Sunday, March 28, 2010

Steers Part 2: Slaughter

I debated on whether or not to take pictures of this experience. I opted against it. Maybe it is a cop out. I haven't decided. Logistically, it was probably just as well not to take pictures. I was busy helping and there was no good way to wash and dry my hands to keep the camera clean.

Around 1 PM Saturday, the two larger steers were brought into one section of of the barn, and the younger, 8 month old steers were brought into another part of the barn. The butcher arrived at about 1:30. There was a little bit of setting up and at about 1:40 (after this, I didn't know what time it was until we were done), one steer was let out and it came into the corral. It was shot slightly above between it's eyes. Once down, the steer's throat was deeply slit and it bled out very quickly.

A tractor pulled the steer to an area set up with hoists. What followed was an extremely impressive display of knife work. Every cut had a purpose. The part of the leg below the knees was removed and cuts were made to begin removing the hide. Large hooks were put through a portion of the leg and connected to the hoists. As the animal was raised, the hide was removed and the body was sawed in half, being careful not to damage the hide (it is worth around $100 - to us it covers the cost of the slaughter and two weeks hanging time in a cooler). Once high enough, the intestines were removed. The hoists were occasionally raised until the head was barely on the ground. The hide was fully removed and boxed. Then the head was cut off.  A cut was made to almost split a side of beef in half, but not quite. A pick up was backed under the meat and this cut was completed. The hoists lowered the rest of the meat into the truck.

After a little clean up, this process was repeated with the a second steer. Once everything was cleaned up, we went to the barn where half of each steer was weighed before being brought into a cooler. The hanging weight of the first steer was 640 pounds. The second steer weighed 644. After we got back to the house, there was some more clean up and then I prepared the tongues and hearts for freezing. I also did my best to properly prepare the hanger steaks from the second steer. They didn't look like they were going to stay attached during the dry aging. The livers went with the meatto the butcher's.

The entire process - time from first shot to cleaning up after prepping some items for the freezer - took three and a half hours. This butcher's efficiency is incredible.

These two steers were raised for four families. In two weeks, my father-in-law, brother-in-law, family friend and I will return to the barn where the meat is aging. We will each make decisions about how our side of beef will be butchered and wrapped. After the cuts are wrapped in freezer paper, they a sealed up with a FoodSaver and then frozen. It is another interesting process. Unfortunately, our butcher is an early riser. He wants to start at 6:00 AM.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

How could leave eggs off my earlier srirachi sauce list? Drop an egg into a skillet. Let it set. Drizzle on some sriracha. Flip it. Add cheese. Slide onto toast or a hard roll (Prinzo's if possible). Bacon never hurt anything. Eat up.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


A few years ago, the first case of mad cow disease showed up in the US. While I was kind of drunk on New Year's Eve, my father-in-law asked if I wanted to go in on some steers. He had raised some in the past. I, of course, said yes. I was lit and didn't really consider the consequences of that yes.

Then my mother-in-law was upset at the idea of having animals again. My wife was upset at how much time was needed build a fence. My sister-in-law wasn't thrilled with the idea - her husband also said yes the night I did. It was a lot of work building the fence. Took a summer of weekends to build. And there is the random but semi-annual "you've got to be here tomorrow at 4 to get hay" phone call. Spring and fall maintenance on the fence. And just little stuff that comes up. The projects now aren't too bad. A day here and a day there. Usually no more than a few hours at a time and the work gets combined with a weekend visit. This spring, the fence will require a little extra work. A car went into the ditch and took out a few posts (no injuries other than broken fence posts). The electric part of the fence has been acting up too.

The way my father-in-law has everything set up, it is hard to complain. He has a tractor that does a lot of the work. Portable generators and an air compressor that can go into the field for working on the fence. But the best is the conveyor belt that he picked up at an auction. We just have to stack the hay. They used to have to carry the bales up stairs. Three of us got 200 bales into the barn in no time a few weeks ago.

The experience has changed a lot about how I treat food. I waste less and try to use more of what I have. I've learned a lot from the butcher -this guy is right out of a Hemingway novel. There is definitely more for me to learn. I haven't really gotten into offal and I'm trying to find out if I can preserved any natural casings. The quality of the beef is great.The downside is that you end up with cuts you wouldn't normally buy, but that is a learning experience too.

If everything follows the current schedule, the larger two steers are getting slaughtered next Saturday.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Best Condiment Ever

It's funnier if you read the title of this post with the Comic Book Guy from the Simpson's voice in your head.

I first had this sauce while on my honeymoon in Hawaii. A bottle is on almost every table. An ice cream scoop shaped ball of rice is served with just about everything and this sriracha goes very well with a bowl of sticky rice. I bought a bottle after the trip, but I kind of drifted away from the sauce. When I was exploring the not-so-new-anymore Asian market on Central I saw a bottle and had to have it. Since then, I've seen it on shelves in Hannaford, some Price Choppers and Target.

