Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What kind of a commitment am I making to my meat?

The freezer is still stuffed with the remains of the experiment, but our subscription to Stillman’s meat CSA is officially over. So now what? I’m having typical end-of-relationship quandaries: one part of me wants to run as far as possible from anything vaguely resembling what I’ve just had. And there are a lot of other fish in the sea, or livestock in the pens as the case may be. Whole Foods has a great selection of high quality local meat and poultry which is not only nicely butchered in general but can most often be cut to order right there at the meat counter. The prices can be on the high end, but they also have excellent sales even on high-end cuts, so as long as I am still prepared to buy and freeze meat in some kind of bulk, why not? It was this kind of thinking that even got me to try something new: when Whole Foods offered a nice looking turkey breast roast at a reasonable price, I picked it up and produced something so delicious and so easy I’m sure it’ll become a staple. But then Renée and I went to a CSA fair last week and met the folks from Austin Brothers Valley Farm. They had beautiful steaks sitting on ice, compelling literature about the connection between you and the farm, and sweet pictures of grazing cattle. I tried to ask about the selection and quality of the meat and the butchering process. The farmers said all sorts of things that sounded good, but I don’t really know enough to make sense of their explanations and I suspect that the people at Stillman’s would have said the same things to me last year had I asked them. My problems with Stillman’s boiled down to three main things: the chicken wasn’t well butchered, the beef was tough and sinewy, and the packaging was not to my liking (not great seals, no weight markings). Austin Brothers doesn’t do poultry, they said all sorts of good-sounding things about the quality of the beef, and the packaging that they had on display looked good. If we get 5 pounds/month it’s $9/pound; 10 pounds/month it’s $8.25/pound, and 20 pounds/month it’s $7.75/pound. But a three-month commitment has the same cost as a 6-month commitment, so maybe I can handle short-term monogamy and limited meat monogamy. Maybe I need to start slow and keep my options open for a while. Because I really do like being able to name the farmers are who are out there with the cows we’ll be eating; I love the idea of being able to take my son to the farm to see the very same animals that we’ll have on our table. Those are the parts that, however fantastic it is that Whole Foods as a company is supporting local farmers, I’ll never get by going through the grocery store. And I can still hang out at the meat counter picking up my poultry.

Non-Commital Turkey Breast Roast
Serves 4-5
1 2-2 ½ pound turkey breast roast, tied
2-3 T pepper corns
2-3 T coarse salt
1 T freshly dried thyme (the jars of dried herbs loose their zing FAST. If you dry your own every year, or even buy fresh at the store and dry it yourself, you’ll get MUCH more taste)
1 T freshly dried Italian herb blend (thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, parsley)
12 shallots
2 T butter
2 T flour

Preheat oven to 350. Using a big mortar and pestle or else a towel and a rolling pin, roughly crack the pepper corns. Mix together with the salt and herbs. Place the roast in a fairly small roasting pan, something that is just big enough to hold the roast and the shallots. Rub herb mix all over the roast, turning several times and really working to get as much as possible stuck onto the roast, and letting any extra fall into the pan. The roast should have a nice layer of fat on at least one side. Leave that side up. If there’s no fat anywhere on your roast, lay a few strips of bacon over the top. Peel the shallots and set them all around the roast. Cover tightly with tin foil and put into oven. After 30-60 minutes, remove the foil and continue baking another 60-90 minutes for a total of about 2 hours. It’ll b e done when the internal temperature (use a meat thermometer) is 165-170 and the juices run clear. Set the turkey and shallots in a serving dish and cover with the foil. Pour the baking juices into a measuring cup or bowl. You should have ½-1 cup of baking juices. Set the baking pan right on the stovetop flame. Melt the butter in it, then stir or whisk in the flour. When it’s well mixed, pour the baking juices (and any extra pepper corn and herb bits) back in, stirring well. Add another ½ cup or so of water, stirring well. Pour into a gravy boat and serve alongside the turkey. If you taste the gravy alone, it’ll probably seem way too salty, but the inside of a turkey roast really doesn’t get salted at all, so poured over the turkey it’s a totally different and quite perfect thing. Slice the turkey and serve with the shallots.

I serve this with roasted sweet potatoes and roasted asparagus, which I put into the same oven during the last 45 and 15 minutes of cooking, respectively.