The marketing was effective, I must admit. It even convinced me. A large boneless ham, raised on a small farm, from a heritage breed, cured in a traditional manner, smoked over hickory wood. And at a bargain price! The ham was fully cooked, which meant I could reheat it slowly in a low oven. Easy.
When the ham arrived, and was thawed, I started to take off the reddish brown wrap. As I started to remove it, I realized that the wrap was clear. The ham itself was covered with a dried coating, reddish brown in color, which had the consistency of sawdust glued together. Netting lines were deeply sunk all over the ham, from the netting that was used when it was hung to smoke.
I began to realize that the coating around the ham was the ham itself, what the outside of the roast had turned into, with not a single shred of fat in evidence. In mounting horror, I came to realize that all fat had been trimmed off the ham before smoking. With no fat to keep it moist, the ham had dried out in the smoking process, and lost most of its moisture. I stuck a fork in the ham, it met a lot of resistance. The meat was tough.
I sliced off a small outside piece of the ham and tasted it. The outside meat tasted terrible, with a horrid texture of sawdust. The interior meat was dry, so dry. Hardly any smoke flavor. Chewy, not tender at all. Not good. But there was a hint of a good pork flavor in there.
My family was expecting a nice meal. I decided to save the ham.
A plan was needed. I decided to cover the ham in organic apple juice, and marinate it for a few hours. This should add moisture and flavor. Then, I would add fat and heat it slowly in front of a smoky barbecue fire, at very low heat. This would add the smoke flavor it should have had. And I would restore the fat to the meat, by putting some sliced pork fat from another roast over the top of the ham.
I did not know if this would work, but I was going to give it my best.
But first, that sawdust-like outer coating had to be trimmed off and discarded. I took a sharp knife and trimmed the whole thing, getting off every scrap of the outside. I placed the ham in a glass bowl, poured the apple juice over it, and set it to marinate.
A couple of hours later, I stated a barbecue fire, using some hickory. I brought the temperature up to about 225 degrees. I placed the ham on a rack in a pan, covered the top with sliced pork fat, and set it to smoke. Several hours later, I boiled down the apple juice used for the marinade, until three-quarters of the liquid was gone, and used it to baste the ham occasionally. I was encouraged when I stuck a fork into the meat—it felt much more tender than before. I continued cooking until the roast had been reheated.
Then I started slicing it in the dining room. The knife glided easily through the tender meat. There was a wonderful wood smoke smell. The ham was moist, tender, and so delicious that it was hard to stop eating it. A disaster had become a wonderful meal. The inherent wonderful flavor of the heritage pork had been unlocked deliciously, once fat and moisture had been restored.
This post is part of Fat Tuesday blog carnival.
The market for grassfed meat has changed greatly since I wrote my book, Tender Grassfed Meat, in 2009. Back then, just about all the grassfed beef on the market was good, though there was less grassfed beef available.
Now, grassfed meat is much easier to find, even appearing in mainstream supermarket chains. But much of the meat now sold is of questionable quality, and many cuts are sold for the wrong purpose. There is a perception that leaner is better, which I disagree with.
So here are the guidelines I follow in buying grassfed meat:
1. Buy the Fattest Grassfed Meat You Can Find
Grassfed meat is leaner than factory meat. But the fat in grassfed meat is particularly nutritious, containing many vital nutrients such as CLA and the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
The fat is also crucial for flavor and tenderness.
There is now some grassfed beef available that is just too lean to be tender or tasty, and I never buy it. Some of the healthy peoples studied by Dr. Weston A. Price used to throw the lean meat to their dogs, while eating the fattier parts themselves.
I examine the meat for small flecks of fat called marbling. If the meat does not have some marbling, I do not buy it. You can see an example of a well-marbled grassfed beef steak in the photo above.
This cannot be done if you purchase online, and you cannot always trust the photos shown on websites. Ultimately, the only way to know if an online seller has meat that has enough fat is to talk with them, talk to people who have ordered their products, and/or buy a sample. Currently, the only grassfed beef I buy online is from U.S. Wellness Meats, whose meat is always properly raised, has enough marbling, and is sold at a good price.
2. Use the Right Cuts for Your Cooking Method
This is vital, because many stores sell small pieces of tough cuts as “steaks.” In my opinion, lean cuts like rump, round, flank, skirt, chuck, and sirloin tip are just not tender enough to be made as steaks, even with my methods. Our ancestors did not use them for these purposes. These tough cuts were almost always cooked by braising and stewing.
For steaks, I use traditional cuts like rib, strip loin, sirloin, and tenderloin. I have also used well-marbled cuts of, hangar steak, flat iron steak, and center cut shoulder as steaks, as they can be very tender with my methods.
