Want to know how to cook a ham? Look no further!
For those that are already customers or readers of our posts, you are likely aware of the passion we have for the "lesser cuts." From shanks, hocks and offal to lesser-used roasts and steaks, when you're talking Whole Animal you have to talk about the "good, the bad and the ugly." Let there be no confusion... all parts are good, even the odd bits, but some take more preparation than others. There are two steaks we typically get back that seem to consistently give people a bit of trouble: Sizzler Steaks and Sirloin Steaks.
The sirloin steak is a bit difficult to identify if you're not talking specifically to your butcher. For instance, what we have cut as sirloin steaks are also known as culotte steaks, which are highly coveted by butchers and those "in the know", however sirloin steaks may also come off of the top sirloin or the bottom sirloin. Depending on schools of thought and training, it could be any one of those areas on a cow, and the textures are very different. For the purposes of this post, let us talk about what you'd get from us, which is the Culotte Sirloin Steak.
The culotte sirloin steak comes from the sirloin cap, which, as described by the US Beef Council is as follows:
" Boneless steak made by slicing the Coulotte (Sirloin Cap) at a right angle to the grain or direction of the muscle fibers. Because this Sirloin Cap is removed during the fabrication of the Top Butt Boneless, the opportunity to cut across the grain is gained, maximizing tenderness."
This area of the steer get lots of movement and thus has bold, irony flavor. By that I don't mean irony like liver, I mean rich and minerally like you'd like your steak to be (presumably). As such, you want to cook it quick, hot and rare... mid-rare at most. For our dinner last night, we cooked on a screaming-hot grill, for about 2-3 minutes per side, moving frequently, to ensure that all of the meat is crusted and cooked evenly. The old wives tale about throwing a steak on the grill and leaving it to sit, only to flip once, should be reserved for burgers. Steaks, however, do best moved around to maximize the char and crust on the outside. Now that I think of it, I may have to do a post just on cooking methods. Stay tuned for that. We cooked until about 130 degrees, counting on a 3 - 5 degree carryover when we removed to rest. This was dressed with simple salt and pepper, about 30 - 45 minutes prior to cooking, allowing a nice penetration of salt and drying the surface of the meat to achieve a better crust. We removed our steaks from the refrigerator approximately 20 minutes prior to cooking to allow them to come to room temperature, again, helping to ensure even cooking. After resting for about 10 minutes, the steak is cut across the grain, shortening the muscle fibers and increasing tenderness, resulting in a fantastic and economical steak.
Screaming Hot Grill
Now, the sizzler steak. This is a steak that we probably hear the most feedback on by people stumped on how to cook it and still remain tender. I decided to do some testing with cooking methods and now feel I have a good handle on how to get there and what people are describing as tough.
First, it's important to consider where this steak comes from. This holds true for all steaks, as knowing where they are from will tell you how much activity it gets (flavor increase, but toughness increase) as well as what you can expect from tendons and sinew. The sizzler steak comes from the bottom sirloin, right at the hip. If you remember from earlier, this is what's tricky about large muscle groups like the "sirloin", as it with one mislabel from your meat counter can easily change how you cook it, cut it and prepare it. Referring the chart above, you can see it comes from the bottom sirloin, below the top sirloin (duh) and is much further down on the animal's hindquarter. Its proximity to the hip means it's getting worked quite a bit, but will also have a big tendon running through it. This, in my opinion after testing, is likely where the issue with "toughness" comes in. The meat alongside this tendon is incredibly rich and flavorful, but no matter how you cook it, that tendon is always going to be tough. This is why when you look up cooking methods, they always suggest some sort of acid in the marinade, to help break down the meat and tenderize it. Problem is, it won't tenderize the tendon and you're still going to likely not enjoy the cut itself. We tried this method to test the most common suggested methods and didn't particularly enjoy it. It made the texture of the meat quite mealy and the vinegar flavor seemed overpowering. So, what to do?
Our suggestion: remove the tendon before or after cooking. We did the latter, cooking much the same way as described above for the sirloin, and then slicing across the grain once again. This steak is great when cooked and presented properly, but it immediately became evident that the tendon is what's throwing people off. Simply remove it and you'll be good to go.
These economical steaks are great options for the summer time grill and shouldn't be overlooked. They also shouldn't be relegated to overcooked fajitas, but rather deserve their place at the table just like the rest of the steak family. Next time you are out at the farm, consider picking one up and trying these different techniques and I assure you it'll change your mind. [Editor's note... we might be sold out now, but we still have other good options!]
You read that right, how to cook Silkie chickens. While not traditionally a prized bird to eat here in the States, in Asia it's a delicacy that can be found throughout the likes of China, Vietnam and Thailand to name a few. In the States, Silkies are kept as novelties [really they look like cotton balls with beaks], or as docile roosters, or hens known for their broody qualities.
This is traditionally a Chinese dish, with the chicken being coveted for its health benefits. It is rich in amino acids, vitamin B and protein [like any pastured animal turned into soup, but hey, ancient medicine amirite?]. It's most often found being distributed by street food vendors to locals, as well as the open-minded food driven tourists. It's sold in some Asian markets here in America and can be found throughout Asia for purchase fresh or in soup form.
The first thing you'll notice, undoubtably, is that the flesh, meat and bones are all a deep purple color, almost black after cooking. You'll also notice that these chickens are considerably smaller than the supermarket chickens we've all come to know commercially. It's for these reasons that Silkies make the perfect soup bird. The soup you'll be making is simple, in that there are no fancy techniques or special cutting. Even the ingredients are pretty easy to find, while you may have to do a little searching around your local Asian market. The end result, however, is far from simple. It's a rich, uniquely flavorful and unctuous dish glistening with chicken fat on the top and bright, fresh vegetables throughout. The colors set against the bold color of the chicken and you have something you, your family and most of your friends have likely never seen before. We're excited to be kicking off the 2017 CSA season with this offering and are excited to see pictures of what everyone makes.
