Affordable Cuts to Feed A Crowd: Summer Edition

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Summer BBQ season is coming and I could not be more excited. I dream of the day that we move out of our one bedroom apartment and into a house with a backyard BBQ. Until then, I just try to invite myself over to friends’ houses with the promise of meat.

One of the major problems that most people face when thinking about having a BBQ is the uncertainty surrounding what cuts of meat to serve, especially if you’re trying to buy from a good butcher. Ribeyes and filets can be super expensive and, when you’re buying for a crowd, that adds up quickly. You love your friends, yes, but maybe not that much. Of course, sausages are an economical option but I wanted to give you a few other suggestions so that you can class it up over summer and have your friends over without breaking your bank account. So, here it is, my list of affordable cuts to feed a crowd over the summer:

  1. Whole Sirloin Flap AKA bavette. You can marinate this just like carne asada, or put a dry rub on it. Be sure that the butcher has cleaned the silver skin off it for you, and have them leave as much fat on as possible. Finally and, most importantly, be sure to slice it into thin strips across the grain. Don’t worry- the grain is so visible you’ll know just what I’m talking about when you see it. Estimate about ½ pound per person.
  2. Whole Butterflied Chicken. I never understand why someone would want to throw a bunch of boneless chicken breasts on the grill to dry out. But, grilling separate legs can also be sort of time consuming and grill space greedy. So, I always recommend the grilled butterflied chicken for a crowd. Firstly, guests can get white or dark meat, as they prefer. Secondly, it’s easier to just flip one thing on the grill than to constantly have to flip tons of legs or breasts. Estimate about ¼ of a chicken per person or, if you have a lot of sides, ⅛ per person.
  3. Pork Spare Ribs. Ribs are great for so many reasons. Firstly, you can precook them so that they’re almost totally done before they even hit the grill. And that can be done up to 2-3 days beforehand. So that’s a total win. Secondly, they’re handheld, which is always good when kids are around. Estimate at least 2-3 ribs per person, and 1-2 ribs for kids.
  4. Boneless Beef Short Ribs. Newsflash! You don’t have to always braise your short ribs! You can *grill* them, just as long as you promise not to overcook them. However, there are a couple things to know before you do it. For me, I prefer boneless short ribs for grilling to be cross cut, meaning they’re not cut into those little cubes that we often braise, but cut into long rectangles between 2-3” thick. You also want to trim some of the fat off the surface so as not to cause flares on the grill. If possible, have your butcher give you ribs from the cross section of the beef. They’re just meatier. Finally and most importantly, make sure that any of the connective tissue that connected the bone to the meat is cleaned off. It’s tough and will not soften on the grill. Allow ½ lb per person.
  5. Pork Top Sirloin Steaks. Pork top sirloin steaks are a butcher’s secret. We love them and for good reason: they’re more economical than pork chops and they stay way more moist when you cook them on the grill. They have a darker more tender section of meat than the chop, and more intramuscular fat. Win, win, double win. Allow ½ lb per person.

Okay, so, now that you know what to get to feed your friends, get out there and start planning your BBQs. Don’t forget that I don’t have a grill and I have access to all of these cuts so….I’m just saying, think about it ;)

Xx

Melissa

What's A Heritage Breed?

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Nowadays, you can walk into any supermarket during the summer and find at least a few heirloom tomatoes. After years and years of bland, mealy tomatoes imported from Mexico, finally, we are rediscovering heirloom produce, breeds of fruits and vegetables that were selected by past generations for their unique, superior flavors. In the meat industry, heritage breeds are like to heirloom produce and, just as there are many varieties of heirloom tomatoes with distinct appearances and flavors, there are many breeds of animals that have been selected by generations before us to have different behaviors, appearances, and flavors. In short, heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to their local environment. However, those adaptations are particular to the kind of farming practices that were prevalent 100 years ago and beyond. Heritage breeds are not well-adapted to the rigors of modern agriculture and so they are generally passed over by our modern agricultural system in favor of newer breeds that have been selected to withstand the rigors of industrial production. That’s why we don’t see them at the store very often.

