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.

16 Responses to “Meat, Morals & Me”

  1. deb March 1, 2007 at 9:38 am #

    I’m sorry I missed your question yesterday. Though I also became a vegetarian at 13 (you’re so right about the age) and lasted until, er, very recently, short ribs is one of the very few meats I feel comfortable with. I’ve made them both bourguinon-style and with a hoisin/beer sauce (these are ludicrously good). One of the most useful things I have ever read about dealing with short ribs is from Regina Schrambling. It really made me feel like I couldn’t mess them up. The only thing that’s really a pain is how fatty they are; I tend to cook them for a few hours the day before, let them cool in the fridge, peel off the huge layer of fat, and braise them for a couple more hours if I have time, but still find it impossible to avoid a couple fatty bites.

  2. Lydia March 1, 2007 at 9:50 am #

    Hmmmm…wonder what happened there. Great short ribs should melt in your mouth. But then again, every now and then I eat something that I usually love, only to find that on a particular day, it tastes like soap, or bricks, or just makes me queasy. Maybe that’s what happened to you. Anyway, it’s been fun to watch the 5 Things meme wander around the blog world!

  3. Lisa (Homesick Texan) March 1, 2007 at 11:09 am #

    The meat thing is so difficult. I love it, and only buy it from people who say the animals have been treated well, but I still feel a bit of guilt sometimes. I read somewhere that the chef at burger-joint Stand is a vegetarian. How ironic!

  4. ann March 1, 2007 at 3:11 pm #

    Deb — Why didn’t I think to check your site in the first place… drrrrrrrr… Maybe I’ll give them another chance next winter, but definitely not this winter, I was traumatized.

    Lydia — There was no melting. I’m wondering if it was because they were from grassfed cows? They say their meat is less fatty, but I call bullsh*t on that as there was plenty of fat floating about. Very odd. And yeah, the meme is fun :-)

    Lisa(HT) — whoa. that’s big news. Have you tried those burgers yet? So delicious. And they deliver to our office :-)

  5. dickrebel March 1, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    Wow. Something went wrong here.

    It’s a pain to remove the ‘silver’ from the back, and trim the fat, but other than that either slow braising or marinating and cooking quickly should make a nice, juicy, tasty treat. Nothing close to what you describe. Even with grass/pasture fed beef.

    When you get the nerve again, try making them the “korean” way. Not hard, simply marinate in: 2 Tbl brown suger, 2Tbl soy sauce, 1 Tbl sherry, 1Tbl sesame oil (can use toasted but it’ strong), 2 Tbl sesame seeds, 2 garlic cloves minced, 1 Tbl grated fresh ginger (or 1/4 tsp ground), and 2 green onions sliced (including the green parts). Let marinate, turning occasionally, for at least 1/2 an hour, better at 2 hours, too much anything over 6 hours. Be sure to trim and remove the membrane from the back of the bone before doing this, and score the meat side a bit. Grill on a wood fired grill (best), a jennair style grill, or throw under broiler turning until med rare with some burny spots. Throw some halved or quartered onions (sweet are the best) which you can brush with the marinade a bit before cooking onto the grill/broiler pan too. Tender, flavorful, and certainly no aluminum taste. There are many similar recipies for this type of dish, I think it’s called bulkolgi or something I am too lazy too dig up right now :P

    FYI, pasture/grass fed: yes, there is less fat marbled into the meat itself. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t wads of fat in fatty areas, just less marbled into the meat tissue itself. It also has a bit of a different flavour, not as rich. However, I am fine with that. However most Americans raised on cheap grain fed beef often find pasture fed beef lacking in flavour and tenderness.

    BTW, this is my first comment so I wish to tell ya: Thanks for writing, I appreciate it. I have considered writing about my kitchen adventures but haven’t got the gumption…

    -dr

  6. ann March 1, 2007 at 8:37 pm #

    Hiya DR — thanks so much for the comment and the advice. I love Korean food (loooove) so that recipe you have above is ravishingly appealing! When I was a kid we actually ate a lot of pasture-fed beef from friend’s dairy farms so I love the flavor!! And PLEASE! write about your kitchen adventures! It’s so fun!

  7. Terry B March 2, 2007 at 1:32 am #

    I just found your blog. What an amazing coincidence to find it on the day that you mention the wonderful, wonderful e.e. cummings poem. I love much of his work, and this one is my favorite too.

    A great blog. I will be back for more.

  8. s'kat March 2, 2007 at 3:11 pm #

    I absolutely love short ribs, and am planning on making an awesome preparation of them soon. Perhaps that particular batch just wasn’t meant to be?