So many folks have been waiting for chickens in the share, and this is the month! For those that are new to the CSA or to our poultry principles, we raise a few different kinds of birds that vary greatly by size and meat "color". We raise both the traditional "modern" style of chickens (Cornish cross), and more heritage-style birds. Cornish are the breast-heavy birds that grow fast, but have a much lighter-colored meat and more sweet flavor. The others, of varying breeds, have smaller breast sizes but do cook more evenly and have a larger amount of dark meat across the entire carcass. While both birds are tasty in their own right, they are quite different from each other. Chickens, typically considered a boring bird and a vehicle for other flavors, have a significant amount of flavor when raised on pasture and with the high quality feed, as is our method of raising. The cooked meat often tends to be closer to pink, or even red, while also containing a high amount of yellow fat produced by the copious amounts of forage they consume. We wanted to cover both the various methods of cooking the birds, as well as the various methods that can be used to extend the harvest beyond a single meal.
First, let's talk about how we get that perfect, crispy skin. One of the key secrets to crispy skin is a generous salting prior to grilling. This process is known as dry brining and is quickly becoming a common cooking prep method amongst all the recipes I'm seeing around the interwebs. It's simple, effective and most of all, tasty. For my tastes, I generally pre-salt chickens 24-48 hrs before cooking, and 48-72 hrs for turkeys on Thanksgiving. The salt not only dries out the skin significantly, but penetrates throughout the bird for a more thorough salt distribution, i.e. flavor.
GRILLING WHOLE BIRDS
Grilling whole birds can be done one of two ways— trussed or spatchcock. A trussed bird is the standard way in which people have come to think about chickens. Tied up tight, stuffed with herbs and grilled on indirect heat. With this method you can also add a bit of smoke by adding some wood chips to your grill or smoker for added flavor. The perils of this are that you have a hard time keeping the various cuts cooking at the same rate. Pick your poison with this method, so-to-speak... you can only cook one of them correctly. You'll either end up with perfect breasts and undercooked legs, or well-cooked legs and overcooked breasts. The reason for this is the cavity in the middle of the bird, which changes the rate of heat transfer to the breast area.
Trussing is a controversial topic. Some people feel it's crucial. Some people feel it's unnecessary. I fall somewhere in the middle. I like it for a utilitarian and look purposes. It just flat our looks neat and more traditional, but it also keeps the cavity closed and all the goodness you stuff the cavity well secured in there. With respect to if it makes a difference in cooking, science says no.
Basic Roast Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with the salt and pepper and fold the wings akimbo to position them closer to the body. Place the chicken on its side in an oven-safe skillet, preferably cast-iron.
- Place the chicken in the skillet in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, then turn the chicken over and cook another 20 minutes. (By cooking the chicken on its sides, the juices stay in the breast and, since only the back is exposed, the chicken does not need constant basting.) Finally, turn the chicken onto its back, baste it with the cooking juices and continue to cook 10 minutes. It should be golden in color.
- When the chicken is cooked, cut it into pieces and serve, with the drippings on the side.
If the cavity makes things tricky to keep even, how can we just remove that variable and ensure that everything is evenly cooked? Easy! Spatchcock the bird, essentially removing the backbone and flattening the bird so that the heat transfer and cooking times are far more even during cooking. Have no worries, you still get everyone's favorite, crispy, salty and herb-y chicken skin. Don't be intimated if you have never butchered a chicken before, either. Practice makes perfect.
- 1 large chicken, about 4 to 5 pounds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, savory, or a mix (optional)
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 medium stalk celery, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup dry vermouth or sherry
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
- Set oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat oven to 500°F. Using sharp kitchen shears, remove spine from chicken and cut spine into five to six 1-inch long pieces. Set spine aside. Flatten chicken by placing flat skin side up on cutting board and applying firm pressure to breast bone. Rub chicken on all surfaces with 1 tablespoon oil. Season generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper.
- Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Position chicken so that breasts are aligned with center of baking sheet and legs are close to edge. Roast until thickest part of breast close to bone registers 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and joint between thighs and body registers at least 170°F, about 45 minutes, reducing the heat to 450°F if the chicken starts to darken too quickly.
- Meanwhile, heat remaining tablespoon oil in small saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add chicken spine and cook, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add bay leaf and deglaze with vermouth or sherry and 1 cup water, using wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain out solids and return liquid to pan. Boil over medium-high heat until approximately 1/3 cup remains, about 7 minutes. Whisk in soy sauce, butter, and lemon juice off heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Remove chicken from oven, transfer to cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest five minutes before carving. Serve with hot jus.
8 OR 4 PIECING
One of the questions we get quite often is if we sell portioned-out birds. The short answer: No. The reason is simple— it costs an additional 50 cents per lb. straight from our processor to do this, and most people flatly do not want to pay the additional cost, which makes it harder for us to sell the pieced birds. We also want to encourage people to cook more creatively with their birds. We want them to understand how to utilize the bird most effectively and how to take the bird from one or two meals to three or four. One of the ways to extend the bird's reach is by portioning out yourself, based on the cooking style you and your family prefer. In addition, you'll be able to save the bones, back and necks for stock, which you can add to the other bones after you're done cooking the rest of the bird. More on that later...
Alright, so the bird is done, cooked to a perfect 145-150 degrees internal. You've let it rest. The skin is browned and taut and the smell is taking over the room. Time to eat! Carving the bird is one of the areas that seems to intimidate folks more than most anything else. How do I portion it out? How do I get as much meat as possible? How do I cut it so it works for leftovers? All of those things and more are simple, provided you have 5 - 10 minutes and a nice, sharp knife. In case you can't tell, I'm a big fan of Jacques Pepin and the way in which he handles poultry (and most anything else culinary). In this video, you'll see how to expertly break down a bird after cooking, but also how easy it is with just a little practice.