A little history: at the birth of our nation, Americans were subsisting on a diet of wild meats and vegetables grown in individual and communal gardens. As the colonies grew, the meat packing industry grew, but not as we know it today. Colonists harvested, salted, smoked, and packed their own small supply of domesticated meat in order to trade it with the West Indies for products like sugar and molasses. As we all know, the industrial revolution meant two big things: (1) many, many people left farm life in order to live and work in cities and (2) innovations in transportation and industry led to increased production of all kinds of goods, not just meat. For the meat industry these two factors meant that demand for meat increased in cities, where people couldn’t raise their own animals, a demand which coincided with the birth of the railway system. With the advent of refrigerated railway cars, the industrial meat complex was born. Since then, ranching operations have been increasingly confined to more and more isolated areas, as out of the public’s sight as possible. Heritage breeds have become rather uncommon, as they’re not suited to confined feeding operations. We’ve replaced them with our own breeds that have been selected to gain weight quickly, survive confined conditions, and demonstrate docile behavior. Conventional breeds have become so distinct from their predecessors that they often lack the desire to procreate or the ability to do so.

Aside from the industrial revolution, something else has impacted the way we’ve selected breeds to raise here in the US- health fads. In the eighties and nineties, as most of you know, there was a movement against fat and red meat. In reaction to this move, pork producers began breeding leaner and leaner pork. That’s why our pork chops taste nothing like those meaty, fatty chops our grandparents used to serve us. Heritage breeds have distinct flavors and fat profiles that make them unique, and tasty.

Turkeys make for a great, relatable example, since almost all of us eat turkey at Thanksgiving. All domesticated turkeys are descendants of wild North and South American turkeys. However, the conventional turkey breed that is most commonly raised in the US right now is called the Broad Breasted White, which has been selected over time to be so docile and fast-growing that it’s incapable of reproduction and often can’t stand correctly, or fly. Now, if you’ve ever been chased by a wild turkey- and I have, that’s a different story- you know that those guys are fast-moving, fearless, and capable of flying to great heights. Heritage breed turkeys - like the Bourbon Red and the Black turkey- still exhibit most of their natural characteristics and, most importantly, have unique flavor profiles and superior quality meat. The meat is different, that’s for sure, but most people find that, when they taste a heritage breed turkey, they can’t believe how much flavor is there.

One last note about heritage breeds: it is essential that we work together to maintain these breeds. Centuries of our ancestors’ work has gone into selecting them to be highly adaptable to certain conditions and, despite their superior flavor and adaptability, many of these breeds are at risk of extinction. Once gone, we cannot get them back for centuries, if at all. Many ranchers and farmers are raising and reviving heritage breeds - and some never stopped raising them at all! While this meat may cost more, it’s important that we support their efforts. You may find that you fall in love with the distinct flavor profiles and characteristics of heritage breed meats.


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Why We Don't Have a Storefront

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I believe that the most frequently asked question I get at the farmers market is, “where is your retail storefront?” It’s hard to answer because most people don’t want the long version of the story here, they just want to know where to find us and, well, the answer is that we don’t have a retail storefront and aren’t currently working towards opening one. This can be confusing for some curious customers to understand, and so I wanted to lay out the reasoning behind this decision and shed a little more light on the way we’re currently structured.

When I first started Bavette, my health was relatively unpredictable and I had to structure the company in a way that wouldn’t decimate my life, as so many food businesses do for those who start them. The food industry is infamous for insanely long hours, tedious physical work, and epic burnouts. I have been victim to all three of those things before and didn’t fare well; my health took a toll for that, and continues to take it. Naturally then, it was important to me to structure Bavette in a way that was manageable for my life. From the outset, that took a retail storefront off the table- at least for the foreseeable future- because storefronts demand constant attention. You must be there for a certain number of hours each day and that felt unsustainable for the long term, for me, at the time, and continues to feel unsustainable for me right now.

The more I thought about the whole storefront thing as related to my health, the more I realized that there were other benefits, both to the business and the consumer, of staying away from retail at the start of things. For the consumer, I believe that we are able to charge a little less than we might otherwise because of our relatively low overhead and generally nimble structure. For the business, we are saved the chore of constantly filling a retail case with extremely perishable product. Much, much less goes to waste at Bavette because everything is cut as fresh as possible and packaged immediately.

Finally, this is the most efficient way that I can think of to run a meat business. When meat comes in, we are able to batch work and get it all cut and packaged for customers without constant interruptions. Then, when we see you at the farmers market or at one of our pickups, we can give you our full attention. Of course, this isn’t to say that I don’t dream of having a storefront someday. Creating a sense of community among food producers and consumers is central to the mission of the company and I would love to have a store that serves as the hub of that community. But, not yet.

I hope that explains a little more why we operate the way we do. I’d be curious to hear what you think or would prefer, so feel free to leave feedback in the comments section below!

-Melissa

Isn't bone broth just stock for hipsters?

