Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cooking a cow

Here's the thing: I was a near-vegetarian for 10 yrs. By that I mean I would eat meat if it was served to me, but I didn't buy it, order it or learn to cook it until my 30's.

I chose that lifestyle because of reasons that are still valid. Foremost, it takes 16 lbs of grain to make 1 lb of beef. That's a lot of food lost in the translation! And with so many people starving who could have eaten those 15 lbs of grain, it's a high price to pay for living on the top of the food chain. Additionally, have you ever seen/smelled a feed lot where cows live until they are slaughtered? I have. Gross. Not to mention my apprehension about overuse of antibiotics - any creature kept in such close quarters will be at high risk for disease so they are prophlactically fed antibiotics. Which contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Not a good thing.

Now that I've almost talked myself back into being a vegetarian, I'll tell you about the copious amounts of meat we eat. Murray has a partner who raises 2 cows a year (and taps the maple trees on his property. Therefore his house qualifies as a farm and he can take some tax writeoffs - sounds like a lot of work to me but it makes him happy). We bought 1/2 a cow from him last year and boy is that a lot of meat! We still aren't done with it.
This year we planned to split the same amount with the Greaters (1/4 cow each), but we still somehow got the lion's share of the meat. It is great meat - no feed lots involved and I dream it's a smidge lower on the food chain because they're somewhat grass fed. Finally I've come to peace with cooking and eating it.

But therein lie's the rub: Cooking it. When you buy a 1/2 cow, you're not getting 300 lbs of T-bone steak. You get a few of those (if that's the way you choose to get it cut - that's another story for another time) but you also get lots of things you haven't ever cooked before. Here's a romantic metaphor that helps me wrap my head around it: Cooking our cow is a bit like shopping at the market in France - you learn to imaginatively cook what's available. Isn't that a nice way to look at a freezer full of frozen chunks of red meat?

To be honest, I was really thrown into the proverbial fire back when we moved to Cordova 6 yrs ago. The first fall there Murray went out hunting with the guys and, when they came back with the deer, I was expected to help butcher it - hel-ooo! Former vegetarian! Don't know a tenderloin from a chuck steak! (On the bright side, wild game answers my philosophical issues with red meat. And, honestly I grew up eating a lot of moose so I have a taste for it.) Thankfully, our veterinarian/great hunter-killer and his amazing chef wife were there to talk us through the first deer. Once it was in our freezer I muddled through cooking it. My take home tips: 1. stew is great. Cook almost anything long enough in enough red wine and it will taste good. 2. Roasts are our friends. Sure, they take a long time to cook, but it's time in the oven - not requiring anything from you. 3. Find some good cookbooks and use them.

I'm butchering a deer with Natty on my back in Cordova - she looks thrilled, doesn't she?
Now that we've moved on from venison to beef (although Murray sometimes gets venison from patients too) I've gotten a few dishes under my belt; some I've made so often I don't need a recipe, others I've only tried only once. Most things have been a success. I still love stew. Now that we have a grill, I've learned to grill steaks and hamburgers (not rocket science, but a new skill for me). Pot stickers are our family's favorite way to eat ground beef, but they're really fiddly so it's a special occasion food.  And roasts still rock, if I can preplan enough to thaw one. Truly, buying meat like this has been a great way to expand my recipe repertoire. Barbequed brisket anyone? It's delish!

1 comment:

  1. Good on you! I'm not used to seeing you with glasses anymore!