This is where you make your money back— stock, or as the kids call it these days, "bone broth." Turning what would otherwise be wasted into gold, and additional meals. For us at HSF, we have a few freezer bags going at any given time full of bones, labeled by type. When the bag fills, we then use our remnant vegetables [which can also be frozen in a bag] and make a nice stock to use in a variety of dishes from chicken pot pie to rice, from soup to risotto. The applications are endless and just about any recipe that calls for water use stock instead. Why add water when you can add flavor, right?
One thing to consider about stock is, what kind of stock do you want? Do you want a clear stock (consommé)? Do you want just a standard hearty stock? How about a white ramen broth? For the purposes of this blog post, lets focus on just a standard broth and maybe in another post we can get into the other kinds of broth/stock.
With both personal eating habits and the CSA, it's important for us to respect the animals that are part of our food chain. This extends not only to consuming the whole animal, but also the "forgotten harvest" animals. Boars, older cows, old laying hens and, in the case of this month's CSA, mutton. These particular ewes are Icelandic Sheep from Fence Row Farm in Charlotte. Icelandic Sheep are known for their delicate flavor, so even older animals don't have the heavy lanolin flavor that turn some people off to sheep meat, whether lamb or mutton. While you can enjoy mutton in a variety of cuts, today we'll focus on saddle chops and burgers.
Before we get to burgers, I want to touch on our saddle chops. "Saddle chops, what the heck are saddle chops?", you might ask. The best way to explain saddle chops is to think about two lamb chops together [sitting over the back of the animal, like a saddle], instead of split down the middle. With typical chops, you split the carcass in half, down the spine, and remove the chops from the loin on each side. Here, we keep the carcass intact and simply cut down each side of the ribs, so the two sides of the loin are intact across the spine. This provides for not only more meat, but a beautiful presentation that your friends are unlikely to have ever seen before. We had one for dinner last night (product research and development— it's a tough job but someone has to do quality control!) and it exceeded all expectations. We worked with our processor to age these animals for 14 days, which is very atypical for lamb or mutton. Why did we do that, you ask? It's common practice for beef [think the scene from Rocky where he's in the meat locker]. It allows for tenderness and flavor development The results will speak for themselves.
Mutton Saddle Chops with salt, pepper and thyme
Defrost your saddle chop the night before you're going to cook it. Once defrosted, the morning of the day in which you're going to cook it, generously salt both sides of the chop and return to the fridge for the day.
When you're ready to get the grill going, remove the chop from the fridge and let come to room temperature.
Get your grill going and set up in such a way that you can cook with both direct and indirect heat.
Before you place the chop on the grill, rub generously with a fresh bunch of thyme on both sides. Separate the bunch and press so that it sticks on the meat and you can grill with it sticking to the meat.
Once the grill is ready, start the chop on the indirect side of the grill and cook, flipping every 1 - 2 minutes until an internal temp reaches between 110 and 120. Remove from heat and let cool down for about 5 - 10 minutes.
While your meat is coming down in temp, make sure that your direct heat side is screaming hot. Do not remove any sprigs of thyme that have remained stuck to the meat.
When the grill is screaming hot, place the steak on the grill and move frequently over the course of 1 - 2 minutes per side. This will give you full coverage of the surface of the meat. Grill marks are overrated and are lost opportunities for crust and flavor development. Keep flipping and when your chop hits 130 - 135, remove from grill and let rest for 5 - 10 minutes.
When it comes to making burgers by hand, there are as many methods and opinions as there are ... Well you know how the saying goes. The following is how we do it at HSF, and we think it works pretty well. The key to a good burger is an even shape, a light pack and proper cooking. What you don't want to do is mix the ground meat so much that it becomes sticky and paste-like. This is is what you're looking for in sausage making, to ensure a bind of the meat, but for burgers, it's about a light mixing and letting the cooking process help to develop the binding of the meat. This will ensure even cooking and a juicy burger. A great reference for this, and even more specific detail is from Serious Eats:
One of the great things about mutton, and lamb for that matter, is the boldness of the flavor. Note that I did not say "gamey." Gamey meat is a result of a poor diet and, to some degree, the breed of the sheep. These mutton are older Icelandic ewes and the flavor is clean, bold and quite frankly, an umami bomb. The aging mentioned above is a great tool to help bring this characteristic out and we couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.
When you think of flavors to pair with mutton or lamb, except for simply salt and pepper of course, you think of anything from mint to yogurt, from cumin to spicy chilis. The ability of the mutton to hold and support flavor is unparalleled when you're talking about a "red" meat. Recipes are numerous, so I'll spare you the detailing of all them here, but I will provide you with a few flavor combinations and recipes that are a favorite for us:
- Cumin, coriander and thyme
- Smoked paprika and fennel
- Curry and mint
- Mint, parsley, garlic and lemon zest
- Grilled or charred onions
- Tzatziki Sauce
- Cumin and Yogurt
- Mint jelly, chutney or oil
- Cumin Crust
All the spicing and shaping in the world will be for naught if you don't grill or cook the burger correctly. The best methods for cooking a burger, in our opinion, are with a cast iron pan, broiler or on a charcoal grill. Here are two reference articles from J. Kenji Lopez over at Serious Eats again. In case you haven't picked up on it btw, he's one of my favorite food science guys on the web and I refer to his work a lot.
We'd love to hear how you take these tips and make them your own... let us know in the comments!
Just in time for good weather and cook-outs, the popular grab bags and boxes of meat that we offered last year are BACK! We have put together a few new options this time around in addition to the standard boxes. As always, availability is on a first-come, first-served basis and the boxes will be made up by us ahead of time. We’ve partnered with a few local beef producers to bring you the best selection of locally-raised quality meats to fill your freezers and bellies.
