9.16.2009

The Local Food Report: the meat mobile

This cow belongs to our friends, George and Janet. He doesn't have a name, because one day, he will be dinner. Or rather, dinners. There's a lot of meat on those bones.


And that meat is grass-fed. (With a few dropped apples and extra heads of lettuce and stolen hay mixed in, to be sure.) But mostly grass-fed. Which means that Mr. Moo, for lack of a better name, will have to be cooked differently than your average cow. The meat most of us are used to—conventional beef, fed grain and raised in feed lots—cooks differently than grass-fed cuts. Mostly, what you need to know about cooking the sort of meat that would come from Mr. Moo is as follows:

1. You will need to get a meat thermometer, and learn how to use it.

2. You will need to turn down the heat.

3. You will need to learn a little bit more about dry-heat cooking methods and moist-heat cooking methods, to the point where you can decide which to use, when.

4. You won't need to use so many seasonings and sauces. A cut of grass-fed beef can stand up on its own.

All of this is important not because George and Janet have decided they are very generous and would like to give you some of their very own homegrown beef, although I'm sure they would if they knew you, but because we have a new meat vendor in town. Or in Cape, or however you want to say it.

Local, grass-fed meat can be hard to find on a consistent basis. There's Ocean Song Farm, which sells pastured chickens and turkeys and pork and sometimes lamb, and Border Bay Junction Farm, which offers up whole lambs from time to time, and deli cases in places like Far Land Provisions in Provincetown and How on Earth in Mattapoisett that sell cuts from Northeast Family Farms. But beef—chuck and Porterhouse steak and ground hamburger and bristket—good, grass-fed beef can be hard to find. Enter Joe Beaulieu, and his meat-mobile.

All summer, Joe has been showing up at the Sandwich Farmers' Market on Tuesday mornings from 9am to 1pm with every cut of pastured beef you can rattle off. He used to sell whole animals, sides and halves and that sort of thing, straight from his farm, but when the economy tanked off, the number of consumers willing to fork over $900 at a time for beef took rather a sharp downward turn. So he built himself an 8' by 8' by 20' wagon—picture an ice cream truck, or maybe a hot dog stand at the beach—threw in two freezers, a generator to power them, and an old Hobart scale, and turned his business plan around. He's gone mobile, so to speak.

And so far, so good. He raises roughly 20 head of cattle a year, has them processed at a USDA approved plant up in Sanford, Maine, and sells every cut imaginable at the market. (Twenty cows, according to Beaulieu, is roughly equivalent to 16,000 pounds, if you can imagine.) He also sells in Braintree, Bridgewater, and Fairhaven, which is where his farm is. He has 27 acres right off 195, where his cows live naturally, like happy cows, as he says. Business at the meat mobile has been excellent, and he says that everyone has come back for more—a lot of repeat customers—which he takes as a sign that he can go ahead and join in the happiness.

He's so encouraged, in fact, that he'll be taking winter orders even after the market shuts down and showing up at the Gallery Gourmet on 6A in Sandwich the second Saturday of every month, from noon to one, for pick-ups.

Just in case you're lucky enough to end up with a freezer as full as his—a cold cavern choc-a-bloc full of roasts and sirloins and hamburger with a good, creaky hinge—here's a recipe for inside-out cheeseburgers. There are also some cooking tips, but for more—because after all, a burger is not a roast is not a sirloin—check out the links all the way at the bottom. The first goes to a very interesting article in the Atlantic published back when the whole grass-fed idea was brand new (or rather, recycled new), and the second goes to the website of the woman who wrote the book the burger recipe is adapted from. It's all about how to cook with grass-fed beef, and it is, in the face of a meat mobile, necessary and excellent.

So enjoy, eat up, and I'll see you all soon.

BLUE STUFFED BURGERS

This recipe is one I adapted from The Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes a cookbook devoted entirely to how to cook with grass-fed meats. It was given to us as an engagement present and has proved an incredibly handy tool when trying to eat locally. The original recipe called for feta, but I am a firm believer in the merits of Great Hill blue cheese, so I swapped that in instead.

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 heaping tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1/4 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mix the cheese, oregano, and spinach together in a small bowl. Divide the meat into four portions and make three patties, setting the extra portion aside. Place a third of the cheese and herb mixture into the center of each patty, pack a third of the extra meat on top of each, and reform the patties so that none of the stuffing is exposed. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook using to the following tips.

1. Form the patty so that it is 3/4-inch thick on the edges and 1/2-inch thick in the center. (Yes, even with the stuffing inside). This will help the burgers cook evenly, and not puff up and become round.

2. Be sure that your pan is hot and that you coat it with a little bit of oil. This will help ensure that the meat doesn't stick and get left in the pan.

3. Pan fry the burger over medium-high heat for roughly 3 minutes a side and you will get a nice, crusty exterior and a juicy interior.

4. Don't press on them with a spatula as you cook, or you will squeeze out their juices.


To find out more about the health benefits of eating pastured meats, head on over here. And for more on cooking with grass-fed meats, check this out.

11 comments :

Kelly said...

Oh how interesting. I had no idea grass-fed needed to be cooked differently. We have noticed a difference of texture in the meat compared to 'traditional beef', more tough maybe? I figured it was because were actually allowed to walk.

I am looking forward to learning more via your links, another great post- thank-you!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating, Elspeth. I, too, had no idea you need to cook grass-fed beef differently. Here in Maine we have several good options for local meat. Guess I need to go buy a meat thermometer....

Thanks for a very interesting post. ~Your main Maine Reader

PS: Love the photo of Mr. Moo!

Tony Zilincik said...

Great article!!!!! I will try this!

Elspeth said...

Kelly, I think you are right on with the "actually allowed to walk" comment. That said, however, if your farmer is choosing their breeds carefully, they should be able to find a heritage breed that will "marble" AND walk. Imagine that!

To my main Maine reader: The thermometer really does help. I am not in any way much of a meat cook, but by monitoring my temp and forming the patty with a thin part in the center, I managed to impress the man of the house!

Tony, thank you! I hope you'll let me know how it turns out.

All the best,
Elspeth

Michelle Shopped said...

i've been stocking up on his meat the last few weeks...and then of course there's fromage a trois and her divine mozzarella and more...

Kelly said...

Thanks Elspeth. The farm my last order came from as well as River Rock in Westport where my next order is coming from both raise Angus. That is now making me second guess my 1/2 side purchase.

Kelly said...

(Follow-up) Well, I did some reading and it looks as though Angus should have nice marbling, so here is to hoping our experience with tough to chew Angus has been the exception rather than the rule.

Elspeth said...

Michelle, what cuts have you tried? I'd be curious to know how they were.

And Kelly, I hope you will be happily surprised with your second round of Angus. And if not, you can always marinate it for hours and throw a winter pot roast party or something, right? Neighbors can be helpful for problems like that.

All the best,
Elspeth

Bie said...

Grass-fed meats are brand new to me. time for me to learn more. Thanks,Biee

Elspeth said...

Biee, I bet you know more than you think. Time was, all meats were grass fed!

xoxo
E

Laura said...

I just bought some short ribs from the farm in Dennis ... since that is a beautiful and rich and savory cooking process (I have one recipe that actually takes 3 days from stove to mouth ... but I can't wait that long)... should I be doing something differently because of the grass-fed beef? Or maybe not because of this particular way of cooking? Thanks!

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