    (oh and… I tried horse when i was in europe recently. how could i not?!? It tasted like beef jerky.)

  9. izzy's mama March 3, 2007 at 12:40 am #

    If you are brave enough to attempt short ribs again after that experience (which I am sure you will be), you should try Suzanne Goin’s version http://www.boston.com/ae/food/articles/2006/01/18/braised_beef_short_ribs_with_swiss_chard/

    …incredible. As is nearly everything in her cookbook Sunday Supper at Lucques.

  10. sher March 3, 2007 at 3:08 pm #

    What a great post! (As usual!) I try not to think about the personal lives of any meat I eat. If I did–I’d become a vegetarian. But, then I couldn’t eat short ribs, could I? Ah well! Life is a series of decisions. I want short ribs–and the pork tenderloin that I’m cooking today–and pigs are actually wonderful creatures.

  11. Toni March 3, 2007 at 9:37 pm #

    First of all, I love your childhood pet list! Got a good chuckle out of that one.

    I started my adventures in alternative health with not just vegetarianism, but macrobiotic (a la Toni the tinkerer, of course.) But I found my way back to being an omnivore after – don’t remember how many years.

    Sorry to hear about your short rib experience. I adore them! The Korean recipe above sounds fantastic, and I’d try that in a heartbeat. DR – if you read the comments here, know that you’ve got another vote! Also, Deb’s recipes look very tasty. You might try getting “back on the horse”, as it were.

    But not eating it. Definitely not. I agree!

  12. ann March 4, 2007 at 10:47 am #

    Terry B — Thanks for stopping by! Yours is pretty rockin’ as well!

    s’kat — I’ve heard the Estonians eat a lot of horse. Apparently they make a really delicious cured sausage with it. I love sausage, but I think I love horses more. Was it tasty?

    Izzy’s Mama — I really ought to buy that cookbook…

    Sher — I can’t wait to read about your pork! The pig is a magical animal.

    Toni — Ha! Yeah, alright, I’ll try them again, but maybe not til next winter.

  13. Tiny Banquet Committee March 7, 2007 at 8:12 am #

    I became a vegetarian around the same age but unfortunately *not* due to a surfeit of knowledge about animals; mostly I just wanted to piss off my parents, and I was bored to tears with their meat + two sides regimen anyhow. It went on for years after I’d been living on my own, until one day I craved a burger, went to the nearest diner, ordered one, and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve been eating meat ever since but I almost never cook red meat or pork at home and I am very interested in learning what to do with cuts like short ribs.
    I don’t think I could deal with horse either, though. Definitely no Karl Lagerfeld diet for me either!

  14. Rebecca March 7, 2007 at 10:40 am #

    It’s funny you should mention e.e.cummings because we were just having an intense dinner table conversation about him the other night; our 17 year old has been studying him in school and hates him. What bothers me is that Calvin has never been introduced to what I consider to be the classic poets, like Wordsworth or Tennyson, and I think you have to have some basic education in poetry before reading the modern poets, otherwise you have no idea what they were reacting to.

    Anyway, I learned how to butcher meat in a restaurant kitchen, too, and have retained some of my skills, although that was a long time ago (almost 30 years!) and if I were presented with a side of beef I’m not sure if I would exactly remember what to do with it. I can at least cut up my own chickens with no problem. Everyone should know how to do that. I can’t imagine butchering a dog. Or eating one, either. I have heard that pigs are delightful creatures, much more intelligent than horses or cattle but I basically try not to think about it since I’m so fond of pork. I guess that makes me the worst kind of hypocrite. In fact when I think about it, pigs are probably smarter than many people I know so I might as well be a cannibal as eat pork.

  15. ann March 7, 2007 at 11:49 am #

    TBC — oh my LORD! I knew there was more than just the pony tail that made Karl Lagerfeld hateful!

    Rebecca — I’ve known pigs in my lifetime, and I’ve never found them to be intelligent, but then again, I spent far more time around horses than around the pigs. Each one is different, some are smart, some are pretty, and some are just dumb. As to e.e. cummings, I cannot believe they’re teaching him in school now! I discovered him in 9th grade, much to my teachers horror. She had assigned us to read a love poem in class for Valentine’s day, and I had found my dads old volume of cummings and stumbled upon that poem. When I read it to the class my teacher became absolutely infuriated… for some reason he wasn’t a “real” poet to her, and I therefore got a failing grade for that assignment. Sigh.

  16. pop pop March 19, 2007 at 4:00 pm #

    The cevapcici at Djerdan was pretty good! Not quite as good as what I had in Sarajevo, but it was still great. The burek was a little disappointing, and the yogurt was just ok.

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