For oven roasts, the same rules apply. Tender cuts like tenderloin, ribeye, prime rib, strip loin, and sirloin, along with some less tender cuts like center cut shoulder, and sirloin tip can be successfully roasted.
Chuck, rump, cuts from the round, flank, skirt, brisket, etc. should usually be braised or stewed slowly.
However, some of the thinner cuts like skirt and flank can be sliced thinly against the grain, marinated, and successfully stir-fried or made into fajita type dishes.
But trying to use an inherently tough cut for a steak or dry roast will almost always result in tough meat, even if good tenderizing methods are used.
In summary, my two top rules for buying grassfed beef are to buy the fattest I can find, and buy the right cut for my cooking method.
This post is part of Fat Tuesday blog carnival.
We live in an age of technology. In many ways, technology has made life easier and better. So why not use all the technological advances in food and cooking?
The answer lies in the fact that not all technology is beneficial. The human body is far more complex than any tech we can develop, and while much is known about how it works, many of the workings of our bodies are unknown. Knowing part of the answer is often deceptive. Something that seems beneficial or harmless, based on the little we know about nutrition, could be something else entirely, due to the part we do not know. And, when it comes to nutrition and how it effects our bodies, there is so much we just do not know.
So how can we possibly decide what is good to eat, and what is not?
Scientific studies are one avenue, but the knowledge is incomplete, and most of the research is financed or controlled by business interests that have a direct financial interest in the outcome.
But there is another way of gathering knowledge, the way our ancestors used. Experience. The experience of countless human beings, gathered over thousands of years, passed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, from teacher to student, from friend to friend. Nothing was as important to our ancestors as much as food, on which their very survival depended. So they carefully preserved what they learned about food. What to eat, what not to eat, which spice to use, which foods to eat in combination, and how to cook them. Vital knowledge.
Much of this vital knowledge is fading away. Most people do not even know how to cook, let alone cook traditionally. And so many people have abandoned traditional eating based on the marketing of the food industry, which often claims that traditional foods are bad and factory foods are better.
My own reintroduction to traditional eating came as a result of a serious illness. When science and the medical profession failed me, I realized I needed to look elsewhere if I was going to get better. I tried many different things, but the practice that brought my health back was traditional eating and traditional cooking. For our ancestors ate for health, as well as fuel, and many of their traditions reflect that knowledge.
Finally, traditional foods just taste much better. Every meal can literally be a time of joy. And I never feel stuffed or uncomfortable after eating quality traditional food, cooked properly. I feel happy and satiated.
A meal can be one of the most satisfying experiences. A special meal, made of the finest foods available and affordable, made from traditional dishes, was a special treat in most cultures. One of the most treasured experiences in human history was to share a great meal of wonderful real food with family and friends.
Recently, my family shared the joy of such a meal, which I had the pleasure of cooking.
The centerpiece was a prime rib roast, a favorite traditional dish in both Britain and America, which has almost been forgotten.
Grassfed, well-marbled, with a beautiful cap of glorious yellow-white fat, this roast was a throwback to a time when good meat was honored and prized.
I marinated this gorgeous roast with traditional ingredients, including olive oil and traditional English mustard, with just a touch of garlic and several favorite herbs. I let the roast come to room temperature as it marinated, as this greatly enhances tenderness and taste.
Roast potatoes provided a very traditional side dish. They were peeled, sliced, and parboiled, then placed around the roast so they could be flavored with the wonderful melting fat from the roast. The oven was preheated, and the roast set to cook in a roasting pan, with its own bones being the only rack required.
Organic carrots were peeled and sliced, and set to simmer in heavily buttered water, with plenty of organic garlic.
A beautiful bunch of organic Swiss chard, with beautiful deep green leaves, was destemmed, the leaves torn into small pieces, and set to await the final frying, a quick cook with garlic and extra virgin olive oil.
Some fresh crimini mushrooms were sliced, to be fried quickly in butter and olive oil when the time was right.
The meat proceeded to roast, giving off a wonderful smell that made me more and more hungry as time went on. At the halfway point, it was basted with the drippings, the potatoes were turned, and the roasting resumed.
At the end, the mushrooms were quickly fried to a beautiful brown color in plenty of butter and olive oil, smelling wonderful.
The Swiss chard was fried quickly with garlic and olive oil, shrinking into a small mass of deep green goodness.
The roast was sliced and served, tender and so flavorful, having the unique taste that only a prime rib roasted with its fat, on the bone, will ever have.
The crusty potatoes, deliciously enriched with the beef fat they roasted in, were a perfect complement to the tender meat.
The carrots, mushrooms, and Swiss chard all added their own joys to the meal, providing a variety of tastes and a powerhouse of nutrition.
We ended the meal happy, satiated, and well-nourished.
That was a special traditional meal.
This post is part of Fat Tuesday blog carnival.