck roll is often used for stew or braise so the price of it goes up when it gets cold out. But it remains fairly reasonable at nearly half the cost of the rib eye or striploin.

I remember back to when we used to buy whole arm chucks for our store. Some would age for about a week or so. These would always be better than the fresh beef with more flavor and tenderness. I'm thinking about aging a bone -in chuck to see the result on the chuck roll. I suspect if dry aged for about 3 -4 weeks it would roast like "prime" rib and make a great carving plate presentation. I'll keep you posted with the result once we try it.

Here is a link to the Beef innovations group web site explaining alternatives for the cut. But realize they may need some tenderizing.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


When asked what is the typical pathogen associated with poultry most of my students will answer Salmonella but there is another pathogen that is also likely to cause illness in customers, Campylobacter. This bacteria is found primarily in poultry; chicken, duck, turkey and game birds are all effected. It is found in healthy poultry stocks, in some cattle and sheep, dogs and it has even been found on farmyard flies. It does not effect poultry but can cause some reproductive problems for cattle. From 20 - 100% of chicken have it in their systems. Even free ranged poultry and wild birds will have it regularly. It is found more typically in industrialized countries but it may or may not have anything to do with modern farming techniques. It is also easily spread through wild populations.
The bacteria, more specifically Campylobacter jejuni, is a major cause of intestinal distress in humans. Estimates are from 2 - 4,000,000 people are effected each year in the U.S. The disease causes gastroenteridis and includes symtoms such as diarrhea and vomiting and lasts about a week. Typical home diagnosis is "stomache flu". The bacteria takes about two or three days to incubate so tracing its source may be difficult.

So what can be done? Cooking to proper temperature, 165 F according to USDA guidlines, will destroy it. Storing meats appropriately with poultry on the bottom shelves or seperate from other meats, washing all contact surfaces properly, possibly using seperate cutting boards are all ways to prevent contamination.

It is estimated that about a 400 - 500 bacteria count is needed to bring on symtoms in some people. For others it is higher depending on the digestive health of the person. It is not typically lethal with few deaths occuring and only in those who have a compromised immune system.

Now the stinky part, Campylobacter is spread primarly through fecal matter. Animals raised in close quarters may be more likely to have it but free ranged poultry populations are very likely to have it too. Many chefs today like to cook duck to less than 165F, so be sure to rinse the exterior and sear the duck well to reduce risk. Ducks are defeathered and then dipped in parrafin to remove very fine down feathers. This may help to reduce risk but if they are eviscerated poorly there could still be problems. Fresher poultry is less likely to have a high bacteria count and keeping poultry very cold is also important.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Small processors, small restaurants

Running a small slaughter facility is no easy task. Here is an interesting article that describes the trial and tribulations of small niche market producers.

With all of the talk about eating local and chefs looking to buy from specific farms, the link between the farmer and the table has gotten very crowded. Do you realize many farmers must book kill times weeks or even months ahead? The fact that NY state doesn't have any in state slaughter facilities means meat must be processed in a USDA inspected plant. This typically means the animals must be driven far from the farm, sometimes up to an hour or so away. This results in animals that can be stressed and exhausted upon arrival, lowering the quality of the meat. Also if the goal of eating local is to reduce the carbon footprint then driving animals around certainly makes no sense.

Another option might be to bring the slaughter house to the farm. Mobile units might be the answer to a lot of problems in the northeast. No more trailering the animals. The end user could simply show up at the farm to pick up their meat. Small vendors could deliver cut product around the neighborhood or sell at the farmers market or to local small restaurants and caterers.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What was in that bird??

The annual decision of buying a turkey for thanksgiving is done by millions of people. For most it requires a trip through the frozen bins at the supermarket, for others a visit to the local butcher shop to have the fresh bird, even less will seek out local farmers which have taken orders months ago, and finally those who purchase via the internet. So which is it? What did we eat this year? There are so many choices and price ranges. First lets start off with the standard commercial birds.

Most commercial turkeys are raised similarly to chicken. They are a single breed, the large breasted Holland White; this bird dominates the market and is raised in large crowded outdoor pens. They are typically fed a corn based diet with a soy protein mixed in. This premixed "ration" has vitamins, minerals, and a variety of possible antibiotics including tetracycline, various sulfates, bactracin depending on the grower or company that supplies the grower with feed. Many farms are vertically integrated with the grower being supplied the birds and feed from the processing company. But there are also small farmers that use many of the pre-mixed rations as well. The goal is rapid growth. The price of these birds is consistantly low. Hanaford supermarket was offering a turkey for $.40 per pound. Others are giving away turkeys with a purchase of a certain monetary amount of other groceries. But not all supermarket birds are the same either. Many offer fresh or organic, quasi niche market birds on the days just before Thanksgiving.
Natural - No added ingredients, after slaughter ( has nothing to do with feeding methods)
Naturally raised- This may mean a few different things but typically the bird was fed a ration that had no antibiotics or animal byproducts such as bone meal.
Naturally enhanced- Has a solution of salt, turkey broth up to about 10 % and often "natural" flavorings.
Enhanced- Turkey that is pumped with varying amounts of salt, water, sodium phosphates and flavorings. Most contain around a 12% solution but I have seen a higher and lower amounts.
"Super" Enhanced- Think Butterball, bird is enhanced with water, salt, sodium phosphate, but also hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed vegetable protein. These are basically nicer ways of describing MSG (monosodium glutimate) which are typically frowned upon by consumers.
All added ingredients must be listed on the label but the meaning of those ingredients is up to the consumer to research.
Fresh- This means the bird was slightly frozen quickly after slaughter but not frozen solid and should not require a thaw out.

