Sunday, December 19, 2010

Popular Cuts and Percentages

I recently heard someone talk about the wonderful flavor of the oyster steak. The oyster, which sits on the outside of the aitch bone on the beef carcass weighs only about 6 -8 ounces. On a 800 pound carcass this is a tiny percentage to say the least. Back in 1998 a project funded by the Beef Checkoff program and conducted by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, was completed . The purpose was to analyze the entire beef carcass according to the isolated individual muscle as opposed to larger multi muscled cuts that chefs are familiar with commercially. Each individual muscle was subjected to the Warner Bratzler test which detects tenderness. The discoveries were an awakening for the beef industry. Instead of cross cutting through each large section of the carcass, muscles were isolated and sold as "new" cuts. Old world butchers and various cultures around the world have been doing this for years. Often a European chef will ask for a cut that is not the same here in the US. These cuts are smaller and more difficult to isolate than the typical cutting style. An example would be the "flat iron" steak which was isolated from the shoulder clod. The upside of this research is a higher profit margin from the entire carcass. The downside is the problem when one of these small cuts gains in popularity to the point where the cost becomes prohibitive. If a restaurant decides to put a small isolated cut on the menu, such as the Teres Major or Petite Tender, which weighs about a pound, and it becomes a popular item, the price may shoot up. If the menu states "petite tender" then the restaurant cannot substitute with another cut that might work instead.

Middle meat cuts such as the tenderloin, strip loin and rib eye have always been more expensive because of their tenderness, flavor and also shape, that is conducive for portion cutting. A completely cleaned and denuded tenderloin only weighs about 4 pounds so in a 800 pound carcass there is only 8 pounds of tenderloin medallions. Wow! The larger tougher cuts from the round and chuck take up a much larger percentage of the carcass. Recently I have encountered the rib eye divided into its main eye muscle and its tender cap piece, reducing its size and raising its price. I'm not suggesting these are bad ideas. These are very tender cuts and wonderful for flavor and plate presentation but the chef must realize the cost and reduce the portion size. A 6-8 oz portion should suffice on these cleaned isolated cuts.

How does this relate to other meats? Another cut that is very popular but is a low percentage of the whole is the veal hind shank. There are only 6-8 quality bone-in portions of veal hind shank osso buco available in a 400 lb veal carcass. Veal osso buco maintains its popularity and cannot be substituted with another cut so the price is high, over $8.00 per lb. Another example is the boneless eye muscle of the lamb loin. It weighs only a little over a pound from a 70 pound carcass.

As a chef decides what meat to put on the menu they are often confronted with the many options available today. A menu that is locked into a specific cut makes it very difficult to buy a larger cut and be able to utilize all of the other leftover parts. Its even harder to purchase a full carcass as many local farmers and small processors like to sell. How can a chef put a single item such as loin medallions on the menu when it is such a small portion of the whole carcass? It is the dilemma many chefs encounter when considering local meats. A menu designed with larger cuts or full carcasses in mind requires the overlapping of uses and maybe stockpiling some cuts in the freezer. Its a different mindset.

A chef may also often wonder why a specific cut is expensive. Prices of individual cuts are all based on the full carcass. If a certain small cut is unnoticed then its prices remains low. A chef should be flexible with menu items to realize the most profit. Or, at the very least, keep up with price fluctuations to adjust the menu prices.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hog Start to Finished!

My Nephew, Austin Schneller raised 4 hogs for this year. They were born in spring and reached a little over 6 months. He fed them a combination of oats, alfalfa hay, corn, table scraps, garden scraps, pumpkins, apples, lots of acorns and a few Dunkin Munchkin treats. They lived in a nice large pen about twenty by forty feet on a rocky ledge with plenty of muddy places to wallow and a nice hay strewn shed to hang out in when it was hot or rainy. Oak and hickory trees cover the plot and drop their nuts right over the hogs. This year there was a phenomenal acorn crop. I have a few large oaks in my own yard and raked up a few 5 gallon buckets for them. Pigs love acorns, especially those from white oaks. They also like hickory nuts and can crunch them up without trouble. They escaped their pen a couple times and foraged the local woods for a few days ( hence the Munchkins to lure them back.)

All in all it cost Austin just over $2,000 to raise them. Each hog ended weighing about 300 lbs dressed carcass, with two slightly smaller, so they ended up costing a fair amount. But cost was only part of it, Austin was going for ultimate quality. Austin contracted with a few people who bought them for a price they all previously agreed upon.

These pigs didn't need an antibiotic or any other pharmaceuticals other than worming, because they started out healthy and lived an active robust life. All foraging pigs need to wormed a couple times because they can pick up parasites from the ground they root in. These were last wormed back in August.

The hogs were Hampshire Landrace crossbreeds from a quality herd. They were mostly black with a large white stripe around their middles. They were extremely marbled and had a cover fat of well over an inch on the loin. The bellies were large and almost two inches thick. The meat color was a deeper red than most pork. The fat melted in my hands and was creamy smooth. The flavor was rich and full...porky!

Last Saturday, Nov 20th, we did the slaughter. My father Robert, my brother Rick, nephews Quinn and Dean along with a few other strong armed friends were up to the task. We had a core group that knew the process. Harvesting hogs is a fair amount of work with each part of the process as important as the next. First they are stunned with a 22 caliber rifle; then bled. My nephew Dean was the "sticker", hitting the main blood vessel in the neck. I did the first one and he did the rest. Hogs need to be bled out correctly and soon after stunning to ensure there is no blood "splash" or broken capillaries in the lean muscle. Then we scalded the hogs, dipping in 150F water for a few minutes to loosen off all their hair. This requires some heavy lifting and shackling to be sure the hair is loosened. Then the scraping, which is done by all, at once, using bell shaped scrapers and knives. The hair was becoming thick due to the cold fall weather making this process difficult.

Once cleaned on the outside it was time for the evisceration. Removing the entrails of a pig is careful work. First the gambrels are opened along each foot and the heavy rope is hooked to the "spreader". Each foot is hooked up and then the hog is lifted using a pulley to a height where its nose is just about 3 inches from the ground. A sharp knife is required to cut the skin carefully but not pierce the intestines or other vitals. This work is a little rough for those who have never been around it. For me, I sort of set myself outside of the situation and just do it, similar to a surgeon. Just apply the skills learned and don't think about the gore etc. I had the opportunity to teach Austin's friend Jesse how it was done. Jesse had worked as a cook in the famous Fore Street Cafe in Portland Maine where whole hogs, already cleaned and eviscerated, were brought in from local farms from time to time to be cut and used. He had worked with cutting the meat etc but had never done the whole thing from live to finished carcass. We salvaged the liver, kidneys, heart and caul fat but we didn't feel like cleaning out the intestines. Then we loosened off the leaf lard so it would be easy to use when it hardened.

The next step was to split the carcass which requires a cut directly down the spine and no more than a 1/4 inch wide. A couple years ago we came across a new method of splitting, we used a thin long handled Japanese pull saw which slowly but very accurately cuts through the back bones.
Finally the two sides are lifted off the spreader and rope simultaneously, requiring teamwork and strength. We hung the sides in the barn and hoped for cold weather. Sunday it was cold, high around forty and low of twenty seven. Monday reached a high of over fifty but never over forty five in the barn. Austin set up fans to keep the air moving. We hung them until the Friday after Thanksgiving and by that time the fat had set up beautifully. This process of allowing the meat to hang is crucial. The carcass must stretch out and set up before it should be cut. This is one of the key lessons to Austin's quality pork. Let them chill and set up for a few days and the meat develops a very nice flavor. If the weather is right, I would hang the loin with the skin on for about three weeks for a very deep concentrated pork taste.