If you do happen to have a special order request, please don’t hesitate to let us know and we can put something together for you. We’ve got lots of sausage, brats and ground pork flavors, plus a full array of cuts both fresh and smoked. Chops, ribs, steaks, roasts… and did we mention THREE different kinds of bacon? Yeah…
The Weekender: $50.00
A great way to try a sample of what we have to offer. You can expect a few prime cuts like pork chops or shoulder steaks, accompanied by a section of sausage, brats, burger, or… ? It’ll keep you busy at the grill or in the kitchen, and whether you share with family, friends or keep it for your own personal stash, it’s guaranteed to satisfy! We’ll even throw in a dozen of our fresh eggs so you can cook up the meanest brunch that ever was.
The Grill Master: $75.00
It is, after all, prime grilling season and one can never have enough choices for dinner. This box is a collection of our favorite cuts for the grill, as well as brats, links, burgers and a pack of bacon so that you always have the perfect toppings option for anything you’re cooking up.
The Local Prime: $100.00
If you’re looking for a solid supply of prime cuts, this is the way to go. You’ll be getting some beautiful center cuts like pork chops and rib eyes, along with some secondary cuts like round steaks and ham steaks. However you plan on cooking your meats, they’ll be brimming with well-developed flavor and marbling, and look damn good on the plate, too.
BdG Special— Bone Broth for Days: $35.00
Making your own stock is not only easy and cheap, but it is THE best way to make sure you have a flavorful base for soups, rice, chili and anything else where you’re cooking with added liquid. Why add water when you can add flavor via rich, nutritious stock? From beef shanks to pork hocks, duck giblets to chicken bits, this box is all about getting your stock on and ready for the winter. Or, you can just pour yourself a mason jar of the stuff and go mean-muggin’ outside of your local Panera store.
One of Everything: $245
If they all sound good to you, get one of everything and we'll give you a 5% discount.
FINALLY! After a dreary spring and mild winter where mud was more prevalent that the shine of the sun. No need to dwell though, as summer is here now and it's time to fill the air with the scents of BBQ and grilled meat [and some veggies too— life is all about balance]. For our CSA members, June is the month of the grill and you'll have a great variety to play with, but we wanted to make sure you had a few ways to step up your grilling game and try some new things.
Burgers don't just have to be patties with cheese on top [not that there's anything wrong with that!]. They can be great vehicles of flavor when different methods of cooking and seasoning are involved. Here are three tips to get you started, but feel free to add more to the comments section.
Are you crazy? Generally, the answer is yes, but in this particular case, no. Fish sauce is an umami bomb and when combined with smoke and char, it's pretty much the perfect bite. You can use any fish sauce, really, but if you're more adventurous, head to your nearest Asian market and look for some of the more obscure ones with the entire small fish packed in. You won't be disappointed. Simply drizzle some atop the burger and sit back and enjoy the umami explosion.
- Clinching is a method of cooking that trades the ease of a grill for the flavor of the coals. If you ever look at the traditional Argentinian-style cooking, this is a popular method of cooking all kinds of meat. What you want to do is create a nice hot bed of coals and then cook the meat directly on them. While I could go into detail explaining, this video by Adam Perry Lang describes it better than I can: http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=214431&sc=3022 [ editors note: We are not advocates, nor haters, of Weight Watchers. We're simply using their video explain our suggestions.]
Low temp cooking is a new(ish) method that involves cooking meat or vegetables in water for a period of time that ensures even cooking throughout, without the risk of over- or under-done. This method allows you to take the burger and sear it hard in a hot pan or hot grill, or even with the above clinching method, and still avoid undercooking the meat. This will give you a beautiful blend of even doneness with a hard sear on the outside. Amazing flavor and texture is the result and more information on the method can be found here: ( http://anovaculinary.com/what-is-sous-vide/ ).
Brats and Other Sausages
One of the common "issues" with cooking brats and sausages on the grill is that they break and/or split. More often than not, this is because they are placed under an extremely high heat, and the high temps cause the casing to contract to quickly and rip open. Some people are completely ok with the ripping, and if you're from the East Coast, you're well aware of "rippers" or deep-fried cased meats that "rip" open and are crispy and charred and delicious. For those that are not into the ripped casing, what you want to do is cook your meats on a low, indirect heat. A medium heat is likely fine as well, but you'll need to play around with your threshold based on the cased products you have. What you're looking for is a fully cooked-through brat that hasn't ripped. The cook time obviously varies by temperature of cooking environment, but indirect heat will give you a nice crisp, snappy casing and sausage.
Cook and Split
Growing up on the East Coast, we cooked our sausages a bit different than is typical here in Michigan, and quite frankly, most of the country. What we ended up doing was cooking our sausages half way through and then splitting them, or butterflying them, down the middle. From here you had a partially cooked and bound sausage that had these "rough" edges that were primed to take on a beautiful crispy char. So, here's how we do it. We cook the sausage over high heat for about 2 - 3 minutes per side. This allows the meat to set and bind up into something you can split without it becoming a Sloppy Joe-style mess. Once you've cooked both sides, remove from heat and slice down the middle, taking care not to slice through the other side of the casing, so that it butterflies out. At this point, flip and cook through over high heat on the exposed, split sides. This will yield a crispy and charred, albeit well done, brat that will be reminiscent of the East Coast boardwalk sausages.
