CHOOSING MEATS TODAY FOR TOMORROW
For over 30 years the structure of the food supply system in the U.S. has been changing, and those changes have made themselves manifest during the past decade, some good, some bad and many controversial, such as the introduction of lab-generated GMOs. In addition, we are now concerned with the world-wide effects of global warming, and acknowledge the depletion and/or pollution of our natural resources. Our desire for a healthy diet extends beyond the plate to wanting food produced ecologically, with little harm to the planet. This means supporting stainable sources and closely monitoring production and preparation of foods in every category.
Of course, this includes meat and sadly for beef-loving Americans, the focus is on cattle. For several years commercial herds have been fed corn instead of their natural diet of grass. This has changed the flavor and texture of the meat to the extent that a gourmet magazine recently described what we see in markets as ‘pasty’. Another consequence is that cattle naturally produce E-Coli in the second stomach, and dispel it in the third stomach but only on a grass diet. When corn fed, there must be careful butchering or cross contamination can occur.
Unfortunately, the once powerful Meat Packers Union, with its excellent training, has all but disappeared, taking with it knowledge of several favorite lower priced cuts, like the flank and the brisket. Currently, the steak choices remain the same but the chuck (arm) and round (rump) pieces are sold as roasts, when formerly they were used for ground meat or stews. The meat from the steer’s under carriage, site of those other cuts, is ground and sold by percentage of fat at inflated prices.
This situation has helped to bring about the return of the independent butcher, a man who knows all the cuts and buys whole carcasses of grass fed beef from an independent rancher. The meat is safe and flavorful but expensive leading to the development of recipes showcasing small amounts of i in complimentary pairings, proving ‘less is more’. For more information and recipes, see postings 8/12/15,1/5/17, 1/19/17, 1/26/17 found on the panorama on the site Home Page.
Unfortunately, if we no longer have the room to properly graze cattle on grass, since it takes two years to be marketable and only reproduces itself once a year, in a single birth, and requires trained butchers, it’s not considered sustainable. It’s no longer ecologically friendly or economically feasible for the average family to rely upon beef as a meal staple. Let’s hope the commercial interests responsible for this situation can remedy it. Until then; “Beef, it’s not what’s for dinner anymore.”
Pork, America’s new ‘go-to’ is a better choice. Pigs grow quickly, produce several litters a year, are omnivores, eating everything making them easy to feed, and they consume about half the quantity of food that cattle need. They also take up less space, being able to be penned. Although part of the movement toward producing heritage hogs with a finer quality of meat, is to let them roam free in a limited space allowing them to root naturally for vegetation.
Pork is deemed a sustainable meat. It is reasonably priced, offers the option of being smoked, giving it a long shelf life. Hogs are ecologically agreeable to raise and reproduce rapidly. It has dietary restrictions for humans but is easily replace in recipes by poultry, another reasonable, sustainable category of meat.
Lamb, another sustainable meat, is about to make a come-back. Sheep graze differently than beef, nibbling the grass rather than uprooting, so it regrows like a mowed lawn. They have a wider diet, are able to feed on moss, lichens, weeds and low shrubs with no ill effects and don’t need a flat terrain. Although they too, reproduce only once a year, usually in a single birth, they do have the added advantage providing wool.
The unpopular thing with lamb is its name. If the meat were labeled ‘sheep’ or ‘mutton’, I think it would be more readily accepted. ‘Lamb’ conjures images of a baby animal romping in a meadow, a turn-off for many people, especially children.
Chicken has always been considered a sustainable meat source. They grow and reproduce quickly; are easy to feed, can be contained in one area and provide another source of protein too – eggs. Free range is best, farm raised are good, but ‘factory raised’ are bad for the environment. Having so many birds confined in limited space makes the droppings alone a pollutant. The chicks are artificially hatched; force fed, live in an artificial environment and are mass slaughtered at 9 weeks for the broiler- fryers, and 12 weeks for the roasters. Needless to say, this creates a huge waste-disposal problem. The same rule holds for all poultry, ducks, turkeys, game hens, factory raised is not environmentally acceptable.
SOME LIKELY NEW ADDITIONS TO THE MEAT SECTION. It’s only natural, with all the concerns mentioned in the beginning of this post, especially those concerning our shrinking resources that we extend our reach to include sustainable meats overlooked until now. Here’s a list of likely candidates you may see in the markets soon, followed by a few recipes to give you ideas of how to prepare them if you’ve never eaten them.
Rabbit is the poster for sustainable meat. It’s easily raised, grows quickly, leaves no footprint on the environment and is famous for its ability to reproduce. The rabbits bred for table aren’t the backyard cottontail. They are can weigh up to 20 lb. and I’ve only seen them sold in parts, labeled much like chicken, breast, thighs, legs –no wings. Rabbit used to be in supermarkets in the 90s, and can still be found in upscale ones, frozen, not in the frozen case but in a bin, with turkeys, ducks and game hens. In fact rabbit is much like chicken in color, texture and taste and can be served in many chicken recipes which require slightly longer cooking because it can be a bit tougher.