Frozen- Bird is blast frozen right after slaughter and stored at 0 to -20F. Can be stored like this for many months without much harm.

Organic- Bird was raised without antibiotics, fed all organic ingredients, has more space to roam etc. ( organic rules are listed on the USDA web site)

As far as pricing goes, the least expensive is the basic naturally enhanced bird, next would be the phosphated bird and then the super enhanced product. Fresh birds are typically twice the price of regular frozen and organic were at least three times the price.

Brand names for supermarket birds may include the forementioned Butterball, Jennie-O, Perdue, etc. Many brands are actually owned by much larger meat companies such as Hormel , Tyson, Smithfield.

The top turkey producing states are listed below in order of production.
North Carolina
South Carolina

So what about the local butcher or specialty market? Most small butchers will sell a single brand that they consider quality. Often a non- enhanced small market bird. Brand names such as Jaindle or Bell and Evans, Eberling provide a quality that is considered higher than the larger market birds. The local butcher also provides cooking instruction and advice on how much to order. Small butchers are more likely to sell a variety of naturally raised birds and even local, very small market birds. Fleisher's of Kingston, near where I live prides themselves in knowing the farm where the turkeys are from and can guarantee the way they are raised. Some exclusive markets will offer heirloom breeds too.

For those who frequent farmer's markets there may be a poultry farmer who raises a few turkeys. These would need to be ordered in advance. The sizes may be varied and the price will be high but the fact that you personally supported a local farmer and you know exactly where the bird came from is something you can brag about to family and friends. Many small farmers are also selling "heritage" breed turkeys. Heritage breeds are those which have fallen out of popularity for one reason or another. They often require a longer growing time but have a deeper, richer flavor. Some breeds I've seen are the Standard Bronze, Blue Slate, Bourbon Red, Narragansett and Royal Palm.

Internet sales of turkeys are another way to purchase niche market style birds. There are hundreds of small market producers of heirloom, naturally raised, organic turkeys. They tend to be expensive and shipping is another part of it. Expense can be quite high for example a "WillieBird" organic turkey from Williams and Sonoma is $116 for a 18 lb bird. Other sites list birds from anywhere from $3.00 to $6.00 per lb. They come in styro boxes and shipping can be expensive also.
To avoid all of this decision making you could simplt take your guests out for dinner....but thats just the chef in me talking.

The world of turkey products seems to grow every year and its up to the consumer to really think about the purchase ahead of time. The good thing is you have more options than ever before.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Old Lamb??

Dry aged beef is a standard on many high end steakhouse menus. The aroma and flavor is deeper and more complex and the price tag is warranted. At the CIA, we age a new beef strip loin every 10 days or so. They sit for around 4 weeks until a deep, dark, semi-moldy crust is formed. We do a tasting in class and the students get to taste the difference between a dry and wet aged beef.

About 2 months ago we were breaking down a lamb carcass. The students watched the demo and then teamed up to bone out a leg of lamb. We had a mix up and opened too many bagged legs. I decided to save one leg from the whole carcass and hang it in the cooler, thinking we would bone it the next day. Then I decided to let it age for about three weeks, like the beef.

Lamb, like beef, has a nice fat cover on the outside and a deep red color. In beef we typically age the middle meat cuts from the loin and rib. In lamb, the leg is the largest primal and can be aged as long as a beef striploin. We trimmed off the small flank steak piece and hung it where there was plenty of air circulation at about 35 F. In three weeks it shrank about 15% and became much firmer. It didn't lose much to trimming due to the fact that not much of the lean muscle is exposed. We boned the leg and cut off the sirloin and then did the same with a fresh leg. Out came the cast iron skillet and a little salt and pepper. The flavor differences were very similar to what we find in beef. The aged had a deeper, richer flavor and the taste lingered longer.

So is it worth it? I think of aging almost like another spice. It adds flavor but costs extra. I've served dry aged butterflied leg of lamb years ago at a function and the response was very positive. If you dry age beef, try dry aging lamb.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Frenching a Rack of Lamb

This weekend I taught a food enthusiast class on butchery. One of the tasks was frenching a rack of lamb. But why? Well it is a long standing debate with those who love lamb whether or not to remove the extra bits of meat along the bones. Some will remove it right to the eye, otherwise known as lollipop chop; others will leave over two inches of extra fatty meat on the ribs and just clean off the tips of the bones. Most New Zealand pre-frenched racks come with about an inch and a half of material above the eye. So its is up to the individual to decide. If serving mini appetizer chops, I would lollipop them. When creating a crown roast I go with about an inch and a half. My dad would leave on all of the trim on the ribs and simply trim some of the exterior fat. The meat crisps up almost bacon- like and is very tasty. Rustica!