We cut the hogs a little out of the ordinary. Two of the hams were made into large steamships for Christmas dinners. The other hams were seamed and turned into roasts, with the top round well trimmed for cutlets. We cut the foreshanks into osso buco. The shoulders were boned out using seam butchery rather than the straight through the muscle techniques used by large commercial processors. We cut off the chine bones of the loin and then hand cut the pork chops; no band saw work here! The huge bellies and jowls were rubbed with the salt recipe for bacon and then were pressed together for later smoking. Some of the fatback was saved for cured lardon and most was cut and rendered to lard for frying. Some of the bones were roasted for a stock and later reduced to a sort of pork glace. Some of the fatty pieces were saved for making, fresh breakfast sausage, smoked liverwurst and country pates. My dad took the heads and will make homemade headcheese and scrapple. He also took the hearts, sliced them into thin strips and made a Hungarian soup with lots of paprika and sourcream.

While cutting the pigs we threw a few slices into the pan, CIA meat class style, just salt and pepper and a hot skillet. The taste was so satisfying!

The idea of raising a pig and then harvesting it is not all that fascinating. Its a lot of work and requires a fair amount of equipment and some valuable knowledge for it to go well. Many parts of the process could go wrong and ruin the whole plan. Austin is getting to the point where he is now growing a true artisan pork. A flavor so deep and rich accomplished partly by the breed but mostly by the feed style and the space allowed. The taste of place or terrior if I must use that word. His pigs taste of the place they were grown. All of the feeds came from farms nearby ( except the rare Dunkin Munchkin). They also taste so good because of the techniques used during the harvest and the aging after, and then the curing and spices used on the food itself. The garden fresh sage, the local hardwoods used for smoking, all playing a part in the taste. But there is something else about the pork we were tasting. It was about the age old traditions of families getting together during harvest times to put up food for the coming year. It was about the culmination of all that hard work finally paying off. Its about looking at what we eat and saying well there you go, I made that! Not just bought the ingredients and cooked it, but really made it from start to finish. Its about developing a product that not everyone is going to taste. I felt honored to have helped in this process and to taste such a treat. Congrats to Austin on a very successful hog harvest!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cutting Boards...Polymer vs Maple

Years ago the local health department came through my kitchen and told me I should think about removing all of the wooden cutting boards that we had on our line. " Plastic is better, easier to clean" the inspector said. I always resisted for a few reasons. First, I was in busniess and we didn't see the need to replace anything that wasn't broken unless there was a monetary benefit. Second the wooden cutting boards were nicer on the knives. I find the plastic boards take the edge off faster, especially when doing a lot of chopping, such as mincing garlic or parsley. Third was simply aesthetics, the wooden boards looked warmer, more "homemade" so if we took a photo of a rustic dish with a wooden board it just looked better. So which is best?

Today I work on large plastic tables in the meatroom at the CIA. They are used by three seperate classes daily. There are thousands of little nicks and dings and a few larger saw cuts from the many classes that have used them over the past 5 0r 6 years, since they were last replaced. We wash them and sanitize them each night, then allow them to air dry in a cold room.

So which is better? First lets talk about what they actually are. Plastic cutting boards are made of polyethelene and can be made in a variety of thicknesses. Over time they get nicks and cuts in them which can harbor bacteria, making them difficult to sanitize. There are some that claim antibacterial surface but the effectiveness of this is questionable. Most carry a warning stating "This product does not protect against bacteria". Once the antibacterial board is cut into bacteria will also be found in it. Plastic boards can be planed and resurfaced if thick enough, getting rid of all the nicks. Cleaning plastic can be done in a dish machine if small enough to fit which sterilizes the surface. Another aspect of plastic boards is they can be colored to designate uses; yellow for poultry, green for vegis, white for meat etc. Super thin plastic cutting mats can be used for small portable cutting and these can also be washed in a machine. Plastic boards can be sanitized with harsh chemicals such as bleach and then rinsed thoroughly whereas wood will absorb the flavor of the chemical.

Wooden cutting boards are made of hardwoods that have a tight grain. Maple is most typical, hickory is possible also, teak and other tropical woods are found but very expensive. Oaks' grain is too wide enabling moisture to penetrate. Pine and other fir trees are way too soft and fragile. Bamboo is cut and layered to make a very hard board that resists cuts but can dull knives somewhat. Bamboo boards can be light and thin and very easy to clean. Wooden boards can be cleaned with abrasive scrubbers such as steel wool which actually take a tiny layer off, healing the board's cuts. Maple boards resist bacterial growth and are found to be safer than a over-used plastic board but wooden boards cannot be allowed to be continually moist or soaked in sinks. They can split and mold can form in the cracks. Wooden boards can be planed, also to resurface. They must be kept dry and may require an occassional conditioning with mineral oil. I have seen old school butcher shops pour salt on their boards every night and then wipe it off in the morning to kill any harmful bacteria. Small wooden cutting boards can be sanitized in a microwave. Wood is also a "green" renewable resource as opposed to plastic.

Another type of board is made from rubber. Two inch thick rubber boards are expensive but feature some of the best of both worlds. They can be sanatized like plastic but won't dull your knives as easily. Rubber is also renewable. They can warp but they also can be heated in an oven to be reshaped. Rubber boards "heal" like wood so the small cuts seal back up keeping it free of bacteria harboring nicks.

When chopping with the cleaver, plastic and rubber boards will be damaged. Normal wooden boards will chip and damage also but the maple "chopping" block is designed for it. The grain is set so the cleaver is chopping down into it as opposed to across.

Whatever board you choose its imperative that it is cleaned correctly and replaced when worn. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages and inital cost plays a part in the decision. I welcome any comments on this and ideas from you.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Butcher Skills for Restaurant Chefs

A meatcutter in a large packing plant can fabricate an enormous amount of meat in a single day. They have the advantage of the "assembly line" arrangement with all of modern techniques and equipment. For instance, the task of boning a leg of lamb and tying it into a roast is done over and over by a single person working off of a moving conveyor belt. The cutter doesn't need to carry anything or move from his or her spot. The its a simple 1-2-3 step proceedure, pull the leg off the conveyor belt, bone it out and throw it back on, and then the roast is formed and netted by someone else. On larger cuts, such as beef, the task may be aided by hydrolic pullers and tools specifically designed to reduce stressful labor and increase speed of fabrication. The result is a product that is cut accurately to industry specs that is standardized and available from purveyors with regularity. The same goes for portion cut items. Steaks and chops are cut on machines that can regulate thickness and weight and done in huge volume so the processor can pick out all of the like-sized portions for accuracy. You can buy a perfect 10 oz striploin steak over and over.

