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