Techniques vary for frenching. Lately I show how to do it with a butcher twine. There are a series of steps to it and if done correctly the bones will be very clean. In class I am also showing how to french using a drawer handle. I saw this on Alton Brown's You Tube video. Check it out...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Veal, Milk and Money

These are hard times for NY dairy farmers. Milk prices remain historically low when accounting for inflation. Small, mid-sized and even large dairy farms in NY are taking it on the chin. The fact that many farmers are not able to make it on milk money alone means hundreds will close up and many may need to sell off their herds. This is a sad situation that mimics what has happened in the pork industry as well. Over production of product by very large companies in the mid-west and west has forced many smaller northeast producers to rethink their farm. Do they go "organic"? This requires a lot of red tape and there again, you have huge operations in the west that are certified organic and flood the market with product; plus the economic downturn has put a damper on organic purchasing at the retail level due to its higher price. Some have begun to think about cheese making. Artisan cheese is a growing area of agriculture but it takes many years and equipment to develop a quality product. Others have diversified the farm and become crop farmers.
Another direction is meat. Some dairy farms are now starting to raise animals for meat production. If for beef, this often requires a change from dairy breeds to meat breeds. This is an investment but local meats are demanding high prices these days. Chefs are increasingly looking towards the local sustainable products to differentiate their operation from others. The local hook is not only good for farmers but good marketing as well.
Enter veal. Dairy farmers often sell their male offspring at auction which often ends up as veal. A recent article in the Washington Post explains what some farmers are considering, milk feeding the offspring to raise expensive free ranged veal. To me it makes a lot of sense to sell a product that helps out the struggling dairy farmers and have a product that has more true veal flavor. The product, though a little redder than most veal, has a deeper flavor and the bones make for fantastic stock. I think that even the larger veal distributors, who are also hurting during this tough economic time, are looking to get veal back on the high end table. This might be the way.
Here are a couple articles on the subject I found intrigueing

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Foie Gras Flavor

On Tues. Oct 27th the CIA meat room and the Gourmet Society hosted a demo and tasting conducted by Rougie Foie Gras. Rougie is the largest producer of Foie Gras in the world and they have an extensive operation now outside of Montreal, Canada. Benoit Cuchet, President of Rougie Canada and Lisa Petrucco, area manager for the US joined us for a tour, dinner and then presentation and tasting for the student body. Rougie had very generously donated 20 lobes of Foie which arrived on Fri. The Gourmet Society, with some help and explanations from Chef Rapp, Chef Martini and the meatroom MIT Steven Bookbinder, prepared over 150 taste portions each of Torchon and seared foie for the sampling. The students did a very fine job of preparing and serving the portions. The teamwork was great and it showed, once again, what a great organization the Society is.

Before the demo I took Benoit and Lisa for a tour of our facility including the baking and pastry classes. It is always amazing to see the craftsmanship going on in classes all over campus. We then proceeded to have dinner in the Escoffier Room. Chef DeCoster was a wonderful host and treated us to some of his Foie terrines. The meal was superb and instructor Miller's front of the house crew was quality as well. Our guests were impressed by the professionalism displayed.

Benoit's lecture and powerpoint were well received by all who attended. He was very informative, presenting the history, nutritional info, and describing the Rougie way of fattening ducks and how it differs from other producers. He held the attention of students throughout the demo and it was interesting yet concise. On closing, students asked some very valid and pointed questions which made the demo that much better.

Thanks to all involved and to all who attended but especially to Benoit and Lisa for providing the wonderful taste.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is all dry aged the same??

On Monday a few of the meat room crew, Chef Elia, Steven and Kevin, went down to NYC to check out some meat shops. First we stopped at the premier meat distributor Debragga and Spitler in the old meat district on Washington Street. Upon arrival I took them up to the elevated rail/park that sits above the street. This was how all meat was brought into Manhatten in the hayday of the market district. There are still some old rails showing how the meats were loaded off rail cars straight into coolers. Gravity was used to move all the meats down during processing to the street level. It is an amazing park and it is nice to see the bit of meat history preserved.

Back in the day all beef was sent to New York as whole sides. There was no vacuum bag and it took a few days to get it from slaughter to the market, then it would sit a few more days in warehouses and maybe again at the local butcher. It was often 10 - 15 days old by the time the customer put it on the grill. It was well on its way to being dry aged. Today almost all meat is sent in bags and is wet aged.

So what is the difference? Dry aged is much more concentrated in flavor. Moisture evaporates about 13- 15 % leaving a fuller flavor. But there is more to it. When beef is aged a certain flora is created. Molds that are unique to a meat locker develop on the outside like those of a fine Salami.

We met Marc Sarrazin at around 9:30 after some introductions and small talk we started our tour of Debragga. Marc is a meat purveyor supreme. As we walk through a large cooler full of dry aging beef he explains his processes for creating some of truly the finest beef in the world! I have seen a lot of quality beef over my years buying beef with my father in the old markets that are now mostly gone from lower Manhatten, but Marc has the knack for exceeding the old traditions of the past. Between the newer genetics bred into today's beef and the old coolers that have just the right environment and flora the beef is better than ever.

We have been getting some dry aged at the school lately from a different purveyor but it doesn't have the same tangy "prosciutto" undertone flavor. It is good, but not great. Not all dry aged is created equal!

After touring the dry aging room we took a look at the boxed beef in another cooler. Kevin's classic line was "This is the Fort Knox of meat coolers!" with box upon box of assorted Wagyu and specialty niche market beef and Kurobuta Berkshire pork. Take a look at the extreme marbling and quality of these products. A true treat for all of us who talk about quality each day in class.

After our tour we enjoyed a superior lunch at Rothman's Steakhouse in mid-town. Marc brought along a couple of wagyu steaks, one domestic and one Japanese which we had as an appetizer. Rothman's is a true steak lover dream and sells some fine dry aged beef.