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This is a fair question. It really is. And here’s why: strictly speaking in terms of classical cuisine, stock is made with animal bones, and broth is made with meat instead of bones. So...bone broth is a paradoxical name for fundamentalists. There’s so much confusion about this question that I thought it warranted its own little place on the blog. To be clear, I actually don’t know how everyone in the world makes bone broth since it’s not as clearly defined a process as classical stock-making. So, my comparison between bone broth and stock in this piece refers only to the bone broth that we make at Bavette. But, when it comes down to it, there are significant differences between how and why we make stock, and how and why we make bone broth.

When chefs make stock, they choose to make either brown or white stock. Brown stock uses roasted bones, tomato paste, and caramelized mirepoix (onions, celery, and carrots), while white stock uses unroasted bones, uncooked mirepoix, and skips the tomato paste. A broth, by contrast, is made by gently simmering the meat with mirepoix and perhaps some other seasonings. A few important things about stocks and broths:

  1. They’re generally unseasoned or only seasoned very lightly, as they generally serve as a base for other dishes and will be seasoned later on in the process.
  2. Clarity of a stock and broth is important, meaning they shouldn’t be cloudy when properly made.
  3. Stocks are generally cooked for between four and eight hours, and broths for a significantly shorter amount of time.
  4. Stocks are generally jiggly or jello-like when chilled, where broths are liquid.

When we make our bone broth at Bavette, we generally roast the bones but not the vegetables, we never add tomato paste, and we generally add a little bit of apple cider vinegar, as it’s thought to help extract some of the nutrients from the bones. Here are some of the other major things that differentiate our bone broth from our stocks:

  1. For us, clarity does not matter. The broth is intended to sip on it’s own or use as a base in a soup, so we generally season it much more than we would a stock.
  2. We cook our bone broth for 24 hours. It’s not generally proven that this does indeed correlate with increased minerals and collagen breakdown in the broth, but it’s thought to have this effect. The cooking time also yields a deep color and deep flavor that might be too much for a classical stock.
  3. We use both meaty bones and meat scraps in our bone broths. So, they are indeed a combination of stock and broth. This yields a richer flavor and a more distinct gel when chilled.

For me, the difference boils down (get it?) to the intention and the execution. Stock is intended to serve as a base for other preparations and has a set method for its preparation.Broth is intended to be seasoned and sipped or used as a base for a soup. Bone broth, on the other hand, is intended to be a nutritional supplement, is usually sipped on its own or in a soup, is cooked for a longer time, and often contains ingredients that are not traditional to classical stock.

Does that clear up the confusion? Do you feel like bone broth and stock are still the same thing? Either way, let me know in the comments below! AND if you like what you're reading here, don't miss my email newsletter! It's packed with more stuff just like this- sign up here.

5 Tips to Help You Make the most of your Meat

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Real talk: pasture-raised, healthy meats cost a lot more than a pack of meat you can just throw into your cart at Costco! I know! And, lest you think I’m somehow swimming in a sea of free meat over here, Ryan and I buy everything we eat directly from Bavette at retail prices. So, I know that it can feel really expensive to buy quality meat. That’s why I think it’s really important to get the most bang for your meat buck. There are a lot of tips and tricks that I use at home to make sure we’re getting the most value out of every last bit, and so I wanted to take a moment to share those with you so that you too can start maximizing your meat dollars, and respect the animal as much as possible while you’re doing it. So, here are five easy little tips for you to try at home:

  1. Keep a ziplock bag in the freezer for bones. When you roast one chicken or rib roast and then ask yourself if you want to make stock with the bones, the answer might be no because it’s not worth it to make a tiny batch of stock. Stock is work and if you’re going to do it, you might as well do a lot at a time. At my house, I keep a bag in the freezer and my family knows that, when we clean up dinner, any bones that are left over go straight into that bag. If I’m cutting anything up at home before cooking, those bones can go into the bag, too. When the bag is full, I bust out the slow cooker and make some stock.

  2. Keep separate, labeled containers in the freezer for livers, hearts, and other offal type things. Really, the same thing goes here. If you buy, for instance, a whole chicken and you get the liver, heart, and gizzard inside, it’s not possible to do much with those tiny little things. But, if you accumulate a bunch of them over time, you can do lots of things! Personally, I like to make skewers of chicken hearts wrapped in pancetta and grilled and chicken liver pates and mousses.

  3. Keep a separate, labeled container in the freezer for fat and skins. Now you’re getting the hang of things! Of course, the main idea here is that eventually, when you have enough chicken skin or beef or pork fat accumulated, you can defrost it and render it so that you have a natural cooking fat to use. This saves you money in the long run since you won't have to buy cooking oils, and increasingly animal fats are being recognized for their health benefits for us. The slow cooker makes rendering fat easy and, pro-tip, if you add some garlic or rosemary in there while it’s going, the whole pot will be infused with flavor.

