Short Ribs

For 3 pounds center-cut short beef ribs, line the bottom of a roasting pan with coarsely-chopped white onion. Coat ribs in a seasoning mixture of pepper, salt, granulated garlic and cumin in equal amounts. Add another layer of sliced onions, cover and place in a medium oven (300) for three hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes. Serve with bread, good mustard, slaw and beans.

 

Swiss Steak: A Geography Lesson

Many years ago at a conference for Southern fiction at Ole Miss, I took umbrage at the inclusion of Bobbie Ann Mason’s splendid novel In Country because the author is from Kentucky, which I do not consider a Southern state. Kentucky was in the middle border during the Civil War, not a member of the Confederacy, and in my book it is not Southern, nor are Missouri, West Virginia, Maryland or Delaware.

When a family from Kentucky moved to my very small rural Mississippi town in the early 60s they were of course welcomed and quietly became members of the community. With them they brought Swiss steak, which my adolescent mind tagged as a Yankee recipe. For some reason the Swiss designation slipped right over my little provincial Southern brain, probably more because for obvious reasons Switzerland held far less significance than THE NORTH. Anything Yankee was automatically suspect, and as such Swiss steak entered the nether category Reserved for Further Observation.

“To swiss” is actually an English verb that has little to do with cooking, meaning “a calendering process for cotton fabrics that produces a smooth compact texture”. Some food writers have taken a leap of faith and declared that because the cooking process renders a tough cut of meat “smooth”, which is why beef cooked this way is “Swiss”.

The ease and appeal of stewed beef with tomatoes is world-wide. Bread and fry thin trimmed cuts of top round until browned, drain and place in a casserole. Add tomato  sauce, and bake until tender. Top with (Swiss) cheese and serve with buttered potatoes.

 

Salisbury Steak

When I was growing up in small-town Mississippi in the 1960s, TV dinners were a treat, something different from home-cooked, not better, really, just exotic, some indication that outside the stagnant backwater of Bruce, Mississippi, the world was actually making some degree of progress, if only in convenience foods. For a little over a dollar we could buy fried chicken, meatloaf, or turkey and dressing with whipped potatoes and neon peas in a compartmentalized space-age metal containers and eat them on the fold-away TV tables. I remember doing exactly that the first time I saw “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I was eight years old.

My favorite was the fried chicken, but brother Tom’s was Salisbury steak. That’s about as close as he could get to a hamburger, which a Salisbury steak rather much is. It’s named for James Salisbury, one of those impressive food faddists of the late 19th century whose ranks include Kellogg, Post, and Mary Grove Nichols (by far the coolest of this three.) Salisbury advocated the same low-carb diet as Tarnower and Atkins, one known now as paleo, his being very much meat-centered. Salisbury’s version of a “lean beef cake,” calls for meat “from the centre of the round” procured from “well-fatted animals that are from four to six years old,” but any lean is good.

For a pound of beef, add a quarter cup bread crumbs, work in a squirt or two of ketchup. Don’t over-work the meat. Form into no more than four cakes about an inch thick. Cook slowly, in a low oven to medium well, season with pepper and salt. While this recommendation doesn’t fit the doctor’s diet, my optimal serving of Salisbury steak requires mushroom gravy (a light one) and creamed potatoes with a little ton of butter.

Paleolithic Pleasures

Ever since the Fall, no food has sparked more controversy than meat: some eschew it and even more restrict it, but meat, for most people, is what’s for dinner. By meat we mean red meat. The USDA considers all meat from livestock red because they contain more myoglobin (aka “red stuff”) than poultry or fish. For most people, this means beef or pork (yes, “the other white meat” is red), though sheep and goat as well game such as venison—and for that matter, whale—fall into the same category. Beef and pork in their various incarnations constitute a significant portion of our diets. An average American consumes 67 lbs. of beef and 51 lbs. of pork annually, most of it at home, meaning that the majority of people buy meat raw and cook it themselves.

Most people do this without a great deal of fuss or bother. A cursory glance at the label is often all that the average shopper needs for a selection. But given the expense and importance of meats, care and discrimination is warranted when it comes to their purchase and preparation. A description of meats demands a language of its own, one based on cuts and quality. While the vocabulary of cuts requires a basic knowledge of quadruped anatomy (leg, back, etc.) in addition to an arcane phraseology stitched largely from antique versions of French and English (brisket and loin, for instance), quality descriptions of meats derive from strict, precise government standards imposed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

steak-classificationUnderstanding this language requires instruction. Paul Koury, owner and operator of Paul Anthony’s Markets, says, “This business has been a huge teaching process from day one. When I first opened up, almost every customer was looking for a solid red piece of meat with no marbling, and that’s probably going to be your lowest grade,” Paul says. When it comes to the quality of meats, marbling is the key factor. Marbling describes those small streaks of white fat within the red lean muscle that are essential towards making any cut of meat tender and juicy. The degree of marbling is the primary determination of quality grade. A prime cut will have abundant marbling and a choice cut moderate, while a select cut (the lowest marketed grade) will have only slight marbling, making the meat tough and dry.