We left Marc, who graciously picked up the tab, and ventured to Eli's Vinegar Factory on York ave. We met Billy Angelletti, the head butcher, who came up to the school and did a demo for my class a few months ago. Billy gave us a tour of the entire facility including the greenhouses on the roof. The meats were extreme quality again with lots of dry aged beef, quality lamb and veal, homemade sausages and Berkshire pork. The clientele of this and Eli's other store are willing to pay for quality and they never do "sales". Thanks to Billy for the great tour.

We decided to walk over to another premier dry aged butcher shop, Lobels on Madison Ave. Along the way we stopped in Ottomanelli Bros which is another small but very good quality shop. They keep the tradition of sawdust on the floor. This shop should not be confused with the Ottomanelli and Sons shop on Bleecker St in lower Manhatten.

We also found a small Hungarian Deli that had homemade Keilbasa, Paprika Spec and dry spicy sausages. When I asked the woman behind the counter if she made the salami she gave me a look and said " husband makes it." I waited until we got home and ate the Keilbasa with my son. It was good quality. We also bought some headcheese but that was a little too mild.

When we finally reached our final destination and talked with Mark Lobel about the school and business. Lobels is a very unique place with all sorts of businesses rolled into one. They have very succesfully published some great books on meat, they have a super mailorder/internet delivery and now the have NY Steaks set up in the new Yankee Stadium. Mark invited us to visit that location sometime during next year's baseball season.

As time began to run out we headed out of town before the traffic got too bad. I wanted to visit the meat markets in Grand Central Station and the forementioned Ottomanelli and Sons. Saved for another day I guess.

This trip was a joy with my colleagues. It was a pleasure to show them some of the history and quality that exists just two hours from the school. If you have any free time take the train down and visit some markets!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Butcher's tour of Montreal

Here is an article I wrote last year. We are on a three day weekend and just 4 1/2 hours from Montreal, a trip worth making!