Goat is another sustainable meat that leaves no footprint on the environment. It’s the ‘pig’ of herbivores able to eat almost anything with no ill effects. Like sheep, it nibbles as it grazes and can stand even more rugged terrains than sheep, finding food almost anywhere in any climate. Goat meat is very lean, lighter and sweeter than lamb. I’ve eaten it often, with enjoyment, but always in a dish with other ingredients or in kabobs, never seen it served as a roast. I did see legs on sale in Switzerland, so I guess it can be prepared that way. I was surprised to see goat sold in large bags of cubes in a primarily Caribbean market recently. The price was more than competitive with that of other meats, so who knows? Goat may be going main-stream sooner than we think. If you haven’t tried it, do if you get the chance.
Squab or dove (pigeon) was popular in the 1920s-1940s and I still saw it in my market in the 1990s, but was surprised when I asked my market butcher about them recently and he had never heard of them. All dark meat about the size of a game hen, they’re usually roasted. Once again these aren’t the birds in the park. They’re raised for table and their feed is controlled. On the other hand, they’re easier to raise than chickens. They roost high, so there’s less danger of predators and though they fly free, a flock will usually stick together, returning each night to a structure called a Dovecote. In Europe many large houses have dovecotes attached to the roofs, or built in towers close by. Squabs reproduce in spring, like most birds, and if consistently fed in one location won’t venture far, so they’re easy to raise. They’re hardy and, except for droppings in the area where they gather and the dovecote, easy on the environment.
Guinea hens are another poultry recommendation for the meat parade. Like squab their meat is dark but more gamey, suitable for dishes with sauces rather than roasting. They’re low-maintenance, easily raised and a plus is that they thrive on insects like ticks. Territorial. They stick together and don’t attempt to stray.
Venison is delicious, and the ultimate in a self-sustaining, environmentally friendly food source. It’s prolific and many states have lengthened their hunting season to reduce the numbers. If you don’t know a hunter, there are plenty of places online to order it. These places butcher according to USDA standards and will send you any quantity you want. In addition, police departments in many states contract with butchers to make the meat from auto collision deer fatalities into sausage which they sell to benefit their charities. I can tell you it’s some of the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. There are loads of recipes for venison, especially in older cookbooks, gourmet and sporting books. If you’re really feeling adventurous, I understand these places sell moose, elk and caribou too.
Here are some recipes to help you on your way
Rabbit in Cream Sauce: Serves 2-4
1 rabbit in pieces
½ cup flour
½ tsp. each freshly ground salt and pepper + 1 tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. dried thyme
5-6 slices of bacon
1-2 Tbs. oil – if needed
½ cup stock – chicken or beef
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbs. chopped parsley
Mix the flour with the seasonings and dredge the rabbit well. Saute the bacon until crisp and set aside. Brown the rabbit in the bacon fat adding oil if needed. Reduce the heat, add the stock, cover and simmer about 10 min. until rabbit is tender. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Skim fat if necessary. Add cream, parsley and 1 tsp. salt to the pan. Heat through gently, but don’t let it boil. Serve hot sauce over the meat and garnish with crumbled bacon.
Jamaican Curried Goat: Serves 4-6
1 ½ lb. cubed goat meat
4 scallions thinly sliced
2 Tbs. curry powder-divided
2 medium onions diced
3-4 cloves garlic- crushed
2 Tbs. oil + more if needed
1 Tbs. butter
Sprig of fresh thyme or ½ tsp. dried
1/3 Scotch Bonnet or other hot pepper about ½ Tbs.
Salt and pepper
2 cups hot water
Chutney, nuts, raisins ,shredded coconut
Mix meat with 1 Tbs. curry powder, all the seasonings and scallions and marinate 30 min. to 1 hr. Scrape off and reserve seasonings. Heat oil and brown meat. Return seasonings to pot add water, and cook over medium heat until meat is tender, about 40 min. Add onions, remaining curry, Scotch bonnet and butter. Cook 10 min. more. Serve over hot rice, and pass the chutney, nuts, raisins and coconut.
Squabs with Black Olives: Serves 4
2 Tbs. butter
1 garlic clove- mashed
1 small onion finely chopped
1 medium carrot grated
¼ cup each chopped celery leaves and fresh parsley
Enough lightly toasted pieces of white bread to equal 2 cups when wet
Sufficient milk or cream to moisten bread
½ tsp. poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper
(1) 7 oz. jar Kalamata black olives
4 slices bacon or 2 slices turkey ham
Lightly sauté the vegetables and herbs in the butter. Mix in the other ingredients except the olives. Clean the birds and stuff the cavities with the bread-vegetable mixture. Place in a roasting pan and top each with the bacon or turkey ham. Pour the olive juice and ½ the olives over and roast in a 350 deg. oven for 1 ½ -2 hrs. or until birds are done. If liquid is low add broth. Add the rest of the olives at the end to heat through. Deglaze the pan with more broth or white wine if needed. Serve drippings with birds and use olives as garnish.
Broiled Venison Steaks: Serves 4
4 Venison steaks 1 – 1 ½ inches thick
Coarsely ground pepper and salt
2 Tbs. finely chopped onion
4-6 Tbs. butter
2 + drops hot sauce or to taste
Press the coarsely ground salt and pepper into each side of the steaks and broil or grill about 4-5 min per side until well browned. Meanwhile melt ½ the butter on a heated plate, add the onion, dash salt and hot sauce. When meat is done put it on the plate and top with the rest of the butter. Turn the steaks over in the sauce several times. Cut the meat into strips and serve topped with juices from plate.