“I have a few pieces of choice rib eye that I’ve prepared in a display tray with a prime rib eye to educate people in the difference between the marbling. Less than 3% of all beef in the United States rates a prime grading.” Paul says that supermarket chains are not an ideal place to shop for the best cuts of meat. “Most supermarkets aren’t even cutting their own products locally. Kroger, for instance, has most of their meats cut in Cincinnati and then shipped out.” Paul explains that their reasoning behind this is the liability factor in using saws and other cutting instruments in their stores.

The practice of aging beef is another factor contributing to flavor and tenderness. “All of my prime beef is wet aged, vacuum-sealed in a package in its natural juices. Wet packaged beef will have a stamp that tells me how many days it has been aging since the slaughter. Dry aging is a whole different process,” Paul says. ”Humidity and temperature are keys. Every product is out of the bag with no liquid around it, and the enzymes are breaking down the meat, making for a really rich flavor.” Paul explains that quality pork is the product of a nationwide program in which farmers are raising heirloom breeds of swine without using hormones or strong antibiotics. Sometimes referred to as heirloom or heritage breeds, examples in the marketplace today include Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta, meaning “black pig”), Duroc, and Tamworth “There’s an amazing difference in the taste and tenderness between this pork and what you’d find in most supermarkets,” Paul says. .

Adelaide_champion_Berkshire_boar_2005Pork has become a “foodie” fad. Dan Blumenthal, chef at Bravo! Restaurant, says, “It’s interesting. I really don’t understand why pork is trendy now. But there’s a lot of pork meat that doesn’t have a lot of fat on it and can be used like veal or chicken; the tenderloin, for example.” Dan points out that some bone-in cuts of meat are also coming back. “They’re introducing cuts with the bone in it, for various reasons. Meat really does taste better if it’s cooked with the bone, and if you cut it right, there’s not that much work to do. I also serve a chicken breast, called the airline breast, with the wing bone still in it,” Dan says. “It’s essentially the drumette once you take the breast off.” When it comes to cooking methods, “You’re going to get the best flavor out of grilling,” Dan says, “but unless your grill is really hot, I’d prefer pan-searing, dry-rubbing the meat and almost “Pittsburgh-ing” it (meat cooked “Pittsburgh style” is charred on the outside and juicy on the inside). I don’t use a dry skillet; you need oil in the skillet to conduct the heat.”

bonesAs to a meat sauce, Dan says, “Here is where it gets a little bit tougher. One of the easiest things to do if you’re cooking meat is to take the pan juices and reduce them with a little red wine if it’s a dark meat or white wine if it’s a light meat, then finish with butter. Short of that, if you’re grilling, for instance, you’re going to need some sort of stock,” Dan says, “and unless you can get veal bones and you know how to make a beef stock, most people can use a lighter or darker chicken stock and get away with it, and chicken bones are pretty easy to come by. Brown the bones in the oven with seasonings and aromatic vegetables, then add liquids to complete the stock. You’re not going to get something that’s as rich and dark (as a veal stock), but it might suffice, especially if you cook it down and add red wine or a little tomato paste.”

Then there are marinades and dry rubs. “Marinades flavor and tenderize meat,” Dan says. “A marinade normally incorporates an acid, which is a natural tenderizer, whether the acid is wine or vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice. For a tougher piece of meat you’d want the marinade to penetrate more. But if you’re cooking a rare piece of meat, and the marinade penetrates too far, the acid will cook the meat, and it will soak up the marinade like a sponge, giving the meat a different texture. Dry rubs are another excellent way to flavor meat,” Dan says. “You always want salt and pepper; something with a little heat, like different types of peppers, then some dried herbs like rosemary, oregano or fennel as well as powdered onion, garlic and paprika.”  Dan recommends that any cut of meat, once cooked, should rest for a few minutes before carving or cutting.

Pork Saltimbocca

12 oz. pork tenderloin, sliced into 6 medallions and pounded thinly
6 thin slices prosciutto
6 large fresh sage leaves
Dredge pork in all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and black pepper. Arrange 1 prosciutto slice over pork. Top with 1 sage leaf and spear with a wooden pick. Heat about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan, add pork and brown lightly. Remove pork; add about a tablespoon of finely chopped shallots and a teaspoon of garlic. Add about 1/4 cup each white wine and chicken stock to pan, cook until reduced by about half, finish with about a tablespoon unsalted butter. Arrange pork on a warm plate and drizzle with pan juices. Serve immediately.

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