The Epicure

Cooking with a Butcher's Apprentice, Part VI - Reunion Ribeye

In celebration of seeing V for the first time in two months, I simply had to cook. And because he had detoured on her way home from a conference in barbecue country (Lexington style, iirc), secured transport into the hippie hills in the wee hours, and braved the treacherous path up to the cottage on crutches and in a boot, I wanted it to be something special. Enter the dry-aged ribeye.

The shop does its own dry aging, setting aside whole joints for a period of roughly 21 days. During this time, various natural processes shed moisture, tenderize muscle fibers, and concentrate and improve the overall flavor of the beef. When it's finished, it's trimmed, cut, and sold dear. The result is steak that tastes like a little bit of magic.

I riffed on David Chang and Fergus Henderson for this one. I think what was most fun about this process was that adaptations and departures seemed to suggest themselves based on what was on hand and entirely on the fly.

You will need for a generous dinner for two:

2 marrow bones (center-cut, roughly 2" long)
3 shallots, one sliced paper thin, the other two peeled
Bunch of parsley
Olive oil
Meyer lemon
Bone-in dry aged ribeye steak, cut to 1.5"
Thyme (sprigs are best, but make do)
Salt and pepper

  • Let steak sit for roughly 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Slice one shallot as thin as you can, chop parsley leaves, and toss the lot with olive oil, salt, and the juice of your lemon. Cool in the fridge.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400F. When you reach temperature, place the marrow bones in a roasting pan large enough to hold them and eventually the steak and put them into the oven for 12 minutes.
  • Liberally season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper.
  • Place pan with a hint of oil over medium high heat. When oil just begins to smoke, sear each side of the steak for 2 minutes.
  • Transfer steak to roasting pan with marrow bones and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes.
  • At your mark, remove the steak from the oven and set aside. Cover and rest for 10 minutes.
  • While your meat rests, take the pan the steak was seared in and place it over medium low heat. Add a knob of butter and a splash of oil and scrape any fond from the bottom of the pan. Scoop the marrow from the bones and whisk it into the resulting mixture. Add shallots and thyme, reduce heat to low.
  • Cut main muscle of the steak away from the bone and cut on the bias into 1/2" thick slices. Place several of these onto each plate with a hint of the heavily flavored butter and a spoon of the parsley salad on the side. Serve with a green salad and savor.

Chang actually does this whole process in a large cast iron skillet, with no transfer, and with a spoon basting of the meat after it comes out of the oven. Conceptually, it's rather lovely, but equipment being what it is and wanting to introduce the roasted marrow to take it that much more over the top, I opted for a departure from his method. Dinner was brilliant, and all the more so for V's smile and quiet enjoyment.


Some naming criteria as shared by one of my mentors:

1) Get over the "What the hell am I doing?" (or in my case "I'm the Junior Team Member!") hump
2) Lose weight
3) Notice that your hands hurt almost all of the time

and as a special optional bonus...

4) List "apprentice butcher" as your occupation on a passport application
The gentleman is always properly dressed

What the hell people

Between the clunky interface that throws ads at me whenever I try to log in, a home page that I don't believe is customizable and filled with useless crap, and an utter lack of control over spam accounts that seem to respond to everything I post, I am rapidly losing patience with LJ.
Road Warrior Diaries

The Pace is on a Runaway Train

As I had been warned by the two gents before me, beef is simultaneously precisely the same and a whole other thing altogether. Four ribs and two loins for me today, and I left for lunch feeling a bit dazed. Tomorrow we'll hit rounds and a chuck if we have the time. I've little doubt that I will be tired and sore.

Rumor also has it that there's a 400lb pig coming in (most I've worked with have been a little over the 200lb mark) which is prompting an early start for me. Seems the guys have decided to time my breaking on this one. Wish me luck.
Like no one's watching

Sausages + Iron Bed Frame = Joy


On the left is a chunk meat variant of a spicy coppa. On the right is saucisson sec. In the center is a beef sausage we crafted on the fly. All are test runs to try to get a sense of what works and whether the conditions in that back basement hall are favorable to larger scale experimentation. With any luck, they'll be ready for sampling some time around April 7.
The gentleman is always properly dressed


Today, Tom Schneller showed me a new way to remove the hock from a ham, and I hung sausages to age on a aged steel bed frame in a move that was deemed "too rustic" by my colleague. Pics of the latter are sure to follow.