So why would a chef decide to do any fabrication in house? There is no way to match the speed of the large plants and they would need to pay someone to do it. But the restaurant chef that has some butchery skills has an advantage over those that don't. They can custom cut things that are outside the norm such as instead of simply boning the leg of lamb they can french off the end of the shank, remove all other bones, stuff the interior and then tie it to create a look that is unique. Meat cutting, especially on the small custom restaurant or meat market level can go in directions that a large processor can not possibly do. Other examples are chefs who dabble in curing meats. A ham, custom partially boned in the true prosciutto style, leaves the femur and shank intact but the aitch bone removed except for a little corner of it to protect the interior from mold. You can't buy this from a large processor. All sorts of little tricks and custom ideas can be done to maximize yields, create unique looks, convert tougher cuts to tender all by butchery skill.

Another situation invloves chefs that want to sell meat from a small local processor. Most small processors cut meat from local farms but cut for retail freezer orders. They focus on quick volume band saw work which may not be good for a restaurant. Today we find some chefs buying the entire primal cut and breaking it down themselves. This enables them to utilize all of the trim, bones and even fat to make a large variety of sauces and dishes that wouldn't occur if they purchased pre-cut items. This cutting requires a lot of skill and time. There is no assembly line. Meats need to be cut on a large table instead of off the hook. Meats are out in a warmer environment than in a meat plant so spoilage is an issue. Crosscontamination can occur if proper care isn't taken. But the end result can be a taste and texture that is as signature as a fine pastry or a great sauce. A restaurant that custom cuts their meat can use the fact on the menu or in advertising. Even an inexpensive bistro can offer an in-house ground burger that is made from whole muscle cuts rather than buying pre-ground beef that may have contamination.

I must admit that I am partial to chefs cutting some or all of their meat in-house, afterall I have trained a lot of them. I also realize in many situations such as very high volume hotels or casinos can't possibly do all their fabrications but there are often ways to save money or create new presentations by custom cutting.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Buying local:Right way, wrong way, NO way!

At the CIA we are buying some local meat for our St Andrews Restaurant. We have found that the Hudson Valley has a large variety of meats raised by farms within 60 miles of our location including, beef, lamb, pork, poultry and even some veal. We have been getting beef from two producers Meiller's in Pine Plains and Rykowskis in Rosendale NY. Both have quality beef breeds, Meiller's has some very nice Angus and Rykowski has Hereford. These livestock are on pasture and are supplemented with corn and fermented silage which fattens them up. Meillers has been reaching high choice marbling scores and Rykowskis are reaching at least select levels. We have aged the striploins and rib eyes from both with great success. With both of these farmers, sometimes the marbling is high, sometimes low but the cattle are young enough to still have fine fibers and therefore a quality meat.

I have experienced some very high quality strictly grass fed beef from a grower in mid state NY that had the distinct grass flavor but also some marbling. The rib eye we sampled was tender and savory. An innovator in this field is a company called TallGrass in Kansas. Bill Kurtis, ownner, has a philosophy of raising quality beef on pasture and is gaining some market share. Jo Robinson, the pasture feeding advocate, describes a good pasture fed beef farmer as more of a grass farmer, growing a high quality grass as the main food stuff.

In past posts I wrote about Scottish Highland cattle and their ability to fatten on grass and forage. They have a very fine fiber and produce a lower fat but quality meat. They are not typically raised commercially due to their excessive furry coat and very large horns but there are numerous farms throughout the US that do raise and sell their meat. NY state has over 35 farms registered as raising Highland cattle and many more in New England and Pennsylvania.

Recently we recieved a pasture raised Highland that was raised in Rhinebeck NY. It was not what I expected. The beef had absolutely no fat on the exterior and no marbling at all!. Surely this was not inducative of what this breed represents. It was by no means quality, but not because of the breed but how it was raised. The term "grass fed" doesn't simply mean the animal is allowed to roam a pasture and eat down all the grass, even though this is what, many people believe. High quality grass fed is placed on ripe fresh grass and then moved from pasture to pasture to insure the animal gets plenty of nutrition, even to the point of marbling. I have tasted numerous grass fed steaks that had marbling and might have graded low choice. I understand that Highland cattle develop less fat and maybe it was that it was an extermely hot time of year but this was a waste.

Another issue was the lack of USDA inspection. Farmers can be exempt from USDA inspection if they are selling directly to the end user. The meat must be stamped "NOT FOR SALE" as was the case on or carcass. I called the NY Ags and Markets dept. to confirm my suspicion. This meat was not legal for sale in a restaurant. But what about using it for demo in a school setting? The meat would have been consumed by students, therefore it would be considered part of their meal plan and in effect would have been sold to them, making it illegal.

The third issue was the price. I know that locally grown, fully pastured beef is going for a high price these days but this 500 lb carcass was over $3,000! I recognize the need for farmers to recoup their investment but this seemed excessive, especially considering the quality of the meat.

Lessons learned? Know your farmer if buying local. Local does not simply mean better! Be sure to purchase inspected meat if selling it in a restaurant or shop. Uninspected farmer's market meats are ok for home cooks that are not re-selling but a chef needs to be more cautious.

This post by no means was meant to discourage the use of quality grass fed beef or heritage Highland cattle but there is a right way and a wrong way to buy local meat and there was NO way we could use this example.
Over grazed pasture.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Angus Veal is Real!

Veal in the US is traditionally from Holstein cattle due to the fact that it is primarily the male offspring that aren't usable on the dairy farm. The Holstein can be raised as beef and this is done often but the meat quality is not as desired as from other "meat" breeds such as Angus or Charolais.

About three weeks ago we had the chance to break down an entire veal carcass in class. Chef Soileau purchased it from Hackett Farm, Salt Point NY. It was unique in that it wasn't the typical Holstein veal that we find in most markets, its was from Angus. The idea of taking a higher quality meat breed and harvesting it much younger enabled us to compare these veal. The carcass was a true milk fed product and the calf had been feeding on real milk for its early life but had started to eat some pasture. It was about 4 1/2 months old and weighed about 225 for the cleaned carcass, which is smaller than most of the veal that is found in the commercial marketplace today.

Chef Dave Kamen divided the carcass into the primal cuts and then my class turned everything into roasts , stew, cutlets, chops and grind. We left the breast whole for stuffing.

The color was a little more red than most veal we get but the conformation was very good. The Angus traits could be seen in the nice oval chops. We had aged it for about 8 days so it was nice and firm when we cut it. Most veal is packed about a day after slaughter and it never gets a chance to set up properly. The aging improved its flavor. When I called Chef Soileau about what he thought of it he said " Oh Man! Butter! Best ever! "
Don't expect the veal industry to jump on this band wagon though. Angus calves are very costly as a feeder stock and it may not make economic sense to raise Angus for veal but it was a delight to see this meat and taste the end result.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wagyu Woes

The other day I assigned some research for my class after reading some disturbing news reports about Wagyu beef in Japan. The assignment was basic, write about the situation in Japan and also find out about Wagyu production in Australia. Being a casual sidebar assignment I allowed a simple web source to be the citation. This is what Maxim Pettersen handed in....

