Our favorite holiday roast is a grassfed prime rib, with a nice thick fat cap, plenty of nice marbling in the meat, resting solidly on its own bones. It is not easy to find such a roast, but we hit the jackpot this year.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the above picture says it all.
This prime rib is one the best I have ever seen.
Perfectly balanced on a strong rack of bones. Covered with a thick layer of its own flavor-giving fat.
Nicely marbled with small flecks of grassfed fat.
A beautiful color.
And there are even more reasons that I know this roast will be something special. Late last week, we had a grassfed shoulder roast picked up from a local market. The meat was beautiful, full of perfect marbling. It was incredibly tender and flavorful. I knew that the butcher had happened upon a truly remarkable steer.
The next day, I called the butcher up and asked if he could sell me a prime rib from the same animal. Turns out that he could. I showed up at the market, and politely called out my preferences as he cut the roast. He left all the fat on, which was my biggest concern. Due to the demonization of fat, most butchers will trim all the fat off a roast without even thinking of it. A very bad decision, because the fat contains most of the flavor, and all of the fat soluble vitamins and nutrients. And the fat itself, crisp and brown when the roast is done, is absolutely delicious and warming.
Not to worry, this butcher knew his stuff and happily complied with my request.
This is the old way of buying a special roast, where you know and trust the seller, know where the meat comes from, and carefully select the roast, even specifying the animal it comes from, and the way it is cut and trimmed. This is the way most humans have done it for most of time. Not at all like picking up a foam package in the supermarket.
Now that we have our roast, the planning for our Christmas dinner is complete. Here is the menu:
Roast Prime Rib of Beef: Lightly seasoned with herbs, pepper, garlic, and just a little salt, added at the last minute.
Roast Potatoes and Carrots: These will be roasted in the same pan as the roast. There will be no rack, as the bones make a perfect rack, and this allows us to place these vegetables in the pan, where they will become brown, crusty, sweet, flavored with the unique flavor of prime rib fat.
Sautéed Mushrooms: Cooked with plenty of butter and a bit of truffle oil, until browned and caramelized, with amazing flavor.
Yorkshire Pudding: Baked in the old style, made with pan drippings, the same magnificent beef fat
European Cabbage: From page 206 of Tender Grassfed Meat, onion, cabbage, and apple slices, cooked to perfection with bacon, in bacon fat.
Dessert? I doubt anyone will have room.
I want to wish all a very happy holiday season.
And, if you celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas!
Being very interested in traditional recipes, I decided to cook a traditional Irish stew many years ago. This was a famous dish, and the ingredients were few, and the method simple. What could go wrong?
Quite a bit, in fact. There were many different versions, making it difficult to pick one. But whichever one I tried, the result was mediocre, at best. After many failed attempts, over a period of years, I gave up. Maybe this old recipe was not so good, after all.
Three days ago, now being a much better and more experienced cook, I decided to try Irish stew again.
This is an old dish, and one that was quite famous at times. Of course, there is far more than one stew in Irish cuisine, but this one got a lot of press. The ingredients are quite simple:
- A cheap cut of lamb, preferably with bones
- Lots of potatoes
- Some fresh parsley and fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper
This seems to be the simplest, most authentic version, though many would disagree, especially in Ireland, where carrots are traditionally added in some areas. Chefs who make a version of Irish stew tend to pretty it up, adding more ingredients and steps. But I decided to stick with the old version, based on a very old cookbook. This old recipe did not give amounts, or cooking times, but did specify the ingredients and the method.
The traditional cut is grassfed lamb neck, a cut full of bones and fat. The problem was that I had no source of grassfed lamb neck. The lamb I had access to was lean, with the fat trimmed off by the processor. I decided to add a lamb bone from a roast, and some butter to make up for the leanness of the meat.
The recipe called for putting down a layer of sliced potatoes, then a layer of fresh herbs, then a layer of meat, then a layer of sliced onions. This was to be repeated, and topped with a layer of potatoes. Each layer was to be salted and peppered. I decided not to salt the very thin herb layers.
The recipe also suggested adding “just enough” water. After consulting many other recipes, I decided on an amount.
I prepared the pot. Each layer went in, was seasoned as decided, the estimated amount of water was added, the pot brought to a simmer, covered, and into the oven. I had decided that a “low oven” was 250 degrees. The cooking time given was quite common in older recipes — “cook until done.” I decided to test it after a couple of hours.
After about an hour and forty-five minutes, a wonderful smell filled the kitchen, and I got the feeling it was ready. I eagerly removed it from the oven, opened the pot, and was rewarded by a gravy that looked like — water. It seemed that I had failed again. But I decided to add a good amount of organic cornstarch mixed with water, and to simmer it until the gravy reached the “creamy” thickness spoken of by the recipe. This was done, and it was time to taste it.
It was wonderful. The ingredients had kind of melted into each other, though the pieces of meat were still distinct. Everything was permeated with a nice grassfed lamb flavor, not at all strong, but delightful, set off perfectly by the onions and herbs. The texture was creamy, and a joy to eat, very comforting to the mouth and stomach. It was so much more than the sum of its parts. I finally got it right, though I made a lot of adjustments. This is an example of how I am developing traditional recipes for modern kitchens in my upcoming book.
Every known hunting people, and most of our ancestors, would eat the entire animal, including all the organs, with the only exception being the parts that had other, more important uses. Like using sinew to make bows and bowstrings. This provided a huge variety of foodstuffs from a single animal, with the various parts containing different nutrients, textures, tastes, and great variety.
In modern times, we are told to eat only lean meat, from a limited selection of cuts. Most of the cuts served in restaurants and homes consist of lean meat, with all the visible fat trimmed off. For some people, the only meat they eat is boneless, skinless, factory chicken breasts, the most boring of meats—because it is “nutritionally correct.”
Our ancestors would have been surprised by this, as lean meat was their least valued cut, with some peoples actually reserving it for dog food. Cuts with lots of fat, and gelatin, such as organ meats and other areas of the animal, were preferred. These cuts had a much denser nutrient profile, full of the benefits of grassfed fat. And the gelatin contained in some cuts was highly prized, as it was known to help digestion and make strong bones.
This brings us to one of the traditional beef cuts, once highly prized, but now so neglected that most people have never tasted it—beef cheeks. Yes, they are cut from the facial area of the animal. And they look unusual, and fatty. And they are full of fat and gelatin. When properly cooked, they are tender, soft, easy to chew, and utterly delicious. They can literally melt in your mouth.
In the old days, when wise doctors used food to heal, beef cheek stews were prescribed to help with digestive problems. Some even recommended beef cheeks for those who were having problems with their face, such as recovering from an injury, or a skin problem. That is consistent with the line of traditional medicine that recommended eating the part of the animal that corresponded to the afflicted part of the human body, such as those doctors who prescribed beef heart for those suffering from heart problems.
But I must confess that the best part of beef cheeks are they wonderful texture and rich taste, when properly braised.
Cooking beef cheeks is easy. They can be slowly braised in a huge number of ways, with all kinds of flavorings and vegetables. Slowly cooked until easily pierced with a fork, they are wonderful. And the flavorful sauce you get is good beyond words. And cooking them can be as easy as placing ingredients in single pot and setting it to braise in a slow oven.
I am currently experiencing the joy of creating new beef cheek recipes, based on traditional food combinations. I love my work!