I was also put in charge of showing the new apprentice how to break a side of pork. Tomorrow, I'll be taking him through lamb.
The Epicure

Cooking with a Butcher's Apprentice, Part V - Surprise! Hanger Steak!

The other apprentices in the shop came to the program as steak guys. At the outset they may not have been able to identify where on the animal a steak came from, but they knew about the steak, how best to cook it, and usually a number of accompaniments to serve it to best effect. By contrast, I've been tagged as a pork and offal guy. I don't have the greatest grasp of my beef cuts, but I can generally think of a half dozen uses for something like tongue or trotter that don't involve grinding them into pet food or worse, tossing them.

I promise this is going somewhere.

Because of where it's located, the muscle that makes up the hanger tends to pick up flavors usually associated with offals, and the result is a tiny piece of beef that packs a lots of flavor. The manager who stayed behind to tend the shop while most everyone else took the field trip to Montreal gave me two this week. The first because he wanted my opinion on a "real" hanger, and the second because I managed to leave the first in the bar across the street and then called the owner and told her to take it home for dinner. I may have had some booze-ahol while I was at the bar, but she seemed happy to have a plan for dinner.

In any case, I brought the second with me on a visit to friends in Boston, cooked it as simply as I could conceive, and it was a delight.

What you'll need:

One hanger steak (roughly .5 lb, or 1/2 of the actual muscle)
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil
Cast iron skillet

  • If you don't already have a 10"cast iron skillet that either belonged to or was gifted from your maternal grandmother (and preferably both), go out and get one already. You can skip this step, but man, it's brilliant.
  • Season the meat with salt and pepper and leave at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.
  • Put a little oil into your skillet and heat over medium high heat.
  • Place the hanger into the hot skillet and cook for a little more than 90 seconds and no more than 2 minutes per side.
  • Remove from heat, wrap in foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Slice thinly and place on a plate. Squeeze the barest amount of lemon juice over the slices, serve and relish.

You've probably noticed that this makes a tiny amount of food, but keep in mind that the hanger is and should be a rare treat since there is typically about 1 lb of it a full grown steer. The sustainability set has ranted far more eloquently about this than I can, but it is interesting to keep the scarcity of the cut in mind when you see hanger offered as a regular menu item at high volume restaurants.

Edited for spelling...
The Epicure

Cooking with a Butcher's Apprentice, Part IV - Rosa's Beautiful Breasts

I was at the door on my way out of the shop already laden with a bag of stuff for cooking when I heard Rosa (whose name has been changed for purposes of this story) calling after me. I turned around to find her handing me a bag containing a whole, bone-in chicken breast. Rosa is a lovely young woman who is a joy to have around, but she doesn't speak much more English than "thank you" and "for home." Needless to say, in spite of my protestation ("muy mucho," which, let's face it, is about the extent of my Spanish and likely incorrect to boot), I ended up bringing even more meat home.

Bone-in chicken breast is reasonably easy to work with, but it's not exactly the best mover because there seems to be logical disconnect between it and the boneless skinless breasts called for in every other Cooking Light recipe. There's also a degree of squeamishness around bones because they suggest a living animal in a way that a fillet under plastic on a bright yellow tray does not. And while I wouldn't recommend reaching the point of my mania, I'll encourage each and every one of you who hasn't crossed from omnivorous eating to work with bone-in chicken every now and again.

In any case, rants over. For this ample meal for two, you will need:

1 whole bone-in chicken breast from a humanely raised bird
Onions and garlic left over from flavoring the Trotter Red Sauce
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

This is about as simple as prepping a meal gets:
  • Pre-heat oven to 450F.
  • Heat some olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Prepare the chicken by splitting it in two with a sturdy knife and seasoning each side of the two pieces with salt and pepper.
  • Place the breasts in the skillet skin-side down and let brown for a few minutes without disturbing.
  • Line the bottom of a oven-safe dish just big enough to hold the breasts with the onions and garlic. When chicken has browned, place it on top of this layer skin side up, sprinkle on some thyme and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Turn the breasts over and cook for roughly 15 minutes more.
  • Remove breasts from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Eat and be happy.
The Epicure

Cooking with a Butcher's Apprentice, Part III - Trotter Red Sauce

This weekend, driven by an urge to recreate a tagliatelle in trotter ragu I had on a visit to 'The City' last week, I found Nate Appleman's riff on Ragù alla Napoletana and provisioned. I grabbed a couple of trotters and a hock off the pork I started cutting last week, stopped at the grocery store for additional supplies, and had at it.