  4. Use trim and scraps in stock or bone broth. If you happen to trim anything off before you cook a piece of meat, or you have some fatty or chewy scraps that no one ends up eating, throw those into the bone bag. They can add a lot of flavor to your broths and stocks.

  5. Feed your pets & get creative in the kitchen. Chicken gizzards, pork livers, and other offal cuts can be amazingly healthful for us, and delicious. But, if that’s not your thing, you can always chop them right up in the food processor and freeze in small containers to add to your pet's food. Blitzing them in the food processor also makes it easy to incorporate a tiny amount into ragus, burgers, and other ground meat dishes, if you’re feeling adventurous. Offal contains a lot of minerals and nutrients that we usually don’t get enough of, and starting with a tiny amount will hardly be noticeable to your palate.


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Thanks! melissa

Why you NEED to Calibrate your Meat Thermometer, and how to do it

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Remember that time you said to your dinner guests, “the thermometer said it was at a perfect 135!” right before serving them a sadly overcooked piece of meat? Well friend, I’m here to tell you, that thermometer that you bought goodness only knows how many years ago, that you dug out of the kitchen junk drawer five minutes before you used it, is probably not calibrated correctly anymore. Scratch that. It’s definitely not calibrated correctly anymore.

When I say calibrating a thermometer, here’s what I mean: testing it to be sure that it’s reading temperatures within an acceptable degree of accuracy and, if it’s not, adjusting it so that it does take temperatures accurately.

Now, I’m not recommending any kind of thermometer in particular here in this piece but, if you read the piece I wrote about essential kitchen tools, you know I generally prefer a thermocouple digital thermometer -called the thermapen- at my house. The important thing to know for now is that thermometers can fall into two main categories

  1. Digital: A digital face and a metal probe. Sometimes folding to protect the probe. Thermocouple- like the thermapen- and thermistor thermometers fall into this category, though they work slightly differently. Some can be calibrated, and some can't.
  2. Dial: A clock-like dial face replaces the digital face, and a metal probe, generally thicker than a digital probe. Bimetallic coil thermometers fall into this category. Almost all can be calibrated.

Of course, there are a few other kinds of thermometers- like the kind with a cord and a probe that stay in the oven, while the actual reading device stays outside. But, since these can't be calibrated, I don't talk about them here. Again, I’m not weighing the benefits and drawbacks of digital vs. dial thermometers here, except to say that dial thermometers don’t hold their calibration all that long, but are quite easy to calibrate. In comparison, digital thermometers tend to hold their calibration relatively well, but can be a little more involved to calibrate. 

So, now that we know you need to test and calibrate your meat thermometer, let’s talk about how to do that. The basic idea is that you create an environment where you know, for a fact, what the temperature is. Then, you use the thermometer to measure that environment and see if it reads the right temp. Since we know that water freezes at 32 F and below, and we know that water boils at 212 F, either one of those makes a great “environment” for us to test with our thermometers.

One note: for most calibration procedures, I prefer to use an ice bath at 32 F as opposed to boiling water and testing for 212 F. This is because the boiling point of water changes at different elevations, and I don’t want to have to account for that temperature change. For some digital thermometers, however, (like the thermapen) you need to use both environments.

To test any food thermometer:

  1. Create an ice water bath. This is the important part: it must be majority ice. So, grab a measuring cup and put in enough ice to come up to the two cup mark. Giant ice cubes don’t work as well here. Then, pour water over the top, stopping when the water just comes about an inch above the ice. Stir it all around.

  2. Put the probe of the dial thermometer into the water, with 3 inches of the probe immersed in the ice bath. Wait to let the probe equilibrate at least one minute (unless you have a fast reading thermocouple thermometer, in which case you don't need to wait as long).

  3. Read the temperature. The thermometer should read the temperature of the ice bath as 32 F, within 2 degrees of accuracy.

To calibrate a dial thermometer: If the thermometer is not reading correctly, you can use a small wrench to twist the nut underneath the thermometer face. Be gentle! Slight adjustment should be all that’s needed. For quickest results, you can adjust the nut with the probe still in the ice water.

To calibrate a thermapen thermometer, see this guide: https://www.thermoworks.com/pdf/user_manuals/Thermapens/Thermapen_Original_Calibration_Manual.pdf

For other kinds of digital thermometers, be sure to check online manuals or your own manual to see the exact procedure.