I've been putting it on everything: burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, a pink but delicious chicken salad, pizza, pasta, mixed with sour cream for dipping quesadillas - the bottle is on the table almost every night. I didn't grab it once and my daughter ran to the fridge to get it. My latest guilty pleasure is adding some to a good olive oil I picked up at Different Drummer's Kitchen in Newton Plaza. Then I sop it up with Mastroianni Italian bread. You know, because 4 out of 5 doctors recommend eating half a loaf of bread before bed.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sopressata Part 3: Eating

 collagen casing on top, natural casing below

The batch of sopressata came out pretty good. Definitely better than the mass market stuff and I think it is in line with some that can be found in Italian markets. There is some room for improvement, but, all-in-all a successful cure. I was a little worried that I had fallen victim to case hardening (the outside gets hard, the moisture inside can't get out and you are left with a mushy inside. Luckily, it didn't completely happen although there are some slices where the inside softer than the outside. Softer, but cured. Some time in the fridge after the chamber has improved it as well. It has a nice salty, pork flavor with some hints of garlic coming through. I think I might increase the seasonings a little more next time. There is really no heat to it at all - not a bad thing, i ijust thought the hot pepper would be more noticeable.

The real surprise, other than how much my older daughter likes it, is that I think I like the collagen casing better. I would have never thought it? I have a tendency to try and keep it "old school" in the kitchen. But the collagen casing was very easy to stuff (harder to tie up though), peels off the finished product easily, and I think the sopressata came out a little nicer in a side by side comparison. Who'd a thunk it?

I sliced some up and put it in a bowl to offer some to my neighbors while the kids were playing outside. The bowl didn't get past the kids. High praise indeed. I'm only a little proud of myself.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Worth his salt

There is a bill sponsored by Felix Ortiz and Margret Markey proposing to eliminate to "prohibit the use of salt by owner or operators of a restaurant when preparing food for consumption by customers". I'm not making this up.

Really. I'm not.

This makes no sense at all. A restaurant can't brine anything, cure anything, season anything....And what about using products with salt to make other products. Can a chef use soy sauce? What about a slat packed caper?

Maybe we could put a tax on the salt used by a restaurant. Let's say a penny a gram. That way it would be in a restaurant's best interest to reduce the salt used in their restaurant. And the state could employ thousands of people to go to all these kitchens to make sure proper salt records are being filed. Reduce the state deficit and unemployment at the same time. Brilliant!

Just in case someone for the state assembly pokes around here: italics = sarcasm

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words

I came across this cartoon awhile ago at Cooking in Theory and Practice.

I think it perfectly sums up a grocery shopping trip. With the idea of trying to get good, fresh produce in the house, I recently joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).The basic idea is that people buy shares of their local farms in the winter, and then get weekly boxes of farm products as they are harvested. Most of them in our area offer 20 weeks of produce.

After looking at a bunch of options online, I selected Jus-Lin Farms. I am hoping the kids get into trying new things that they help cook with the produce from our weekly box. There was also an option for farm fresh eggs - every week, or every other week. I went every other week.

My youngest daughter said today, "I want it to be summer. It has been winter already for a loooong time." She wants to go swimming in a lake that is currently frozen. This CSA is just another reason to look forward to warmer weather.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

La Technique

What attracted me to the book was that it is more about cooking techniques as opposed to a list of recipes. Lately, I have been very interested in learning how to do more in the kitchen. I subscribe to a few cooking magazines, and found the articles on "how to do something" much more interesting than "here's a list of ingredients, gather them and then mix them together in this order" recipes. It's the difference between crafting and assembling.

La Technique was out of print and re-released combine with La Method. But, again for some reason, I got it in my head that I wanted see an original. No luck at the library. So, I was off to ebay. Surprisingly, La Technique was often on the auction block. Winning bids for the original hard copy versions were in the mid $40 range plus shipping. Too expensive, especially since the reprint was $15 at I kept bidding, and I eventually won a paperback copy of the book delivered to my door for a little under $20. I really enjoyed going through it and can see myself referencing it for years to come. The book is filled with great information. It covers everything from folding napkins to breaking down a leg of lamb. Plus,
Technique 110: Saucisson et Saucisse (Salami and Sausage) includes a method for tying sausage. Perhaps I won't spend an hour tying up 5 pounds of salami next time. And at some point in time, I will be able to flute a mushroom. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but's lucky Technique 13.

Here's a weird thing: whenever I am reading the book, I read it with his voice, complete with French accent, in my head. Luckily I'm not reading it out loud.