What happened to Wagyu in Japan?:

Japan's prized Miyazaki beef is under threat from the country's first outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease since 2000, which has spread to more than 100 frams. Foot- and- mouth disease is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, and pigs, as well as antelope, bison and other wild bovids, and deer. The disease is highly transmissible and the icubation period has a range between 2- 12 days. It is characterized by high fever, blisters inside the mouth, drooling, blisters on the feet that cause lameness. The outbreak in Japan has forced the slaughtering of 49 seed bulls, leaving only six prized seed bulls that breed the tender beef from Miyazaki. Prime Minister Yukio Hatayama has pledged 100 billion yen ( $1.08 billion dollars) to assist farmers who are expected to lose 16 billion yen from slaughtering their livestock. The foot and mouth otbreak, also known as FMVD, was detected on April 20th, and has spread to 111 farms in Miyazaki, Japan's south, involving more than 85,000 cattle, and pigs. Fears are growing that it may spread beyond Miazaki.

Wagyu Production in Australia:

Australia received its first Wagyu genetics from a Wagyu female in 1990. Frozen semen and embryos have been available since 1991 and there have been numerous imports of live purebreds into Australia, and specifically in 1997, the first fullbloods came to Australia. The Australian Wagyu Association is the largest breed association outside of Japan. Both Fullblod and Wagyu Croos bred cattle are farmed in Australia for domestic and overseas markets. The Wagyu cattle represent only 100,000 of the 28.8 million cattle in Australia, however takes up 40% of the Australian feedlot space in a 12 month period. The FMVD outbreak that has banned the export of Wagyu cattle in Japan, has increased the demand for Australian Wagyu producers, and some producers hope to double their exports to overseas markets such as the U.S.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kiwi, Papya and Sharp Pointy Things

Last class we decided to test out some meat tenderizing techniques. A while back I had purchased a Jaccard knife and we use it regularly to tenderize tougher veal cutlets, skirt steaks etc. I tell the students about how it is used on a larger scale by many portion cutting processors and has its attributes for introducing marinades deeper into the meat. It also has come under some scrutiny because of the problem of possible crosscontamination of bacteria into a steak type cut that will be cooked to medium rare or less.
The Jaccard has its place in the kitchen and if used and cleaned properly it can be a good way to get cuts that are sitting on the tenderness "fence" to be made more palatable.

On to our testing. We chose to use the Beef Sirloin Flap which is palatable but often a little tough to be served as an unsliced portion. While the Jaccard works well we decided to try some other techniques that will do the job. We experimented with two other methods, applying Papya and Kiwi fruit to steak cuts. We peeled and sliced both fruits and messaged them into two separate steaks and left them loose wrapped over night. The third steak was simply Jaccarded without any marinade or spice. When it came time to cook them we seasoned all three with salt and pepper, lightly so as not to interrupt the naturally occuring tastes. They were cooked to medium rare individually in a heavy black skillet with a little rendered beef fat in the pan to prevent sticking.

The results? All three methods were effective in tenderizing the meat with the two fruit methods differing somewhat from the Jaccard. The mechanical method worked well but without any marinade, it turned out a little dry. It also cooked faster due to the ability for heat to "chimney" up the tiny holes that were pierced through it. Moisture had leaked out of the meat but it was still palatable.

The Papya worked well but left a lightly sweet flavor and carmelized quite a bit in the pan. Papya contains a protease enzyme, papain, which chemically breaks down the collagen muscle fiber sheaths within the muscle. Kiwi fruit also contains protease enzymes and the effects from placing it over the steak was also very effective. The Kiwi didn't have quite the same amount of sweetness but did leave a residual flavor. Both fruits broke down the fibers about equally resulting in a steak that could be cut with a regular steak knife with ease. At 24 hrs we did not experience a "mushy" texture that can happen when steaks are left too long. In a previous test we left a steak with Papya over a weekend and it became overly tenderized and very soft which resulted in an unatural texture. The meat fibers had basically disolved.

None of the three in this test were disagreable in taste but there were certainly differences. The question is how would they be used in the kitchen? If you are trying to maintain the original flavor of the meat, the mechanical system is probably best. There is no added flavor. If looking for an ingredient that will add some flavor and can do a nice job tenderizing these two fruits worked well. Other fruits containing protease enzymes are figs, pineapple, and honey dew melon. All of these will do the job but will also add flavor. Be sure not to over marinate due to the mush factor. A half of a kiwi can be enough for about 4 lbs of meat and it is easy to overuse it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Steam Bath

The other day we were cutting beef top rounds into trimmed roasts in class. Half the class was cutting Certified Angus and the other half were using regular IBP Choice XT. XT stands for Extra Trimmed, I believe. I was asking the class to observe any differences between the two, hoping for some comments on the fat trim level or marbling scores. Instead what they noticed the most was the fact that the CAB had a discoloration on the exposed meat and the XT did not. The CAB top round was a basic untrimmed subprimal which was packaged "as is" when taken off the bone. The XT had the cap fat trimmed to 1/4 inch and the discoloration trimmed off. The grayish tint is not caused by any spoilage or pathogen, it is the result of the carcass steam cleaning process.

Steam cleaning takes place in most large beef processing plants today. It is typically a combination of whole carcass washing with water, hand held steam vacuums during evisceration, and a steam pasteurization cabinet for the whole split dressed carcass. Often carcasses are also sprayed with an organic acid to further guard against pathogens. IBP, owned by Tyson, developed the "Triple Clean" method after a huge beef recall of about 750,000 lbs in 1998. This method applied the hand held vacuum steamers and a huge car wash type steam cabinet on their line for the first time. The end result is a cleaner beef but also a sort of pre-cooked layer on some exposed cuts. The top round, flank steak, skirt and hanger steaks, and sometimes the tenderloin can be found with some slight discolorations caused by the steam. Most other cuts are protected by the exterior fat or bone coverage.

The basic reason for this extra cleaning is E. coli O157:H7 which is found in the fecal matter on the outside of the hide or in the intestinal tract. The speed of the processing and the fact that cattle often arrive with contaminated hides and intestinals makes extra cleaning a safer alternative. But all this extra cleaning is expensive and errors can be made.

Another idea is to reduce the amount of E coli before the animal leaves its feedyard. This can be done a couple of ways. First by cleaning out excessive waste so animals are cleaner and dryer when they leave. Many times, especially in rainy summer months, cattle are standing in muck. Some feedyards are a lot better about this than others and there should be a standard.

Another is to feed the cattle hay or barley a few days before slaughter. This causes a change in the intestine that helps to reduce the E. coli dramtically. This is not to say that the animal should be on pasture or not ever grain fed but simply creating a dramtic switch from a corn ration to hay for the last few days could reduce E.coli counts significantly. So why aren't most large processors demanding this switch to keep the cattle cleaner? Maybe its a weight loss issue or a cost that makes this impractical. But the cost of the steam cleaning must be high too.

Other interventions, such as Lactobacillus-based direct-fed microbials, vaccines and irradiation are also being suggested. Diet introduced probiotics can reduce E. coli. There is a vaccine for it too. But both of these add extra expense. One company developed a vaccine and spent $15,000,000 in doing it ( also $50,000,000 in advertising it!)

The goal of irradiation is to "pasteurize" the carcass. This would eliminate a lot of pathogen risk and contrary to popular sentiment, it wouldn't glow in the dark. My issue with this method is when a meat is irradiated will the good flora that enables part of the flavor of a proper dry aging be destroyed? How much vitamin content will be lost? Also if the goal of irradiating is to eliminate E.coli by sterilizing it and E.coli is typically found in fecal matter then are we to accept sterilized fecal matter as a food? Not my idea of a fine dining experience.