 

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What is leaf lard, and why should you bake with it?

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So, the internet is telling you to use this thing called pork leaf lard in your pie crusts. And so are chefs, foodies, bakers, and ranchers. BUT WHY? And what in the world is leaf lard? Well, I’m here to save the day and, I’ll tell ya, I had to scour some deep academic research papers to get to the bottom of the why. I mean, I've always told customers that leaf lard is the best, but when I went to find out why it yields such a flaky, tender pie crust, I couldn't find the answer. All the available info on the internet was superficial and non explanatory. Also, A LOT of it- even from reputable resources that I generally trust- was flat out wrong.

When it comes to animal fats, not all fat is created equal. They all have their own virtues, sure, but the more you get to know the anatomy of the animal, the more likely it is that you can identify and distinguish between fat from the shoulder, leg, loin, and so on. When it comes to pork, good butchers and charcutiers classify pork fat in different groups related to the kind of charcuterie you can make with them. When it comes to baking, though, the fat from one particular area of the animal is king. This fat, called leaf fat, comes from around the kidney of the animal, and the abdominal lining. It has a different texture than fat from the rest of the animal. It’s more delicate and soft, easily crushed between your fingers, and more mellow in flavor than fat from the rest of the pig. The fat, when rendered (or cooked down) becomes leaf lard. The rest of the fat from the animal, when rendered, becomes just plain lard.

Okay, that’s what leaf lard is. But what’s the big deal about using leaf lard in pie crusts? I know from experience that using leaf lard can yield an incredibly tender and flaky crust. But I really wanted to know why. From my research, I believe there are five major qualities of leaf lard that make it superior for pie crusts:

  1. Lard has a higher melting point than butter. This is a good thing because you want whatever fat you’re using to stay in crystals as long as possible in the oven so that the structure of the pie can set before they melt. This helps in the creation of flaky layers.

  2. Leaf lard has a higher smoke point than butter and a more mellow flavor than regular lard. This is a good thing because, most of the time, we’re making sweet pies and we don’t want them to taste like bacon. Also, butter can easily burn in a hot oven and when you’re trying to bake your pies nice and brown as is the trend today, the last thing you want is a burned butter flavor.

  3. Lard is higher in healthy unsaturated fats and lower in saturated fats than butter. Okay, I’m not sure yet if this relates to the quality of your pie crust but, as I see it, it is related to the quality of your life. Interestingly, lard is also a good source of vitamin d and other healthy nutrients especially if the pig leads a good life and eats the right diet.

  4. Lard has a lower water content than butter. Actually, lard has no water in it and butter usually has between 14% and 18%. So, the thing about water in your fat of choice is that water activates gluten in flour and gluten is something you don’t want too much of in a pie crust. Not that you don’t want any, but you’ll have plenty of time to activate a little gluten when you actually add water intentionally to the crust. Until then, you want to limit the water.

  5. Lard has larger fat crystals than butter. From what I could tell from the research, this isn’t always strictly true. And this is important for butchers to know too. It seems that the size of the fat crystals correlates directly with the speed and intensity of cooling after rendering. FASCINATIN! SO, if you cool your rendered lard more slowly and over more time, you’ll allow larger crystals to develop. Large crystals of fat are good because, as with the higher melting point thing, the crystals take longer to melt in the oven, and create bigger pockets and, therefore, more flake.

Wow, I have to say, I’ll never cool my rendered lard the same way again. :) But seriously, though, it’s nice to know why things work they way they do. One important note to end with: it appears to me, from all the research I did, that many of these characteristics also apply to regular lard, and regular pork fat. The difference is that leaf lard has the more delicate flavor that bakers prefer for sweet pies. Also, if I can form one hypothesis for us all to think on, I also know that leaf fat renders faster and more easily than normal pork fat and that, perhaps, this interrupts the fat structure less, leading to those desirable big fat crystals. If you can’t find leaf fat to render or leaf lard to use, try regular lard from a good butcher. As long as it’s rendered slowly, it should have a mellow enough flavor. Remember to COOL IT SLOWLY!

Yours in pork fat,

Melissa

Here are some of the resources I used:

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/299902?n1=%7BQv%3D1%7D&fgcd=&man=&lfacet=&count=&max=25&sort=default&qlookup=lard&offset=&format=Full&new=&measureby=&Qv=1&ds=&qt=&qp=&qa=&qn=&q=&ing=

https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2501&context=etd

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/04/how-to-use-rendered-leaf-lard-in-pastry-dough-recipe.html

 

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