Low Temp and Clinching
Low temp again. Yes, as you might guess, it's the same method as mentioned above and the benefits are exactly the same. By low temp cooking the sausages, you're cooking through, evenly, the cased meat, ensuring that the end product is an even doneness. By starting the cooking process this way, it opens up a couple of different options for finishing the cooking, one of which is any high heat method. Because you've cooked, and set, the sausages during low temp cooking, you can now sear and char over a very high heat without risk of the casing breaking into an unrecoverable mess. My preferred method of post-low temp cooking is clinching. As mentioned above, you'll be cooking directly on the cherry coals and utilizing the high heat to sear in flavor via char and smoke. With sausages, this is no different. Over hot, cherry, coals, place the low temp cooked sausage onto the coals and sear, hard, for one to one and half minutes per side. Remove from the coals, let rest and enjoy the most amazing sausage you've ever had.
All in all, cooking on the grill isn't rocket science. It is the most primitive and simplistic, of cooking methods. Wood/Coals, fire and food. It's been around since the dawn of time and our job as cooks is to leverage its inherent possibilities. Smoke, char and ash are all the elements that come to the table when cooking over fire. Hopefully we've given you some tips to take the ordinary into the extraordinary. Impress your friends with your new techniques and change the perception of what a "simple burger" or "Brat on a roll" can be.
We feel strongly that sustainable agriculture is not about trying to have all things happening on one farm, but rather, that you collaborate with fellow farmers to bring the best products to the community together. Since the start of the CSA, we've been partnering with farmers to supply beef and even some pork when needed, Schneider Organic Farm and Grandpa's Best Pork, respectively. This year, we're continuing to grow our offering through farmer partnerships for beef and lamb, and are happy to bring on Bloom Beef as another beef option for our CSA Members and farm customers.
Why Partner With Another Beef Producer?
Why add another beef producer you might ask? The answer is simple— variety and community support. Scott Bloom is a 3rd generation farmer who's been working on developing his beef herd, through extensive bloodline crossing, for over 30 years, and has developed some of the finest beef we've ever had. He's 10 miles away, as the crow flies, and one of the most open and giving farmers we've met to date.
One of our tenets at Ham Sweet Farm is to not only provide high-quality and amazing tasting product, but to also educate our CSA Members/Customers and expose them to product variations. As part of that education and exposure, we feel it's important to bring multiple styles of beef production to our customers.
How Is The Product Different?
Schneider Organic Beef is 100% grass-fed and -finished, with no grain provided. Scott raises his cattle on grass as well, but also provides them free-choice access to all-natural grains to supplement their diet. This provides a greater distribution of marbling and a different texture than what you see in 100% grass-fed beef. Both products are 100% non-GMO and naturally-raised.
What's The Difference Between 100% Grass-Fed and Free-Access Grain Beef?
Flavor and texture. It's not a comparison of "better or worse," they are just different products with their own merits. We love both producers and rotate both producer's products for our personal consumption, and we think you will do the same.
For tips on cooking the perfect steak, refer to our post from last CSA season here: http://www.hamsweetfarm.com/blog/2015/04/meat-csa-april
We are so excited to kick off our CSA for the 3rd year, and even more excited to be heading out of the winter months and into one of the most beautiful seasons in Michigan, Spring. We're already hearing sandhill cranes in the distance, a multitude of songbirds have been visiting our feeders, and our horses are even starting to shed. The first day of spring is just 2 weeks away, so close we can taste it.
The taste of Spring is a good segue into this month's share, as we'll be kicking it off with what we do best. Pork, pork and more pork. Warm weather isn't reliably here yet, so we're not going the grilling products just yet either. Instead, we're going to be providing a beautiful pork roast for you to cook up for you and your family. As such, we wanted to provide you with two recipe options for the roast, both sure to be a crowd pleaser for you and your family.
Slow Roasted Pork
- 2 tbsp Brown or Maple Sugar
- 2 tbsp Salt
- 2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup of good dijon mustard
- 1 - (4 - 8 lb) pork roast
- Preheat your oven to 225 degrees
- Place a rack inside a roasting pan or cast iron skillet
- Brush pork generously with mustard.
- Blend or mix spices well and sprinkle generously all over pork roast
- Cook approximately 30 - 45 minutes per pound, until you reach an internal temperature of 130 - 135 degrees.
* historically the FDA has suggested cooking pork to 150 to avoid trichinosis. Not only has there been no cases of trichinosis from pork in dozens of years, but that temperature absolutely destroys the meat. Our preference is to cook to the range above, allowing for some carry-over cooking to have the final temperature end at 135 - 140, slightly pink in appearance.
- Baste the roast with the released juices every hour or so.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 15 - 20 minutes.
- Serve with some roast vegetables, or better yet, creamy grits.
Whiskey Braised Pork
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp coarse ground mustard seeds or dry mustard powder
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 Sprigs fresh Thyme
- 4 Cloves Garlic, Rough Chopped
- 3 of your favorite root vegetables, rough chopped (carrots, onions, parsnips, etc.)
- 1-1/2 Cups Rye Whiskey
- 2 Quarts Chicken or Pork Broth. If you don't have broth, use water and amp up seasonings a bit.
- 1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
- Generously season the pork roast with salt, pepper and brown sugar.
- Heat heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat and add in oil, as well as preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Sear all sides of pork to a deep brown, taking care to not let it burn, but still develop a deep brown crust.
- Remove pork from pot and set aside.
- Add in rough chopped vegetables and sauté until caramelized, about 5 - 7 minutes.
- Add in garlic and thyme and stir until fragrant
- Remove pot from flame and add in whiskey. Stirring well to scrape up all the brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Reduce whiskey by half.
- Add back in pork roast along with broth or water and bay leaf, making sure to cover roast about 1/3 - 1/2 way up.
- Cover and roast in oven until temperature reads 130 - 135 degrees.
- Remove from oven and let rest for 15 - 20 minutes.
- While meat is resting, strain pan juices and skim off any fat. Add back to pot and reduce by half.
- Slice and serve with grits, rice or wilted greens. Top with reduced pan juices.