Steam cleaning is a good idea and it has made our meat supply safer. Hay, you know that dried stuff grown in open fields, seems like a good idea too. There is no one solution but there are some that make more sense than others.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My friend and butcher Josh Applestone had the opportunity to appear on the Martha Stewart Show. The show's theme was butchery and Josh and Martha cut up a half hog.

It was interesting to see how casual Martha was with this process but understanding her background as a kid hanging around a butcher shop, it was no problem for her. Today we just don't find kids that grow up around the craft of cutting meat. As children grow into adulthood they simply haven't experienced meat cutting or even shopping for meat from a real butcher. Maybe some people, with parents that hunted or who grew up on a farm setting, have witnessed some butchery, but with the demise of the local butcher, meat has become a distant thing of mystery. Many don't wish to know where their meat comes from or how it is processed. They want it quick, simple and easy to cook. But another type of consumer may want to know how their meat was raised and processed. In days gone by there were numerous local butchers that selected meats from large markets or from farms. Some shops were focused on quality while others on price, depending on the clientele. The butcher could answer some questions about where the meat came from, local or not. They were still in touch with the farm to table trail. Today we find the supermarkets purchasing through large volume jobbers who buy from the processors on a huge scale. The butcher in a supermarket will only know the brand name of the product and that may give a regional clue as to where the meat was raised or how but not as specific as the old style market butchers.
Now we find some individuals wanting to know more about butchery. So where can they go? To the local butcher shop? Not too likely. There are some demonstrations of butchery available at culinary schools. The CIA which I am partial to, of course, offers a basic meat class which I teach a few times a year. Josh and Jessica Applestone are offering some classes now through their shop at Fleishers in Kingston NY, there are some locations on the west coast that offer classes now such as Avendano's in SanFrancisco. I attended a class in NJ hosted by the Mangalitsa farm Mosefund in Northern New Jersey. It was taught by an Austrian butcher who showed some alternative cutting techniques. A quick search on the internet revealed a bunch of classes all over the place, often offered by small shops or restaurants. Some focus on curing and sausage making more than butchery and others focus on game fabrication. I have viewed a lot of clips on Youtube, some good, some very poor, be selective.
Often people claim the art of butchery is lost but today I find a lot of new interest and willingness to explore new techniques. So get out there and learn, like Martha!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bookbinder Makes Pastrami

My teaching assistant, Steven Bookbinder, decided to make some pastrami a few weeks ago. The process is a simple one but it requires patience and a feel for slow cooking. A good quality pastrami starts with a quality cut. My father often makes it from the plate section but it tends to be very fatty. Most places, such as Katz's Deli in NYC or Schwartz's Smoked Meats in Montreal, use the brisket. At the CIA we got in a case of Prime grade briskets so Steven was in luck!

I had confidence that Steven would make a quality product but I was pleasantly surprised when it was finished. It was one of the best pastrami I've tasted. So what went right? Well first, the Prime brisket was a great start, then a quality recipe supplied by Chef Dave Kamen was valuable. The recipe was varied slightly by Steven to test out a couple things. One was that he did not trim the brisket much, another was the fact that Steven let the briskets dry out for a day after the brining. The spice mix was applied during this time which really got the seasoning deep into the meat. Another variation was the smoking time. The brisket was cold smoked overnight like bacon rather than a hot smoke. Then the last variation was that he steamed it in an intense pressure steamer for about 30 min, until the brisket was super tender! This was no quick process and the key to all of it was patience and allowing for flavors to develop correctly.

Upon finishing it we got a loaf of fresh rye bread from our bakeshop and some Gulden's Spicy Brown mustard. I ate two large sandwiches before I realized that I was ready to explode! As you can see in the photos it was carnage in the meat room as we all enjoyed this treat.

Pastrami is not a fancy food but its hard to find a real one. Thanks to Steven for the treat!

Here's the basic recipe for 2 large briskets....

Water 3 gal.
Salt 2 lbs
Dextrose 10 oz.
TCM 7 oz. ( I've reduced it to 5 oz. before)
Garlic cloves 6 smashed
Pickling Spice 2 Tbsp.
Prime beef Briskets 2 pc.
Spice Rub:
Coriander( cracked) 4 oz.
Black Pepper ( coarse cracked) 4 oz.
Mix the brine making sure all solids are dissolved. Steven used a large, clean plastic bucket. You can pump the brisket with a few oz of brine and then place the briskets in the brine for about a week under refrigeration until thoroughly cured.

Rinse off the brisket and rub the spice mix all over the outside, deep into the fat and meat. Let stand on a rack for about two days, allowing to dry.

Cold smoke slowly for about 8 hrs, until golden brown. Cook in steamer for about 30 min until fork tender and gelatinous.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Austrian Butchery Techniques

My grandparents on my father's side were immigrants from Austria and growing up I experienced a lot of Austrian dialect and customs. Part of that was the foods my father's family would create for our large celebrations and picnics. My grandfather was a stone mason and was trained in the classic European tradition of apprentice / master. Besides his skilled craft he and my grandmother were also a part time farmers, as were many people in the days before the World War II. My grandparents always had a huge garden, some chickens, grapes etc. Farming was part of their existence. My grandfather also had a smokehouse in the back yard. He could fit about twenty slabs of bacon in it if he wanted. He would cure his own sausages and bacon and let them hang out in the smoker for weeks, weather permitting.

My father decided butchery was his craft and he opened a store in the mid-nineteen fifties. His customers were from many backgrounds but mostly German/Americans. It was a classic butcher shop with whole primal cuts being carried in the front door and sawdust on the floor. The store was filled with specialty sausages, smoked products, cheeses, specialty imports. It was a family business and we all took a lot of pride in it. My father was an innovator of sorts. His was the first market to sell Brie cheese in our area in the mid 60s. He started making pate' and smoked goose liverwurst. Some of our products were created for our German customers but my father would sometimes give it a little twist. His Austrian roots would show through. Austria and Germany, though they share a common language and many cultural similarities, will differ on some foods including meats. The Austrians are more influenced by their other neighbors such as Hungary to the east and Italian Tyrol to the south. These differences result in cuts of meat that are somewhat unique to their area.