Teaching just ninety miles from New York City, I am spoiled by the food bounty that can be found there. I boast to my students about the dry aged beef, custom Italian salumi, quality Glatt Kosher veal and Eastern European smoked sausages that are now found in NYC. It is hard to imagine a city that has more variety from a butcher’s standpoint. I tell them that New York should be part of their studies. After a recent trip, I now think of another nearby city that I can direct my students.
Over the winter The Culinary Institute of America hosted a demo by Rougie Canada, a producer of duck Foie Gras located near Montreal. I asked if they would allow anyone to tour their facility. The answer was a resounding “Yes, please come up and see what we do!” So arrangements were made and in late April two of us from the school set out for Montreal.
By April in the Hudson Valley, the snow has gone everywhere except in the high country of the Catskills. As we set out on a rainy Sunday we pass Albany and head up the Northway through the Adirondacks. The rain squalls turn to snow and the temperature drops. Snow is visible along side the road and on the higher peaks. We stop at a rest area and the wind feels like winter again. As we get closer to the border the snow is gone and the flat farm fields span into the distance. Once leaving the border we head into Quebec and our goal, Montreal. We arrive just after noon and find our 1960s vintage hotel. Another snow squall hits and everything turns white for a few minutes but just as quick, spring returns with a little sunshine. With about two hours to kill we head to the Old Montreal section. Chef Bruce Mattel and I tour the tourist part of town with its cobble stone streets and many souvenir shops. The site of signs written in French and the old architecture gives a feel of being much farther away than the quick four and half hour drive from home. Hunger starts to creep in and we decide to find a place to eat. Before leaving on the trip a friend mentioned a place called Schwartz’s Smoked Meat. I have the address and we head to another neighborhood to find it. Bruce has an uncanny sense of direction and knows the city a little. We find the correct street and search for the restaurant. We find that Schwartz’s has a line out the door on Sundays so we walk around a bit. Schartz’s will wait until tomorrow. We are in a food neighborhood with lots of small quality charcuterie shops. We walk into Charcuterie/ Boucherie Hongroise, a small family owned butcher. The showcase is full of Hungarian, German and Polish style sausages. There are all sorts of smoked meats, hams and specialties presented in an unpretentious way. This is not a cafĂ© and there are no chairs, it is simply a quality butcher shop. This is where local neighborhood people shop regularly along with the local bakeries and cheese shops. The customer served in front of us orders a cooked sausage cooked and split on a roll with sauerkraut and mustard. We decide to mimic the order and also buy some spicy dried salami chunks and a little homemade headcheese. We eat our treats U.S. style, in the car because at this point we can’t wait. The sandwich does not disappoint. The sausage is spiced perfectly and the sauerkraut is cooked with chunks of pork in it. The headcheese is a little too gelatinous but very well spiced. It would have been better sliced thin on a roll as a lunch meat. I grew up on the stuff so I find it a great treat. We check a few more spots and decide beer is also in order. Good local beer is found everywhere.
Nearby, on Duluth st., is the very famous Au Pied de Cochon. Our Foie Gras hosts have suggested this location and colleagues at the Institute confirmed its intrigue. We walk in to find the restaurants crew preparing for the evenings work. Marc Beaudin greets us to take our reservation and arrange to eat at the bar, which is the front row for where the food is created. Au Pied de Cochon’s menu reads like a wonderful calorie fest. It is loaded with pork, duck, game, braised lamb, sausages and very little “middle meat” meaning there are no over-trimmed tidy medallions of loin. There is big food with richness. And of course there is Foie Gras. Rich seared Foie shows up throughout the menu. The owner, Martin Picard, has developed this menu with the goal of serving Quebec’s food and bounty. It is designed with eating in mind! He seeks out quality farms, local ingredients, seasonal specialties, and even has a connection with a single fisherman to bring in the North Atlantic’s bounty. We make our reservation and eagerly anticipate our return.
Upon entering Au Pied de Cochon we are greeted and seated at the bar as promised. The place is packed and the cooks are flying. Philippe Poitras and Marc Baedin are directing the floor and the waitstaff is in the dance of full service. We order way too much including another round of homemade headcheese and a Venison tartar as appetizers. Bruce orders “Duck in a Can”, a specialty of boneless duck and foie gras cooked in a sealed can for a unique braise. I order the “Pied de Cochon” or stuffed pig’s foot which is actually meant for three or four people. The foot is first hollow boned and then stuffed a pork and foie gras force meat. It is cooked sous vide and then breaded and pan seared. Another specialty is hand cut “frittes” cooked in duck fat. Rich and delicious! The food is splendid. I think of the menu and wish I could start again. Anthony Bourdain, when talking about Au Pied… “We have wandered so far from the roots of cooking – from our own roots- and from the source of our ingredients that we, many of us, nearly forgotten the simple and many-splendored delights of such fundamentally good things like pig, duck, the potato…and fire. Martin Picard has not forgotten” sums it up.
The next day we are to tour the Foie gras production. This will happen around 1:30 which leaves us a morning to further explore the city. Bruce knows the addresses of the two large market places. On Monday these markets are quiet and every one is recouping from the busy weekend. It gives us a chance to talk to local butchers and shop owners.
We first tour the Jean-Talon market and then the Atwater market. Both markets are European style with lots of open booths and stalls. The stalls are filled with local meats, specialty game, poultry and of course foie gras. We talk to the local butchers and discuss breeds and farms. These butchers either know exactly where the meats are from or they raise them themselves. We find every sort of butcher, charcuterie shops with fine pates, Halal shops with goat and lamb, shops with butchers cutting whole beef loins, sausage specialty shops with twenty types of grilling sausages. There is pork with some of the fat left on and a novel idea, marbling! And all the accoutrements such as specialty mustards, stocks, sauces, many homemade right on the premises. These shops are where locals find the food for the week. Don’t miss understand, there are large typical supermarkets in Montreal as well but these stalls represent the soul of Montreal’s food culture. Along with the butcher shops are many “fromagerie”- cheese shops selling “Lait Cru” or unpasteurized cheeses. There are bakeries, green grocers, egg shops, fish markets and florists. We find a Polish coffee shop that sells fresh homemade Paczki yeast doughnuts with a natural raspberry jam.
Soon it is time for lunch. We set out to try Schwartz’s again. This time we quickly get a seat and order the famous smoked meat sandwich. Smoked meat in Montreal is basically cured brisket covered with pepper and smoke roasted, basically Pastrami! You can order it a number of different ways but it is basically the same with the meat as the main event. We again order as locals and get an overstuffed smoked meat sandwich, cherry soda, a pickle and some non-creamy coleslaw. The smoked meat is cooked perfectly and slightly thick but very tender. We exit stuffed again.
We leave Montreal and head to the Rougie / Palmex plant in Marrieville, about 20 minutes drive. Palmex once a stand alone producer, has partnered with the French foie gras giant Rougie. We are warmly greeted by the US sales rep Natalie who acts as our interpreter. We meet Pascal Fleury an original partner in Palmex, and Jacque Besonette, a manager. They promptly shuttle us to the “gavage” farm where the ducks are fattened. Gavage is the process of fattening the liver by feeding it heavily. The ducks are raised on a separate farm to twelve weeks then trucked to this farm. All ducks are Moulards which is a cross between the Pekin and a Moscovy Barberi. They are almost full grown at this age and can handle the heavy feeding. Each duck is fed a specific amount of a corn meal pate twice a day. The corn is a high grade variety only purchased from specific distributors.
The feeding is quicker than I thought. It only takes two or three seconds to feed each duck. The feeding is done with a tube that easily slides into the ducks throat and is removed rapidly. The ducks are fattened within twelve days and ready for market. I was surprised to find that it only took twelve days to engorge the liver to a foie gras standard. The farm is divided into sections of ducks that are in various stages of fattening and when they are finished they are trucked out for slaughter. The barns are then power washed and very clean for the next group.
When we return to the plant we tour the new wing to be used for processing the ducks. The plant will produce the plain liver, boneless breast (Magret), legs, confit, tourchon of liver, rillets, and rendered fat to name a few items. The goal is to expand the value added items for both the retail and foodservice markets. The livers are graded with numbers 1, 2, 3 with one being the highest quality. We find that Rougie Canada produces about 200,000 ducks per year. Most of the plant is brand new and the entire place is very clean. It is divided between fresh and processed sections ensuring food safety.
After our tour, Bruce and I return to Montreal and get ready for our final dinner of the trip. Monday in Montreal is not the best night for dining out. Most restaurants are closed. Our host, Jacque, has found a location and we are not disappointed. We arrive at the Bistro Cocogne to find it primarily empty. No surprise on Monday. Our waiter greets us warmly and we begin another session of quality dining. We decide to try the tasting menu and are first treated to some fine British Columbian oysters. Courses are built on each other and we sample Salmon tartar, fennel soup with shaved dried chorizo, and again foie gras seared and served with a trumpet royale mushroom sauce. Our host comments on the foie and how it differs from the Rougie product. I must admit it was different than the previous nights version at Au Pied de Cochon but both are very good. I ask our waiter about the meats and all are locally produced. This course is followed by a very tender venison medallion, a wonderful local cheese plate and finally a pudding Chomeur made with maple syrup with a touch of homemade ice cream. We depart our host and thank him for the hospitality anxious to return the favor when he tours our institute.
Bruce and I awake the next morning to return to NY. We stop at the Atwater market one more time to grab a piece of local cheese and a nice fresh baked bread. A little taste reminder of the trip.
Montreal is a relatively short drive from the CIA and well worth the trip for any culinarian…especially butchers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Robots Rule?

