Pros: Fantastic repository of knowledge, information, how-to’s, and delicious recipes
Cons: I imagine it would be a bit tough to learn to butcher from images and descriptions alone
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book (published 20011) provided by Random House.
Joshua and Jessica Applestone opened Fleisher’s, an old-fashioned butcher shop with a modern purpose in mind: they wanted to source only pasture-raised, local animals that had been fed a natural diet and had been treated well. Many people told them they’d never be able to make it work, and yet they did—largely by educating people on the differences between factory-farmed and well-raised meats, and by returning to a neighborhood, customer-oriented style of business. They weren’t afraid to tell people that the fact that they ran out of a specific meat was a good sign, one that meant they weren’t sourcing indiscriminately or throwing away less popular cuts. They weren’t afraid to reject a supplier if they found out something wasn’t right with an animal. They also weren’t afraid to show people how to make great food on a decent budget despite the additional expense in sourcing well-raised animals.
The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More is by Joshua and Jessica Applestone (owners of Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats) and Alexandra Zissu. Since doggedly making their sustainable butcher’s shop work against all odds, the Applestones have helped teach others to make it work for themselves as well. And whether you’re looking to get into the butchering business or simply want to know how to prepare, cook, choose, and eat good meat at home, this book does a fantastic job of providing truly useful (and delicious!) information.
Although one would think that the information on sourcing well-raised animals would be important primarily to the butchers themselves, I felt that I learned an awful lot here as a consumer:
We see, for instance, that pastured pigs have clean glands—they’re almost the same color as the flesh. Glands are the filters for the body, and they reflect what the animals have been through. On our pigs, they are pearlescent and clear. On a conventionally raised pig, those glands are brown to black… Often these glands are not removed before the meat is ground or processed.
That kind of hands-on information makes it much easier to understand why it can be important to buy good-quality meats. As a consumer, I really like knowing the practical, factual information on how the various practices of animal raising affect both the quality of the meat and the quality of life for the animal. All of that is included in here, in very concrete terms. Some of the information provided can make it easier for you to recognize good quality meats at the store or butcher’s shop, and the Applestones are happy to tell you what questions to ask your butcher as well. There’s even an explanation of various terms you’ll find on labels, and what they mean—or DON’T mean.
Each type of meat gets its own section—beef, lamb, pork, poultry. In each you’ll learn about the issues particular to that animal, the various cuts of meat on an animal and where they’re located (and how they can vary from butcher to butcher), why sustainability means that you should learn which cuts will do the same job as more trendy ones and consider buying those instead, recommended cooking methods for pretty much every part of the animal you can imagine (including offal), suggestions for things you might practice if you want to try your hand at butchering, and of course recipes. The authors convinced me to give pork another try, and I’m glad I did—I discovered that while I still prefer beef, well-raised and properly cooked pork has a noticeably better flavor than your average grocery store meat. You’ll also learn a few surprising things. For example, while it’s true that veal calves in commercial enterprises are very poorly raised and treated, their sale is very important to the concept of sustainability:
But for most dairy farmers in this country, veal is part of the way they can turn a profit. What else are dairies going to do with surplus male calves?
And if you’re already sourcing from a well-run farm, the treatment of veal calves should be just as good as the treatment of the rest of the animals.
All of that pretty much comes just from the sections on specific animals. There’s also plenty of information on their own background, “the art of butchery”, and a number of techniques and tools (accompanied by drawings and a few photos, not to mention step-by-step instructions for storing, wrapping, brining, etc.). The text is written from Joshua’s perspective, and his personality comes through clearly. This makes the text fun and interesting without detracting from its usefulness.
On holding a driveway pig roast:
Don’t set your grass on fire, don’t burn your roof, don’t melt the asphalt on your driveway. You may think I’m joking, but we have heard tales of all of these.
Finally, however, I must discuss the recipes. As always when we review a book with recipes in it, we made several of them. And oh, my. The flavors in here are absolutely delightful. The spice mix for the lamb meatballs looked like it would be too heavy on smoked paprika, yet the balance was perfect for the meat. The spice paste for a butterflied lamb leg made the meat taste absolutely divine: plenty of flavor, without covering up the natural goodness of the flesh. Without fail, the cooking methods and flavors in here delivered succulent, perfect food every time.
The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat will be getting a prominent place on my bookshelves, as I expect I’ll return to it again and again for instructions, cooking methods, recipes, and knowledge of cuts. I can’t imagine I’ll ever run out of use for it, and that makes it a fantastic deal.