Over the winter I had the fortunate experience to be invited to a seminar presented by Magalitsa hog producers, Woolypigs and Mosefund Farm. The hosts of the event Micheal Clampffer, Heath Putnam and Tom Canaday invited the president of the Mangalitsa Pig Breeders Union, Christoph Wiesner to do a demonstration on Austrian style pork cutting. Mangalitsa is a deliciously fatted specialty breed that is now available in the US thanks to Heath and Woolypigs. ( I have other articles on this as well, look under pork) This was a two day seminar of which I could only attend the second day so I missed the slaughter and sausage making section but I got to observe the cutting of the carcass. It was interesting to see the differences to the American style and even the German style of c utting. The Austrians will cut without cutting through the middle of muscles like we do here. Heath has been kind enough to share Christoph's cutting diagrams with us so I've linked them. It was great talking with Christoph. He reminded me of some of the foods my Grandfather would make and how his dialect and terms used to describe pork were somehow familiar. This you tube has Christoph describing some of his bacon styles. Someday I hope to visit Christoph in Austria and have a few slices of homemade Mangalitsa Speck. Wunderbar!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fall for Spring Lamb

As spring creeps into the air and the snow banks turn the ugly brown and the first shoots of green pop through the soil we start to think about the traditional foods of the season. One meat that comes to mind is lamb. Lamb has traditionally been a meat used to celebrate religious and seasonal happenings. Roast leg of lamb is often the choice for many Easter feasts. It also can be part of the Passover dinner. It can symbolize the "re-birth" of the earth and the passing of the winter season. So why lamb and what is "spring" lamb? In the days of early sheep farming in northern temperate climates lamb were often born in the spring which would make it very young to eat at this time of year. The term spring lamb can mean the lamb that was born in spring and raised throughout the summer into early fall. So spring lamb really wouldn't be ready until mid-July into September. It would be actaully the best lamb in that it would have eaten first mother's milk and then the best pasture throughout the summer months. A Spring lamb traditionally would be around 6 months old, weigh about 30 -40 lbs and would not have reached its full size yet. Today most lamb produced are just over six months but are weighing about 70lbs. This is due to larger breeds being grown and feeding methods. In reality almost all the large commercial lamb we buy is "spring" lamb and the calendar is no longer a factor as much when considering lamb quality. Niche market, grass-fed product can still be effected by season and end of summer product is typically the best.

So why lamb in spring? Originally the "Spring" lamb was meat from the English Dorsett breed that would give birth in the fall, feed its offspring on milk throughout the winter and then on the first early grass of spring. so spring lamb is really fall lamb. Lamb imported from New Zealand, Australia and Argentina , which have opposite growing seasons are often sold as "spring" lamb and their breeds tend to be a little smaller which adds to the size issue.

Lamb remains a favorite this time of year with many menus serving a roast. This will often increase the wholesale price for the legs and racks, leaving the extra shoulders to be sold off at a more reasonable price. These can be boned and roasted as well with a little more skill. I like to stuff them and roast it slow for about 2.5 hours.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Aging 3

At the CIA I have been experimenting with aging meat for a while now. Over the years many classes have sampled the flavor of aged beef, lamb and even pork. We have compared dry to wet aging methods and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both during our lectures. Most often we dry age a bone in 2x3 beef striploin for about 3-4 weeks and cut off all of the exposed area, conduct a yield test and then sample a few slices of steaks simply cooked in a hot black skillet. We compare this to a three week wet aged 0x1 boneless striploin cooked the same way. These are both non-program standard choice, not expensive prime or certified beef, but its not tenderness we are testing so much as the depth of flavor. Consistently the dry aged has more depth of flavor but a severe yield loss. I always try to encourage my students to think of how each would apply in the restaurant setting. A dry aged would be great for a stand alone steak where the flavor of the meat is the highlight. Wet aged might be more appropriate for a steak that is served with a rich sauce or spicy rub where the taste of the steak is lost to the seasoning.

The longest dry aged product other than cured stuff, was a leg of lamb that was aged for about two months. I thought for sure it would be spoiled but to my surprise it survived and presented a rich flavor and ultra tender texture. We also did a six week striploin over the summer break which was right on the edge of palatable. Some students didn't like it while others thought it was divine. We had some products that were wet aged too long and had a very funky "feta" cheese smell. We didn't sample those. Beef reaches maximum tenderness at 21 - 28 days after slaughter if held at normal walk-in temperatures so there is really no reason to wet age beyond that amount of time.

Many students and associates ask me if they can age in their small fridge at home. We age at the college in a large walkin with great fan circulation and good humidity control but a small fridge is a different situation. I often suggest using an extra fridge and sticking a small computer fan in it to circulate properly. Also place a small pan of water in there to keep up the humidity.

A while back we received a sample of a product named DryBag. I had read about this product on Chris Raines Penn State blog and I called DryBag. They generously offered a few for us to try. The concept is to be able to dry age beef without having to isolate the cuts in a seperate fridge. It is a water permeable bag the bonds to the meat when vacuum packaged. It dries out just like regular dry aging but without the worry of crosscontamination or air flow. It does require a quality vacuum machine and may not work with an inexpensive foodsaver, but a higher end home vacuum system will work.

We tested all three methods to see how this technology holds up. We took one very fresh striploin that had never been in a bag, cut it into thirds and aged it three ways. So what was the result? We conducted a basic yield test, not a cut test but a simple test to see how much the meat shrank over about three and a half weeks. The wet aged lost no yield at all, the regular exposed dry aged lost about 20% and the DryBag portion also lost an almost identical amount, 20%. So we concluded it was truly water vapor permeable. The wet aged was the usual dull off red of in bag meat that soon bloomed once the air hit it. The regular dry aged had developed some exterior mold and had its usual distinct salami-esque smell. The DryBag was discolored but not to the point of the regular dry aged. It had a slight odor but not drastic. We tasted it all and the three were all different. The regular and the wet aged followed their predictable flavor profiles and the DryBag steak came in about in the middle. It definately gained some Umami flavor but not as much as the traditional dry aged. I wanted to share the tasting with another chef so I sent the three to Certified Master Chef Brad Barnes and asked for his honest opinion. I sent him trimmed 8 oz. steaks that all looked pretty much the same. Brad has judged numerous chef competitions and has a quality palate so here are his notes:

Fragrance, none
Color, same
Flavor, mild
Normal texture

Dry Bag;
Fragrance, light
Color, same
Flavor, Mild, pleasant nutty hint
Moderately tender

Fragrance full, pleasant
Color, same
Flavor, moderate strength, typical aged flavor

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


No time for a long article right now but heres a beef breed to hold you over.
This is some of the best beef in the world. Different idea than the ultra-fat Wagyu. It is known as the "original" crossbreed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Beef and Beer!

I knew that title would grab your attention. A lot of beer is sold through some very heavy marketing as I'm sure we will see during the Superbowl. The big players in the US are Anheuser- Busch, Miller Brewing and Coors. Samuel Adams takes a chunk of the upscale market and then there are lots and lots of midsized, small and micro- brewers. There is also a large selection of foreign beer companies that also know how to market. The big companies have national distribution and lots of advertising power, midsized companies may have national distribution but not nearly the advertising bucks. The small ones distribute regionally or even within one city and then you have the brew pubs which only sell to their customers directly. Some large companies are now international super giants like the InBev corporation that bought Anheuser- Busch back in 2008. This Belgian-Brazilian company now owns over 200 brands including such polar opposites as Rolling Rock and Spaten Brau. They own brands produced all over Europe, Canada, US, South America, China and Russia. They own Becks and St Pauli Girl, two German icons. For each brand they own they produce numerous types of beer, for example Bud lager, Bud Light, Bud American Ale, Busch, Michelob are all Anheuser Busch brands.