This week has been a stern reminder that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. You can see your breathe and a sweatshirt is a requirement. Now that the days of shorts are just about over and harvest season is in sight, it's time to switch from outdoor recipes to bone sticking indoor cooking and that means braises and roasts. This share is a kickstart to fall with the inclusion of chicken and duck, both a great option for those stick-to-your-bones meals we mentioned.
Chicken in Milk
This is perhaps one of the best recipes for chicken I've ever made and, on top of that, it's dead simple. This recipe gives you an easy way to bring a roast chicken to the table, while also providing enough food to last a few days an extend the reach of the bird. If you're so inclined, we save the bones after eating and use them in stock, only furthering the use of the chicken and giving you more for the money.
Slow Roasted Duck
For us, duck is a beautiful meal in the fall. It's rich, it has crispy skin and the smell is just amazing. With the abundance of fat that is typically found on duck compared to chicken, roasting the duck with vegetables pretty much gives you a one-pot meal that's fit for a king. When it comes to how to cook duck, there is no one we trust more than Hank Shaw, who is not only a close friend, but also the author of Duck, Duck, Goose, veritable Bible for cooking any species of waterfowl you can think of. His recipe for slow roasted duck is a great place to start, and you won't go wrong.
As you may have guessed from the title, we at Ham Sweet Farm have officially declared September, Fried Chicken Month. Now, no one should ever need an excuse to cook fried chicken, but this now makes you unpatriotic if you don't partake. So, why fried chicken you might ask? Why not? This month's chicken is the last batch of the season (we do still have a ton in the freezer) and represents the oldest birds we've processed for meat to date. They were approximately 16 weeks old and the breed was Speckled Sussex. They are a heritage breed that is incredibly active and were often found sprinting around the farm getting into trouble. All this activity, combined with their older age, came together to produce a supremely flavorful bird that we couldn't be happier with. These birds are smaller birds and as such make a fantastic fryer bird. You'll be getting the bird cut into 8 pieces, just how you need it for Fried Chicken Month.
Never made fried chicken? No problem, because we have the most amazing recipe for you. We tested this recipe a couple of weeks ago and everyone involved remarked that it was the best fried chicken they had ever had. I would have to agree, as the flavor and tenderness were superb. So, what's the secret? It's arguably sacrilegious, but the secret is par-cooking, or cooking until almost done at low temperature so that when you fry it, there is no worry of it being uncooked. The recipe comes from Ed Lee out of Kentucky and is easy peasy to follow.
Little pro tip to plus up the chicken. Heat some honey in a pan with a few berries of all spice or juniper until fragrant. When the chicken is plated and ready to serve, drizzle the honey over the top. You won't be disappointed.
In addition to the chicken, you'll have some great steaks and brats for the final months of grilling season, so make sure you enjoy the nice weather while it's still here.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "You're no spring chicken"? People talk often about "eating seasonally" and how important that is. The idea is typically applied to the world of produce, but people often forget about it in the context of meat. The reality is though, meat is as seasonal as any produce. This is the reason that when people ask for pork or chicken in the winter, if it's not in the freezer, we won't be able to provide it. We choose to raise and harvest our animals when they are in their optimal environments, that being pasture and/or the woods in the fall.
Specifically though, lets talk about chicken. It's our belief that chickens need to be raised outside and eating bugs. When large enough to be less vulnerable to predators from the sky, they need to be able to range beyond their coop, consuming bugs, grass, worms, snakes or any other items they may find throughout their journeys. Allowing them to range like this and consume this variety ultimately makes for a much better tasting meat. There is more intramuscular fat, more blood movement and subsequently... and perhaps most obviously, more flavor. This is how this month's chicken, and all future chicken through the CSA will be raised, as well as your upcoming Thanksgiving turkey.
In addition to pasture-raising the birds, we're also doing something a bit unique for our members as well. Historically, most people are used to what are called Cornish Cross chickens. These are fast growing meat birds to be raised to slaughter weight in 6 - 8 weeks. The birds we typically raise, called Pioneers, are raised to slaughter weight in about 12 - 14 weeks. However, there are thousands of different chicken breeds, all with their own merits. We wanted to expose our CSA members to this variety, and have chosen to raise 4 different breeds of birds this year; Cornish Cross, Pioneers, Turkens and Speckled Sussex. Throughout the remainder of the year, you'll be able to taste the variety of different breeds and learn just how much variety and flavor there is in Chicken.
Enough with the rambling, lets get to the cooking. The first bird you'll be getting will be the Cornish X, and because of it's younger age, large breasts and mainly white meat, we're going to need to bring in some flavor. Obviously, smoke and char is an easy start for flavor, so we'll be cooking it on the grill in a style known as spatchcock. Spatchcock chicken is probably the best way to cook a chicken on a grill, and it also happens to be one of the quicker ways to do so. Essentially what you're going to do is split the bird in half and and cook it flat on the grill. This gives you great surface area for flavor and heat transfer. Breaking the bird in half sounds tricky, but it's quite easy— rather than me explain it, check out this video on how to do it with a turkey, but the same applies to any bird:
Now, regardless of whether your bird is whole or split, everyone loves crispy skin and good flavor. The secret to great crispy skin is removing all the moisture you can from the skin before cooking. Luckily, this is easy to do. 24 Hours before you plan to cook your bird, and after you've decided to split or keep your bird whole, generously salt the skin of the bird and place on a wire rack set in a cookie sheet, and place in your fridge for 24 hours. The salt will draw out all the moisture from the skin, and you'll notice that over time the skin will become dry and taut. This is exactly what you want.
Approximately 1 hour before you're ready to grill, remove your bird from the fridge so that it can come up to room temperature, and generously coat in ground fennel and sweet paprika. You can simply grind the spices together and generously coat the chicken in the spice seasoning on both sides. This is my go-to spicing for grilled chicken, especially when I'm cooking the bird spatchcock-style.