Should you have the urge to follow this path, you will need:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 T bacon drippings
1 large onion, peeled and cut in half across the middle
1/2 head of garlic, peeled
2 pig's feet, split down the middle
1 ham hock (smoked would probably be delicious, but mine was not)
2 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf
Salt & Pepper
Some sort of flat noodley pasta
Plenty of time

  • Heat oil and drippings in the bottom of a large pot. Reduce heat to low, place the onion halves in the oil and cook slowly for roughly 45 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 15-20.
  • Meanwhile, pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands or some other handy instruments. Consider that this may turn out to be much less refined than what you were served in the restaurant. Stick blenders can be wonderful things.
  • At the end of roughly an hour of cooking, remove the onion and garlic and set aside for another use (I opted to use them to flavor chicken breasts that were thrust upon me as I left the shop, but that's a different story).
  • Add tomatoes, herbs, and porky bits to the pot and bring just to a boil before reducing the heat to a gentle simmer. Find something else to do while you wait four hours as the sauce cooks.
  • Cook for an hour more because you're crazy like that.
  • Once the simmer is over, remove the hock and reserve for some other use. (My plan is for a pork hash with sunny-side up eggs, but you may have other ideas.)
  • Similarly, remove the trotters and carefully pull the bones from the skin and meat. Discard these, and chop the remaining bits finely before returning them to the sauce.
  • Taste and season. Do not skimp on the salt.
  • Cook noodles and serve with the simplest of green salads.
  • Do not be surprised to see the leftovers turn into flavor jelly when it cools. Word of warning: this stuff is rich.


Something else of note: there's a new apprentice in this week, so while I am not necessarily on the All Beef, All the Time track that the two gents ahead of me are on, I'm also not the new guy anymore. To highlight this, my week so far has been prepping requested cuts for orders or in preparation for sales tomorrow rather than any sort of intensive instruction. It's all been about using what I know and refining techniques. That, and supplying the new new guy with lamb necks to de-bone. Poor kid.
The gentleman is always properly dressed

Cooking with a Butcher's Apprentice, Interlude - Sausage Making

This past week we were given advanced sausage making basics at the shop. The "advanced" bit included thoughts on equipment, costs, and strategies around large scale production. "Basics" focused a little more on crafting recipes, techniques to use, choice of meats, and just how f&cking simple it is to make sausage. I agree, but only to an extent. Truth is, in spite of Ruhlman's catastrophizing over "broken" grinds and his insistence on a step by step method to ensure success, making a seasoned ground meat that may or may not be stuffed into a casing is a rather trivial affair. I do have to depart from my mentor a bit insofar as I believe that crafting a great sausage requires a little more skill.

I'm thinking I managed merely "good" with my project (there were compromises made in the name of expedience), but it has some potential.

What you'll need:

Some basic equipment like a grinder and a large bowl
3.2 fluid oz. coarse sea salt
3 lb lamb
5 lb chicken
2 lb smoked bacon
10 oz bag of frozen spinach
1/8 cup meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup garlic (in granules)
1/8 cup black pepper
1/4 cup oregano
1/8 cup red pepper flakes
2 cups of red wine
1 cup roasted red peppers
An unmeasured quantity of ice

What you'll do:
  • Gather your ingredients, cube the meat, and mix everything together with your hands. Don't worry over naysayers questioning the addition of greens into the mix, but do ask plenty of questions about their behavior in grinds. (Note: unblanched greens tend to turn black.)
  • Grind the meat.
  • Add a "scoop" of ice to the mix (in my case, this worked out to rather less than a quart container) and grind again. Beam a little when the boss says, "This looks fucking great, by the way..."
  • Let grind sit for 24 hours, then stuff into some 20 feet of casings.

To be honest, the volume measures bug me a little, but that's the method currently in use at the shop and I'm there to learn how they do things. On tasting, I thought the grind could use a little more zing (I'm thinking lemon zest) and might be a little on the salty side. I'm also tempted to go all-lamb even though I've been warned against it.


In other news, I have dined with Joel Salatin (who is amiable, funny, and has a notable weakness for ice cream), and spotted Julie Powell (who's taller than I expected) in the shop.  In a more curious twist, I may be traveling to Montreal at the end of this week for a filming of Bizarre Foods and dinner at Au Pied de Cochon.  I probably won't have time to ask Mr. Zimmern about my concerns about his approach.  I am, however, very much looking forward to the possibility of having Picard's Poutine au Foie Gras because it just seems so very, very wrong