Here are some videos of the direction the meat industry is going. With the introduction of more robotics, speed of fabrication will certainly go up. So why learn how to cut? The reason lies in the niche market. If you are buying local or wish to custom cut, then you will need to take the time to learn how.
Don't get me wrong. I think this type of machinery is amazing and accurate and for a large plant it eliminates a repetitive job that is not very high skill. Plants that process over 20,000 hogs a day can afford to invest in robotics and probably should. But a true artisan chef should know how to break down a hog if they want to buy from local farmers. I like that hand held knife though.
That arm is kind of creepy!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Dry Aged Beef Fabrication

Lately my students had the experience of fabricating dry aged beef striploins in class. The process is one of the more difficult tasks that I have taught. Dry aged beef is much firmer making it a challenge for even a seasoned butcher to work on. The bone structure of the striploin consists of part of the lumbar vertebrae and is an odd shape. It is basically 2/3 of the T-bone, the finger and feather or back bone. There are two basic techniques to boning this. First the single 13th rib is removed. Then the first method would be to loosen the feather bones along the back and then cut from the finger bone side to remove all the bones as one. This would be the technique used by a restaurant that doesn't have a band saw. It is more difficult and the yield is typically poor, especially by an inexperienced cutter. The second method is to seperate the finger bones away from the feather using the band saw. This act alone takes some serious saw skills but once the cut is made the feather bones are removed in one easy cut and then the finger bones are removed one at a time. This method improves the yield if done correctly.

  1. Steps for fabricating a dry aged bone in strip loin:

  2. Cut away the feather from the finger bones at an angle using the band saw

3. Loosen the 13th rib starting from the small end. Outline both sides of it and then pull up cutting around the end

4. Cut away the flat feather bones the length of the loin.

5. Cut around the small "button"bones at the end of each finger bone and lift using finger.

6. Cut up and underneath each flat finger bone peeling them out one at a time.

7. Trim off all severly aged crust and mold including the ends.

8. Trim fat and collagen bands to desired thickness. Be sure to trim all moldy fat off. Also occassionally there will be "hook" holes if the meat was not hung in the right spot while aging. These need to be cut out even if part of the eye is damaged. Hook holes will harbor mold and bacteria.

These striploins went as roasts to the CIA annual board of directors meeting and I got a chance to test it out. Fantastic! The flavor was deep and rich. Although dry aged is more expensive you don't need as much on the plate.

Thanks to my class for doing a fine job of cutting these. I was paranoid at first but they showed the attention to detail that is what makes our students a pleasure to work with.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

More Manga!

Here are some photos of the delectable swine thanks to Micheal Clampffer. We are now curing the belly, jowl and coppa in class. Being true to the breed and its background, we added some paprika to the cure. We made some Italian sausages from the trim.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mangalitsa Mania!!

Hello Everyone,
On Monday Sept. 21st Michael Clampffer from Mosefund Farm brought us a half of a Mangalitsa hog. On Thursday he joined us for a day of fabrication, dinner and finally a demo for the Gourmet Society. The hog was really something! For those of you who don't know this breed it is known as a very rare and high quality lard pig from Hungary/ Austria. (View my previous posting on the breed.) The fat was thick, soft and very white and the meat was a deeper red than most pork. The feed and genetics make this hog a pork lovers dream.
Before our demo we enjoyed a remarkable dinner at St Andrews and Chef Mullooly cooked off the Mangalitsa tenderloin for our table. It was fabulous! Very deep red color and rich. Thanks to Chef and his crew!
We then conducted a tasting for the students at the Danny Kaye Theater which consisted of a slow roasted loin and fresh ham and also some sweet Italian sausages that were about a fifty fifty fat to lean ratio. Very rich all around. You simply can not eat too much of this because it fills you up so much. Michael did a wonderful job explaining the history, genetics, raising techniques, and customers that are now using his Mangalitsa. The word is spreading about this very high quality hog! Michael is offering a class on how to divide a carcass and make some very unique lard products in the early winter. Check out his site.
My teaching assistant, Steven Bookbinder helped with the fabrication and we are currently in the process of making bacon, lardo and rendered fat among other things. We have photos of it and I'll post a follow up soon.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Master Retires

On September 16th 2009 Hans Sebald retired from the Culinary Institute of America. Hans had taught the meat class for over twenty years. Hans, for those who never met him, is an old style butcher originally from Bavaria, Germany. He was a "master" butcher meaning he had been trained as an apprentice and moved his way up in skills, understanding the entire process of butchery, start to finish. I worked with Hans for the past eleven years and when I say he was an old "style" butcher I can also say that Hans was always on the "cutting edge" of the meat industry. He was always learning and reading about our industry and how it intersects with the foodservice world. He was never old fashioned in his thinking and lessons. His students were always presented current knowledge about new style cuts, modern processing methods, foodsafety concerns and new menu ideas. I learned from Hans. His cutting skills were always very smooth and accurate but at the school it isn't simply about cutting but about showing students how to cut, explaining the steps in a way that a person who has never cut meat before can feel comfortable attempting the task. That lesson, the one of patience and clarity, is a lesson that I use every day. Hans was above all a great teacher. He taught literally thousands of students the basics of butchery. His priority was never showmanship, instead a desire to share his skill. As a teacher, he was stern, professional and always fair, but also he had a sense of humor that was never lacking. He often had a quick witted response to situations. We were touring a pork plant in Iowa once while on our summer break. The typical worker attire was big boots and heavy coats. He wore shorts! We asked him why and he simply answered "I'm on vacation".
I'll miss working with him and I can only hope to be as devoted to my students as he was to his. They were all lucky to have such a "master" of education as an instructor!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Paul, Porchetta and more....