Once your grill is nice and hot, throw the bird, skin side down, directly over the heat and cook until nicely charred, usually about 12 - 15 minutes. Flip the bird and cook the remaining time with skin side up until the chicken hits an internal temp of 145. Once it hits temp, remove and let rest, as you would a steak, to allow juices to redistribute. Cut and enjoy an amazing chicken.
One thing to note is that you may see a slight pink tone in the meat color. This is absolutely normal and typical in pasture-raised birds. Do not be put off by this and resist the temptation to keep cooking until it's gone. If you cook all the pink out, you'll be cooking the bird to 165-170 and it will most definitely become a great candidate for making stock or perhaps a new pair of shoes.
Save the bones in a ziplock freezer bag, until you're ready to make stock with them! This is a great way to stretch your dollars, while also providing your family with excellent, hearty food. We usually just start a gallon-sized bag, label it "chicken bones" [we always have separate bags going for chicken, pork, beef, duck and turkey bones, as you can just keep adding until they're full], and then keep it around until fall hits and we're ready to fire up the stove and make some stock. Stock is very easy to make, good for you, and freezes well!
A couple of other recipes for other items in your basket:
It's grill time people. IT'S GRILL TIME!!!! This month's share celebrates this by bringing you products that are meant to get you outside and over that open flame.
First up, the beef. In this month's share, you'll find some burger patties that are flat-out delicious with just salt and pepper, but also a flank steak. The most common use for flank steak is fajitas. While fajitas are a perfectly fine preparation, with a little bit of work and awareness of how to cut the steak, you can create a grilled steak that everyone will love. When cooking flank steak, we simply use salt and pepper, but this steak is well suited for any marinade or rub. When you're ready to cook, generously season the meat and then cook over a high heat for only a couple of minutes per side (depends on thickness of course). You want to be sure to not overcook the meat, as it has the potential to get tough if given the opportunity. You're also going to want to ensure adequate resting time, generally about the same amount of time that you took to cook the steak. Once well rested, slice the meat and serve to your family and/or guests. It's not your standard slicing though, as you're going to want to slice it -across- the grain to help tenderize the cuts. Here is a good video.
Once you're all set with the cutting, there's nothing left to do but open a beer or a bottle of wine and enjoy the beautiful weather.
Pork chops are probably the best grilled item on a pig, at least in my opinion. They have great marbling (at least ours do ;) ), a nice fat cap and don't take too long to cook. That's where people go wrong with pork chops though— they overcook them. This country has been told for so long to cook pork to 150 or 160 or even higher, but really, the optimal temperature in our opinion is about 135-140. They'll be just a little bit pink in the center and absolutely perfectly juicy. With this being the first opportunity to try pork raised our way, I suggest using the opportunity to just do salt and pepper for seasoning so that you can clearly taste the difference. As for cooking, you're looking at 3 - 4 minutes per side for a room temperature pork chop and the same rules as above for resting. After that, slice and enjoy with a nice spring salad or even some smashed potatoes. There really is no wrong side when it comes to pork chops, so just enjoy the flavor with whatever you enjoy on the side.
Please remember that the fat on this pork is not the fat you know from the grocery store! These pigs were finished on barley, which makes their fat snow-white, softer, more flavorful [some would say "nutty"]— you may even notice that it looks and feels different on your hands as you prepare it. You may be tempted to cut the fat off, but this fat is partially unsaturated, like olive oil. It's good and good for ya! If nothing else, you can save it and use it when you're cooking something else, to grease your skillet or flavor a soup. But, you might find that you like it just as it is, on the chop as part of the bite.
I'm sure everyone else is as excited about the arrival of Spring as we are. While it now means a few weeks of mud season, it's far more enjoyable to be outside and working with the animals. It also means that we can start to think a bit more about grilling. Grilling means a lot of things, but when we think of grilling, we think of a perfectly seared steak. We kick off the start of the grilling season with the addition of some beautiful ribeye steaks. The smell and sound of the steak hitting the roaring hot grill is one of the most distinctive pleasures of cooking. The sizzle, the smoke, it embodies everything about that's great about cooking outside.
Cooking a great steak isn't difficult, but it does require a few key steps to ensure proper doneness and tenderness. This is especially true for the members receiving the 100% grass fed steaks, as they can quickly go from perfect to tough if you aren't paying attention. Here are a few tips and hints to getting the perfect steak.
1. Get your grill roaring hot. If you have the ability to use a cast iron grill, definitely use that, as it transfers heat much better than the typical stainless grill that most are accustomed to. If not, no big deal, as the main thing is to get your grill screaming hot.
2. Generously pre-salt your meat about 60 minutes prior to cooking and leave out on the counter, allowing the meat to come to room temperature. This will allow the salt to penetrate the meat, rather than just being a surface seasoning.
3. When you're ready to cook, you're going to lay that steak down on the grill an do -NOT- move until you're ready to flip. For rare beef, we typically cook about 3 minutes each side. On average, you'll cook grass-fed beef about 30% less time than grain-fed/supplemented . If you're a fan of well-done meat, you're going to want to cook this meat in some sort of a liquid, as it'll just toughen up far too much to be tasty if grilled to that level of doneness.
Here is a quick guide to test doneness in your meat. Hold your thumb and finger/s together as pictured, and feel each stage of cooking:
*for those folks receiving the beef that has had free choice access to grain, you'll follow the exact same directions, just allowing for a slightly longer cooking time.
In addition to ribeyes, you'll also find some chorizo, a chuck roast and ground beef. Here are some great recipes for those items as well.
