A few weeks ago, I called a local meat establishment to inquire whether they carried grass-fed beef. The response went something like this, “Well, we don’t carry that…it’s too tough!” I wanted to say, “No, it IS good, really!”, but I bit my tongue. This post is meant to be a flagpole to rally around in defense of the sale and consumption of healthy grass-fed beef and poultry. It is assumed that the reader is already aware of the health benefits of this fabulous food. Here, I intend to set forth some cooking techniques to make mouth-watering, teeth loving, sumptuous fare.
While many advocate the use of the crock-pot for slow cooking the bird, I find that I have little patience for the unvaried, soup-like protein and fat mixture that results. True, occasionally (maybe once a month) in a pinch, I could handle cooking poultry this way, but certainly not as the norm.
Follow these techniques instead:
After the bird has been killed, age (hang) it for at least 24-48 hours in a cool place (e.g. – spare refrigerator, cool cellar, etc.). Gut and section it according to use. If you are going to roast it, you may butterfly it (split it down the middle), leave it whole, or cut it up. If you are butchering a goose or a duck, you may choose to remove the fat now in order to render it later for confit. Additionally, be sure to save the feet, necks and bones for stock (I prefer to call it “liquid gold”).
First, I almost always BRINE the bird in a solution of water, sea salt, and sugar for 1 hour to a day. For every gallon of cool water, add about 1 cup of salt and 1/2-cup sugar. You may use sea salt or kosher salt. If you wish to brine a whole turkey, make enough brine to fully submerge the bird, then leave for 1 1/2 to 2 days. If you wish to brine small poultry pieces like breasts or thighs, you will only need about 1-2 hours. This causes a water/salt exchange in the cells of the flesh that will leave it moist and tender when cooked, even if you happen to overcook it. In your brine, you may also add things like bay leave, cayenne, juniper berries, coriander, onion, and/or garlic. At any rate, the salt and sugar will moisten it. SAY GOODBYE TO DRY POULTRY!!
After you finish brining it, remove it from the water and pat dry with a clean towel. Now is the fun part! Depending on your culinary mood of the day, the season, the side dishes, the ingredients on hand, and the time that you have, proceed accordingly. Here are just a few ideas:
- Stuff the underside of the skin (between the breast and the skin and around the thighs) with caramelized onions, garlic, thyme, sage and pepper. You can use any seasoning, just remember that the meat should be fairly salted from the brine so do not add more salt. Roast in a Dutch oven (with a tightly fitting lid) in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 35 minutes or until the temperature reads 165 degrees. Remove and LET IT REST for at least 15-20 minutes before carving (or else you’ll loose all of your juices). Deglaze the pan with a little dry white wine and make a gravy. Mash a few tablespoons of flour with pure butter. Once it’s fully incorporated, whisk it into the pan juices on med-high heat until it thickens. Serve the gravy over the meat and/or on the side.
- Another option, which French farmers’ wives utilize like we open cans of “Chef Boy-R-Dee” is “confit.” Confit (pronounced “kon-fee”) is the method of salting/brining a meat and then slowly cooking it submerged in it’s own fat for several hours until the meat is nearly falling off the bone. It is then left to cool, the fat is skimmed from the cooking liquid, the meat is submerged in the fat and the confit is left to age for anywhere from a week to 6 months! The fat creates an air barrier that “seals” the meat and preserves it for many months. The most typical meat used in confit is goose and duck, due to its high fat content. Pork, which is also high in fat, produces fabulous results as well.
Grass Fed Beef
Again, meat needs to be aged properly, usually a minimum of 3 weeks. After it is cut for packaging, choose a method of storage that will allow the meat to “breathe”. If air is allowed to circulate around the meat, it prevents the meat from “marinating” in it’s own blood; the effect of which will produce an off taste or metallic after taste. If you are storing it in the fridge, set it on a rack with a drip plate underneath and gently cover it with a tea towel or other cotton cloth. If you are storing it in the freezer, use butcher paper, not plastic wrap or plastic bags. While many people prefer to use vacuum wrap packaging, this should be avoided.
Obviously, there are innumerable methods, recipes and strategies for cooking meat depending on the cut and quality of the meat. For many people with a freezer full of beef, hamburger is the best solution. While this may be convenient for certain meals, it should not be the result of having to avoid cooking various cuts. I’ve determined many people have frustrations when cooking with grass-fed beef. The chief cause of this is that folks do not have a road map or an ending destination of how they want it to turn out. Instead of viewing the meat as a “carrier” of flavor (like eggs, tofu, pure gelatin, etc.), they are looking for the meat to be the flavor. Did you know that the fat actually has most of the flavor, so a very lean piece of meat has very little flavor? Here are some suggested techniques to help “STEER” you in the right direction. Imagine you have a large tri-tip. First, to soften the meat, you may brine it (as noted above) with sea salt (with or without spices). For larger cuts of meat (5-6 inches or more) you may want to inject it with some of the salt solution so that it is sure to penetrate to the center. Now, depending on how much time you have, determine your cooking method such as: Braising, Smoking, Marinating, Confit, Roasting, Pan-searing, Sausage/stuffing, Dehydrating, etc.. Next, what region are your flavors going to represent? The best way to determine these questions is to grasp some of the basics of regional seasoning and spices and then the “likely” accompaniment, such as:
1. German – braised with beer, onions, caraway, etc.
2. Korean – sweet red pepper paste, sesame oil, sesame seeds, green scallions
3. French – wine, butter, onions
4. South of the Border – chilies, cilantro, corn, tomatoes, rice
The possibilities are ENDLESS!! Pick a region, and think of what seasonings accompany their cuisine. After that, it’s simply a matter of technique. For example, you would learn that sesame seed oil is used to “finish” a dish, rather than as the main oil. Scallions are added at the end. Fennel seeds, coriander, cumin, and cayenne (if used for an Indian inspired dish) need to be added early on in cooking to release and deepen the flavor.
I have found that the best way to cook with grass-fed beef and pastured poultry is to learn proper cooking methods and to make a habit of READING RECIPES and EXPERIMENTING.
If you have questions on any of these techniques, please leave us a comment!