So what does this have to do with Beef? Well the beef industry has some similarities. You have the larger beef processors in the US such as IBP, Excel, Swift, National, and Smithfield beef. Then there are some mid-sized companies such as Creekstone Farms, Greater Omaha Beef and Aurora Angus Beef which are focused on more specialty meats. You have the really small local type meat lockers and then the local farmers who distribute directly. Just as in the beer industry you have giant multinational corporations such as the Brazilian JBS S.A. that own multiple brands that appear to compete with each other. Swift, National and Smithfield are all owned by JBS today and Tyson, the poultry giant , owns IBP's beef production. As with beer, national distribution and advertising are dramatically increased with size. Also each company has multiple brand names under its umbrella. Tyson sells regular IBP brand but then also features Star Ranch Angus, Chairmen's Reserve, Open Prairie Natural Angus branded products. The same for National Beef with ten brands including Vintage Natural, Black Canyon Angus, Certified Hereford and Naturewell Beef. Excel Beef is owned by the food giant Cargill and has Sterling Silver Beef as a brand name.

Another aspect of the beef industry is name brand ultra- quality wagyu or naturally raised beef. This small, very expensive market is like the fine India Pale Ales that I buy, with small label companies craft brewing the beer. Some of these expensive beef items have higher than Prime marbling scores and typically are hitting some high scores on the Japanese rating system. But even these are not exactly what they seem. Take Snake River Farms, a well known wagyu brand; they are actually a brand name of Agri Beef Co. which also owns Double R Ranch Beef, St. Helens Beef and Rancho El Oro Beef. They are a high quality cattle grower and focus on feed, genetics and humane practices but they are not one small ranch or farm. Another is Strube Ranch in Texas. The other day I was checking the label on a box of Strube Wagyu beef and it stated "Elkhorn Valley Packing Co.", Kansas. I am still waiting on a response from Elkhorn which is a small, high quality processor that has its own line of Angus. What I think is happening is Strube is contracting with Elkhorn to process and distribute their Wagyu beef. Niman Ranch is now owned by Chicago Natural Food Holdings which took over two years ago.

Smaller processors are selling ungraded beef either regionally or over the internet. These very small operations might not really have any distribution other than a delivery truck or the UPS man. They typically will sell heritage breed, grass fed or naturally raised without hormones or some other feature that will attract the customer. Even smaller, direct farm distribution is available at many farmers markets all over the US today. Many of these operators are seasonal and by mid-winter meats are typically no longer available in cold weather states.

So what is the point of all of this? I just thought it was an interesting comparison between two of my staples. I guess comparisons could be made for many other products and this wasn't an opinion on quality. Many of these products are very high quality but I find that consumers often have a perception of where their beer and beef are coming from and who controls the company. This week I sampled a steak from Rykowski's Farm and enjoyed a glass of Hurricane Kitty IPA, both produced within 6 miles from my house, I guess next week I'll try some Australian Wagyu and a Czech Pilsner.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Austrian Artisans

One of the unique things about meat cutting is that each culture has its way of breaking down carcasses into the final product. The US style of cutting is well established in our food service purchasing culture and chefs are used to buying cuts a certain way. But worldwide we find a variety of methods that reflect the cooking or curing style of the meat. For instance in the US we cut our pork shoulder directly in half without regard for the muscle structure. This is done because it is very fast for the processors to break down the carcass and the end resulting primal Boston butt and picnic are often slow cooked as BBQ or pulled pork. In retail, the Boston butt is often cut across the bone to make "pork steaks" and both cuts are often boned to make a huge variety of sausages. In other cultures the cuts are divided with more regard to muscle structure and natural seams.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending one short session of Pigstock 2010, a three day seminar put on by Mosefund farm. was interesting to watch an Austrian butcher, Christoph Wiesner, break down a half of a heritage breed Magalitza hog. His techniques reflected the end use. Cristoph and his wife Isabel raise this very unique breed in Austria and sell to a number of very high quality shops and restaurants. Besides raising the pigs they are involved in making many sausages and specialties from the by-products.
So how is Austrian butchery different than the US style? The shoulder was separated similar to beef or veal isolating the shoulder clod away from the chuck roll and brisket. The shoulder is divided into the Dunne und Dicke Shulter or the "thin or thick shoulder". The cuts are often cured whole, pressed and smoked and sliced like ham. My grandparents were Austrian so I had a chance to talk about some of the terms my father, a life long butcher, uses when talking about pork cuts. We sampled homemade headcheese and bloodwurst for lunch and Isabel was cooking a skin- on section of the shoulder for dinner.
Leg cuts are cut longer to include the entire sirloin so the ham is bigger and stays more moist when cured. This is similar to the style of the Serrano of Spain and the Italian Prosciutto.

The Austrians don't cook BBQ ribs the way we do so the belly or bauchfleisch is boned with all of the rib meat left intact. This results in a much meatier belly and a thicker bacon.
The loin is typically cut away from the shoulder between the fourth and fifth rib so the shoulder is longer resulting in a long " cottage" butt section that is excellent for curing, similar to the Italian Osso di Coppa or French Echine. It is known as the Schopfbraten in Austria.
Austrian food culture, especially cured meats and sausages are influenced by their neighbors. There are some similarities to German cutting but also to Swiss, Italian and Hungarian / Slovic styles. Even though Austrians speak a Germanic dialect they have a nomenclature for cuts that are quite different than Germany. Their curing and spicing techniques are different also. The sutble differences in salting and packing will change the flavors. Austrians will often smoke their cured meats creating such things as Schinkenspeck. Plus the pigs themselves will have a flavor profile that makes the bacons and hams unique. As shown in these photos the Mangalitsa has a very thick fat covering and makes for some very tasty bacon.
Some "artisan"butchers here in the US are starting to cut in these old European styles to create unique cuts and better utilize the entire carcass. It was fun to discuss these techniques with a room full of them. Thanks to Cristoph and Isabel for the chance to talk Fleisch and to Micheal Clampffer for allowing myself and my TA, Steven, to join the cutting. He ran a great program and I would suggest anyone wanting to learn some alternative cutting styles to join a future seminar. Also thanks to the folks at Wooly Pigs for chatting about the pigs and answering questions. They are responsible for bringing in this unique breed into the US.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


This might be a topic that you don't want to discuss this time of year but I say its perfect! Over the holiday my father gave me a prime Top Sirloin Butt weighing about 14 lbs. I was planning on cutting it up, making nice steaks so I threw it in a small cooler and put it outside the back door. That night the wind blew like crazy and the temperature plummeted. The next day I went skiing in the Catskills and forgot all about the Sirloin. The temperature barely got to the teens. One more frigid night and the beef was solid! So did I ruin a perfectly good prime steak cut? Well today's post will focus on the effects of freezing meats and how and when to do it correctly.

Meat is at least 70% water so freezing it creates ice crystals. If meats are frozen slowly ice crystals grow large and break through the muscle cell struture and and damage the delicate sheaths that bundle muscle cells. This damage results in moisture loss upon thawing. When meats are frozen rapidly such as blast freezing using fans and temperatures well below zero, much smaller ice crystals are created. This results in much less damage to the cell structure. When you buy a frozen duck or turkey it was most likely blast frozen so the quality level will be higher than if you froze a fresh bird slowly in a normal freezer. Thats not to say you should never freeze, just do it carefully. I will spread out products to ensure a rapid freeze instead of freezing in a large lump.

Other effects of freezing are changes in flavor. The environment of a freezer is much like that of a high peak mountain, very cold, windy and really really dry. This dryness can result in freezer burn. Freezer burn is non-pathenogenic but destroys flavor quality. The burn occurs when meat is exposed to the air of the freezer creating a leathery layer on the outside, resulting in toughness and a stale, off taste. Freezer burn can be trimmed away. To prevent it, be sure to keep meats in air-tight packaging.

