Archive | 8:54 am

Meat, Morals & Me

1 Mar

I was surprised by how many of you out there were surprised that I had done a stint in the belly of a restaurant a few years ago. All of my friends know this about me. But then it occurred to me that, well, yes, you, my readers, are in a way my friends, but that the only way that we talk is through this back and forth of blips on a computer screen.

You have no idea that when I’m puzzling over a tough problem at work, I chew on the charm dangling from my necklace. You can’t see how well I can tell an animal story because of my uncanny (and some would say dubious) talent for portraying the animals with body language and facial expressions. You (hopefully) are unaware of what a git I look like when I go running.

NYPD Mounted Police Stable, Tribeca

And so it is with this in mind that I’m going to briefly take up the gracious offer from culinary acupunctress Toni to tell you five things you (hopefully) don’t know about me. I’m using the restaurant stint as No. 1.

No. 2: When I was a kid I had a black lab that had to be taught to swim, a horse with a taste for fine champagne and an anorexic parakeet.

No. 3: I have a crooked toe on my left foot that I think is kind of cute, but most people find a little creepy.

No. 4: My favorite poem in the entire world is i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings.

No. 5: I was a vegetarian for 13 years.

This is the point I was actually trying to get to. Like many 13 year old American girls, I suddenly lost all ability to cope with meat. I can remember the day exactly.

My high school was doing an international food fair. Everyone in my German class was assigned a course to cook, typical German fare, natürlich! I was given the meat course, but being rebellious, I refused to cook something typical. So down onto the floor I flopped with my mother’s German edition of the ‘Round The World series (anyone in their 30s and older should remember these) to look for something edgy, unexpected and unique. And boy did I find it.

NYPD Mounted Police Stable, Tribeca

Here’s where my memory gets a little fuzzy. I believe the recipe I settled upon was called Fisherman’s Stew, but it contained no fish. Rather it was a stew of pork and beef. So my mother took me to the store, I picked out my cuts of meat and my vegetables, we got home and I started chopping. Everything was going along just fine until I started cutting the meat into cubes, at which time it didn’t go a little bit wrong, it went a whole lot wrong.

I started envisioning the animals from which the meat had come, their killing, butchering, the happy lives they could have had. I was taking an advanced biology class where we had just dissected cats. I knew what muscles I was cutting into. And so I threw up, and then I fainted. My mother had to finish the stew, and I didn’t eat meat for 13 years.

Soft fade back to a few years ago when I’m working in that kitchen. Chef finally convinces me that if I’m going to make a career of cooking for people I was going to have to eat what I was sending out to them, and so I stopped being a vegetarian. I believe my first meat meal was duck, and my second was bunny (that’s what they call rabbit in kitchens), but it could have been the other way around. I’ve never turned back.

Chef taught me proper butchering techniques and I try desperately to ensure the animals I consume lived a nice life, that they were happy. But every now and again I’ll come across something I won’t eat. Horse. No. Never. I rode for 16 years. There were times when my horse was my closest friend in the whole world. I would never eat my best friend, and I will never eat horse. I love to eat rabbit, but I will never cook it. They all look like they were killed mid-leap (I had a pet rabbit when I was a kid, too). Dog (see above).

And why am I telling you this? Because I think I added something else to this list, but not for moral reasons. Short ribs. Home cooked short ribs to be exact. The boy has been agitating for them for months now, and so when I fell prey to the siren call of mackerel I picked up some short ribs too.

Short Ribs Braised In Wine

It’s a cut of meat I had zero experience with, so I went where the curious home cook in the know goes, I went to The Kitchen and asked the panel. Unfortunately no one told me about the chilling and fat skimming until after the fact, but that’s okay, I forgive easily (just kidding Guido).

But that wasn’t the real problem. Perhaps it was the spices I used in the braise (allspice, fennel seed, bay leaves, seeds of paradise, kalonji & Worcestershire sauce in red wine) but the meat had, to me, an unpleasant, almost metallic crust that hurt my teeth. Chewing it was kind of like chewing aluminum foil; intensely unpleasant. But it was only me that felt this way. The boy was rapturous. He even ate with his hands (a sight that is very, very rare).

Oh well, these things happen. A countless number of meat recipes exist in the world for me try my hand it, it won’t hurt anyone if I leave this one recipe to the professionals.