The other day we had the honor of working with Chef Paul Canales from Oliveto, Oakland CA. Paul was at the school to work on a harvest dinner and he wanted to serve a Porchetta. Porchetta is typically a pork dish stuffed with fennel, herbs, salt and can vary depending on the chef. It is like a street food sold during festivals or picnics. Here at the school we typically use a small suckling pig and bone the entire thing, leaving the skin intact. The skin becomes a crispy addition to the dish.

For Paul, we got in a number of local market size half hogs that weighed around 100 lbs each. He conducted a great demo for my class in which he described so many ways to prepare pork. We discussed curing and also how pork is fabricated differently in Italy compared to the US style. He decided we would make the Porchetta from the loin and belly section.This meant boning all of the ribs and back bone. It was a great show of butchery craftsmanship and Paul attributed part of what he learned to the CIA's meat class. He pressed my students to absorb as much of the class as possible because the butchery skills it provides gives you so many more options in a restaurant.

Once the bellys and loin were fabbed he seasoned it with salt and an amazing ground red pepper from Scicily and some fennel flowers that he brought from Oakland. Then he rolled the belly into the loin creating a large roast.

After his demo, Chef Sebald's class arrived and I took my class upstairs for lecture. Paul was gracious enough to do the entire demo again which I know Han's class appreciated.

That afternoon my two TA's Steven Bookbinder and Kevin McCann worked on the rest of the hogs and got a chance to really hone some skills. All in all it was a great day for butchery at the CIA.... and we still have all the hams and shoulders to make into other stuff! (Steven has already salted a ham for a dry cure! Chef Elia wants the fennel flowers and shoulders for sausage.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Half Hog Fabrication

Ok, enough commentary. This is a site that is supposed to be focused on butchery skills so here is a video that a student of mine, Patrick Smith, put together. It is long and unedited but I divided it into three videos. It is actual class footage.

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.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Artisan Butchers, all together now!

Recently I've been reading articles about artisan butchers. Younger men and women who choose to carry on the craft of butchery are becoming noticed by some food writers and there has become a certain prestige for a restaurant that buys whole carcasses and breaks them down. Buying locally produced meat typically means buying the whole and using it all. But are these "new" butchers the only ones carrying the craft into the future? As more and more supermarkets trend towards pre-cut meats, the butcher or meat cutter's skills are focused on simple steak and chop cutting. Most stores are buying pre-trimmed sub-primal cuts that don't require much skill. Not that there isn't any skill involved but it isn't the same as breaking a whole carcass.

With thousands of meat animals being harvested daily aren't there a lot of butchers who understand the process of breaking down a carcass? Most meat processors hire with the intention of teaching one or two specific cutting skills to the employee and have them repeat it in an assembly line type production. But who teaches the new hires? There are those managers in the meat processing plants that understand the breakdown probably better than any other modern butcher. They understand speed, efficiency, yield and waste. It is not artisan nor does it involve the skill that a chef might consider applying but it is certainly a high level of skill. I often tell my teaching assistants that they should tour a modern meat processing plant to see how it is done on a large scale. This is not to "dis" all of the artisan butchers out there. Bravo and Hooray! I am glad to see my craft being celebrated but there are lessons in efficiency that can be learned from large processors. For instance: How long should it take a chef/butcher to break down a market style half hog into primals? 15 minutes? How about breaking down a primal beef rib? 7 minutes? I've toured a few large plants and I always learn something new. Granted a chef/butcher will not have all of the equipment that the large companies do, but there are tricks to be learned. If your operation decides to process a whole carcass get everyone involved. It may make sense to set up a mini- assembly line in the kitchen. If rendering pork fat, teach the prep people or dishwasher how to skin off the fat back. Trimming and cubing are simpler tasks that other staff can do. Line cooks that are involved in some aspect of the butchery will be more likely to respect the product if they are part of the process.

To me artisan meat cutting is like great writing, you first need to know the language and study the grammar, spelling, sentence structure etc and then use the words to create what you really want. When looking at a meat carcass with a creative eye you first need to know all the basics and then how to get it done.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Mangalitsa the new Berkshire?

By now many of you have heard of or worked with the heritage breed of hog known as Berkshire. Berks have become popular in many quality kitchens and the popularity seems to grow every year. Berkshire is to pork what Angus is to beef, quality breeds that produce quality meat. So what else is out there? Specialty farmers have been trying a variety of heritage breed hogs here in the Northeast for the past 15 or 20 years. Breeds such as the Tammworth, Old Spots, Hampshires, Durocs have all found their way to various farmer's markets. Most are raised by small farmers who allow the pigs some freedom and feed them with a variety of stuffs such as locally grown corn, apples, old pumpkins and squash, acorns, and a huge variety of kitchen scraps.