Although the act of freezing stops the growth of many pathogenic organisms it does not sterilize meat. Salmonella, campylobacter, yeasts, molds and other organizms can "hibernate" during freezing so when meats are thawed they are reactivated. Also bacterial toxins can be present even if the bacteria themselves are destroyed. Meats that are starting to spoil should not be frozen to protect them.

Certain fats, especially those in pork, duck and goose can go rancid even while in the freezer. Fats become oxidized and the flavor changes dramatically. Prolonged freezing even in air tight packaging can result in self oxidizing fat. Rendered fats are not effected as much and can be stored much longer.

What about the effects of freezing on nutritional values? The protein and fat values stay the same but some more delicate vitamins are reduced by freezing. Thiamin and vitamin C are both greatly dimished by freezing.

Freezing is a part of meat purchasing today and many foodservice operations depend on it. So what can we do to minimize its downsides? At the CIA we try to freeze rapidly as cold as possible. We vacuum package most meats and we try not to freeze longer than needed. In other words we use the freezer as a purchasing tool as opposed to a long term storage shed. Six months should be the maximum for most meats and even less for fragile high cost meats.

The other part of this conversation is thawing. The best way to thaw is slowly in the walkin. Rapid thawing at room temp can result in rapid bacterial growth. Thawing in a sink with cool running water is OK but it is wasteful and if there is any leakage in packaging the meat product is waterlogged and ruined. Thawing in a microwave is a possibility but can result in partial uneven cooking if done incorrectly and also wastes energy.

By the way, the temperature rose to 32F today so I put the Sirloin in the freezer. I'll pull it out just in time for Memorial Day weekend and no later!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cold Weather Cows

This has been a tough winter for many areas in the US with temperatures dropping each night. Cattle need a lot more roughage and feed to keep them going and fattening is more difficult this time of year. So which cattle do best? Aberdeen Angus, being dark, absorb more sunshine and are a hearty breed to start with. Scotland has its share of cold damp weather so Angus do well in cold weather. But there is another Scottish breed that shines above all other winter cattle, Scotch Highland. The Highland have thick wooly coats and are well suited for this weather. They have been known to wander outside at temeratures well below zero and they don't mind the snow due to the oily content of their hair. They are so well protected by their double layered hair and thick hides that they minimize the need for a heavy subcutaneous fat and therefore the energy from its feed can form more marbling within the meat itself and its overall yield is higher. In warm weather they sometimes shed their thick coats. These cattle are excellent foragers and can be raised on grass alone but will also perform well on a hay/grain finish. They are somewhat smaller than typical crossbred meat cattle with a live weight at about 1,000 lbs meaning the end product foodservice cuts will be about 30% smaller. This is general and there are some that are allowed to grow larger, beyond the typical slaughter age of 18 months. The smaller size could be an advantage for restaurants wanting to do a high end small but flavorful beef portion. It might be ideal for a multi-course dinner or tasting menu.

Highland beef are raised in the many states with herds found in Vermont, Minnesota, but also down into Texas. The cattle are great foragers and can live on some relatively harsh pasture. Highland have a great eye appeal when out on pasture so they are a favorite among "hobby" farmers who only want a few head. But it is gaining notariety as a viable heritage meat breed. It is now found on menus and at local farmers markets. It is a difficult animal to feedlot finish due to the amount of hair and its large horns so it isn't popular with any large scale feeding operations. Many of the small farmers are finishing on grass when in season but this time of year they need more energy so they are fed silage and grains.

As the thermometer plummets, restaurants looking to present truly seasonal dishes this one makes sense this time of year!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Today's word...Plasticized

Many chefs are looking to Sous Vide to create the great flavors without loosing moisture. Sous vide requires some basic equipment; a water bath circulator, a vacuum sealer, the right bag and a thermometer. Foods are cooked at low temperatures for long periods. Cooking is typically done between 130F - 165F over varying times depending on what is to be cooked. There is no doubt that sous vide is a highly effective cooking method. Ferran Adria has embraced the technology. Thomas Keller's book Under Pressure explains the process and gives very compelling reasons to do the slow cooking method. The technique requires exacting temperature control and can put food on the border of unsafe if done incorrectly. Conerns of cooking too low may create an anaerobic bacteria fest in the bag. Around the country many states and county health departments are requiring strict HACCP plans to be approved before cooking and some require training for the kitchen staff.

How effective is the sous vide? Well when discussing meat cookery we need to understand that when cooked very slowly coagulation of proteins resulting in breakdown of meat fibers and connective tissues can result in dramatic increases in tenderness. In this research conduct by Dr. Douglas Baldwin we find cooking a tough chuck cut at 130- 140F for 24+ hours will result in a tenderness level that will rival tenderloin. Basically it could be eaten with a spoon. His research also discusses pathogenic dangers and much more. Many chefs have discovered all varieties of tougher cuts such as lamb shanks, briskets, short ribs, pork bellies turn into mouthwatering tenderness and hold much more flavor.

Not all plastic is the same. So lets presume all is correct in the restaurant and proper procedures are being followed, why wouldn't a chef decide to put sous vide on the menu? There are those that question the bag itself. Plasticizing is the process of making plastic film pliable enough the be used as a sealable bag. This requires the plastic be "doped" with chemicals such as phthalates which have been found to migrate into foods, especially fatty foods, when heated to certain temperatures. Phthalates have been found to be endocrine disruptors acting like synthetic "hormones" in humans and animals. How these phthalates react in each individual varies but it is thought younger, developing, children are more at risk. Highly plasticized items include clingy thin plastic wrap and certain bags. Most plastic wrap contains DEHP, a phthalate that has been shown to cause cancer and a number of hormonal disruptions in lab tests. Bags designed for sous vide are coated or layered to minimize the leaching of plasticizers into the food. Non toxic coatings allow the meat to be sheilded from the plasticizers. The problem is that when misused and overheated even coated bags can leach toxins. Coatings break down at about the boiling point or higher. Many chefs, unfortunately, continue to poach high fat content foods in plastic wrap or inexpensive "zip lock" type bags. Also using thin plastic wrap to wrap up hot foods for catering events etc. can cause the reaction and leaching into foods. Mock sous vide attempts are being done in many kitchens without the health department knowing and without chefs realizing the dangers. Aluminum foil is a better choice for covering fatty hot foods. So many of you may be saying " Ah come on, everything gives you cancer!" This may be true but the fact that these chemicals disrupt hormones is most disturbing especially to us macho butcher types!

To me there is someting ironic about buying the finest locally free ranged meats and caring about how they were raised in a sustainable fashion, free of hormones etc and then putting them in plastic. Even the correct bags, if not toxic, are not reusable and they add up. It is not unlikely for a busy restaurant that has embraced sous vide to go through 1,000 bags a week! Recycling is an energy waste and not viable for plasticized bags. Meal components are individually portioned out and sealed and then served when needed.

The meat industry in general uses a huge amount of plastic bags and many are shrink wrapped in steamers. These all go to waste as well. Its not that sous vide is the only plastic that will touch your food and I don't begin to think about how to reduce it all. I think the technology is amazing but we need to think about reusable containers. Any comments?