Enter the Mangalitsa breed, a heritage breed from Austria/ Hungary. My grandfather Karl Schneller grew up in the southeastern portion of Austrian, near the Hungarian border. My Aunt Mary was born in Hungary and our family has a long food history that maintains many of the specialties from that area of the world. My father would make Speck in his butcher shop that was the same as my Austrian grandfather made. The Mangalitsa is a breed of hog from this part Europe. It is considered by many as the best tasting pork in Europe and is prized for its fat. It is unique in that it has a thick sheep-like wooly coat and does very well in colder climates. In 2006 a entrepreneur, Heath Putman, brought some breeding stock to the US and started the company Wooly Pigs Wooly pigs is located in the state of Washington and they have recently sold some stock to Mosefund Farm in northern New Jersey, about an hour and a half drive to the CIA in Hyde Park. Michael Clampffer , CIA alumni, manages the raising of hogs and is involved with selling the meat to chefs in NYC.

On Saturday my nephew Austin and I met up with my teaching assistant Steven Bookbinder and his girlfriend at the Mosefund farm to ask some questions and see the old/ new breed. Austin raises a few hogs each year in Stone Ridge NY and this year he has a Berk, a Hampshire and a crazy mixed breed that is part Duroc. Both of us hadn't seen anything like the Mangalitsa. Michael was an excellent host and answered our many questions about feed and raising techniques. He explained that some of the forty or so hogs were either purebred or crossed with Berkshire. The smaller pigs were all 75% Mangalitsa and 25% Berk. They are fed restaurant scraps, and a mixture of barley and wheat. They are allowed to graze on fields of chickory and clover from time to time which they destroy in hours! Like most heritage hogs, they love to root and dig.

Mangalitsa has been praised in articles recently in the NYTimes and Saveur to name a couple. It is touted as the best tasting pork and has a fat that is lower in saturated fat. Don't be mistaken. It is not a low fat pork but the fat is higher in monosaturated fat as opposed to most pork on the market.

Michael wanted us to experience the pork so we received a fresh ham and I broke it down into subprimals and tied some roasts. While cutting it I trimmed some of the fat and rendered it. I also cut a small steak off the sirloin side and panseared it with nothing but salt and pepper. It was very nice! I gave a slice to my 16 yearold son who also knows something about pork and he said only one word which tells the the story "Good".

Michael will attend a demo, lecture and tasting featuring the pork at the CIA this fall and he will be hosting the president of the Austrian Mangalitsa Society this coming winter for a three day seminar demonstrating traditional cutting styles and curing techniques.

As we as a food society constantly search for the best flavors it is exciting for me to find a hog that I never knew existed gaining in popularity. Mosefund farm is located in north Jersey which is very much like the foothills of the Catskills where I live and the hogs are in the shade of a beautiful mountain side, like somewhere in Austria.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Glutaminase - Glue?

A few years ago I had a student who, unintentionally, made a major cut through the middle of a beef tenderloin while trimming it. We used what we could and shaped medallions from it but we lost a fair amount. I joked about it and said it would be a great test for " meat glue". Then last year my TA at the time, Carlos, brought in a sample of a Japanese product, Activa. Activa is a product made by the Ajinomoto corporation that is a protein binder enzyme transglutaminase. Transglutaminase is a naturally occuring enzyme that is created by a frementation process. Glutamin is the major amino acid that is found in muscle tissue. It is considered a non-essential amino acid due to the fact that the body creates it so it doesn't need to be consumed but many body building supplements contain it due to its abilty to promote muscle strength. It is also used for digestive health and is an essential energy source for the intestinal lining. Glutamin is used for many treatments medically and its attributes are still being discovered.

Transglutiminases are a number of enzymes that bond proteins. The transglutaminase found in the blood stream forms a fibrin bond when an injury occurs, initiating clotting. The Ajinomoto Co creates this type of enzyme by using a fermentation process and, once isolated, mixing it with a delivery powder that can either be mixed with water or sprinkled over meats. MEAT GLUE! It physically binds raw meat proteins together.

In class we have used it to bind a variety of meat items. Certainly it can be used to repair cuts made in error but it can also be used to dramatically increase yields on certain cuts. We used it to bind tenderloin sections to minimize tail and tip trim. We also took two boneless lamb loins and joined them to create a larger circular medallion. It worked really well for stuffing items. Boneless chicken breasts can be stuffed and rolled and will hold without any string or toothpicks used. It will bind any type of animal protein but will not hold fat well.

Recently we had to fabricate 725 portions of tenderloin medallions for a graduation celebration. We used PSMO tenderloins and we averaged almost 12 - 6 oz steaks per tenderloin which is a really good yield. I made a slurry of Activa and glued the tail sections and head sections together to create a much more uniform medallion. We wrapped them in plastic and let them set overnight. The only issues were when we attempted to mix tenderloins that were slightly different colors. You could see the different sections which looked odd but once seared you could not tell. Activa basically creates a bond that is undetectable and is basically like a new meat.

There are three basic formulations of Activa and the difference between them is the type of protein you are trying to bind. We used Activa TG- FP which is meant for leaner raw meat proteins such as beef or pork. The other two types, Activa TG- RM and TG- RI, have different uses. RM is used for either seafood, poultry or processed meats. RI is used to bind protein for milk products such as yogurt and cheese.

The companie's site is not very high tech but it explains the product well. Carlos got them to send a sample by simply requesting it. It is available commercially and is relatively expensive about $100 for a kilo ( 2.5 lbs) but a little goes a long way. I used about 1/4 lb for 725 medallions which more than made up for its cost in yield savings.

Here are the basic steps we used for