It's been a long cold winter and the start of the CSA means we're that much closer to spring, and we couldn't be more excited. We're not out of the winter woods yet, so this month's share has those stick-to-your-bones ingredients in the hopes of helping you stay warm until Spring decides to make an appearance. You hear us talk a lot about "value cuts" and the importance of utilizing the whole animal. These cuts don't always get a lot of love at the meat counter, but they have a great deal of flavor, plus in some cases the beautiful addition of gelatin [i.e. the stuff that makes soup or the trendy "bone broth" so delicious]. We kicked off the season squarely supporting this whole-animal philosophy, adding in pork shanks for the first edition of the small shares. These shanks are huge and are some of my favorite cuts on the animal. For the best use, you're going to combine three methods of cooking: searing, braising and broiling. It sounds like a lot of work, but I can assure you, it's not. This is a simple dish that's perfect for a cold day, and will give you a good deal of leftovers for the rest of the week.
Now onto the second recipe, the top round. The top round was in all the shares this month and is a great introduction into the world of grass-fed beef if you're unfamiliar with it. While you've invariably had beef before, grass-fed beef is, well, a different animal than what you typically find in stores. The cows tend to be older so that they put on more weight (also more flavor), and they also tend to be a bit more lean. Because of this, you need to take some care when cooking so that you can avoid having meat that is too tough. For the top round, we're going to do a simple roast, cooked to medium-rare and sliced thinly. You can pair this with roasted veggies, mashed potatoes or even atop a salad if you wish. Lets get to the recipe.
2014 was a great year for us. We launched our CSA, had our first on-farm births and we even brought our horses home. We also learned a lot, with one of the lessons being that a consistent topic of conversation when we’re around is that of the state of our food system. This topic almost always invokes staunch opinions and a spectrum of fury that is, at times, disconcerting. Food has become a political lightning rod for people of all walks of life. Self-appointed badges of culinary localism and food system subversion have become the norm. It’s unfortunate that a biological necessity and cultural gathering tool have become such a platform for anger and judgment. The thing is though, if you’re intellectually honest, our current food system is perfectly designed for this country. Let me preface this by saying— this post has been a long time in the works. It’s hard to talk about such a polarizing topic without appearing filled with angst or equally as pious and judgmental as those I’m about to talk about. Many a lament have been written about the woes of places like Whole Foods, [link] [link], so I’ll spare you those diatribes. However, being introspective, it’s hard to ignore the fact that even with the quality of food we produce at Ham Sweet Farm, we sometimes stop by Culver's for a ButterBurger or order take-out from the Chinese joint in town. Sometimes we’re just short on time, on the go or just plain hungry for salty, greasy food. Between our full-time jobs and the farm, we're just not able to cook meals every night like we used to. So we are part of the problem, right? We consume the “evil” fast food burger. We support the monoliths of agriculture and meatpacking. The answer isn’t so easy though, it’s more of a “sort of”.
While we do eat that stuff, it’s not solely as a matter of convenience; we make our choices based entirely on flavor. We’ll pass five McDonald's to get to Culver's (a small midwest chain who makes burgers to order from meat that's never been frozen), for instance. If you’ve never had a ButterBurger, you can’t understand. If you have and disagree, I call B.S. and that you’re being intellectually dishonest. For us, regardless of where the food comes from, it needs to taste good. This, in my opinion, is the first of two key considerations when talking about our food system. [Note, I'm not talking about engineered flavor, I'm talking natural flavors from fresh products.]
Without flavor, everything else is irrelevant. Who cares that you bought local tomatoes if they taste bad? Who cares if the pig runs around in a field of rainbows if they taste bad? Regardless of what it is you’re farming, if it tastes bad, you’re farming it wrong. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with someone once regarding local [to them], grass-fed beef. This person is a self-appointed “locavore” and despises factory farming. When talking about the beef, they pointed out, and I paraphrase here, “ The meat doesn’t even taste that good and is very tough, but it’s important to support local ”. This, my friends, is absurd on two levels.
1 - Local does not equal flavor, nor is it inherently better. Proximity is the wrong determining factor when choosing a food product. Some things just aren’t good in certain regions. Western slopes of Colorado will never compete for flavor with Michigan sour cherries or Georgia peaches. Pigs raised in the desert will never compare with pigs raised on “green stuff” or "in the woods." We’ve put a tremendous amount of social pressure on supporting the local farms, and while that’s true in part, local doesn’t make the product tasty, it may just save you gas. Raising certain varieties of produce or livestock in certain areas may even be detrimental to the environment, taking too much water or causing too much destruction in order to produce edible units of food. This is especially true with foreign produce, which has significantly impacted foreign markets and results in products traveling for weeks at a time to get to you from its country of origin. Consider substituting your desire for asparagus in December with some lettuce grown in a greenhouse in the US, perhaps even near you. You need to support flavor and common sense before blindly supporting "Local."
2 - You’re facilitating an inferior product. If the product is bad, I don’t care how local it is, don’t buy it or else you’re an enabler. With the proliferation of small farms and the race to be the ultimate local eater there is an increase in inferior “local” products. Some of these animals are kept in only marginally better conditions than your typical CAFO, but because they’re local, people have deemed them “better." If you try a local cut of meat and don’t like it, tell your farmer. Tell the farmer you’re unhappy with the product. Tell them what kind of a product you want. Because, if you’re of the mind to support local farmers, you need to invest in this feedback loop. It’s crucial. It’s how we improve and grow. One of the farms we work with has listened to their customers and is reevaluating their beef plans. They are considering different breeds that do well on grass only, while naturally providing more marbling. They’re not doing this because they had an itch to change, they’re doing this because they heard from restaurants and the public that a different product is desired.
The ideal of local has far exceeded the importance of flavor in this country with the most "foodie of foodies" exchanging local farms like kids exchanged pogs and baseball cards. Eating hyper-locally has seemingly become this badge of honor for those who spend their spare time lamenting about the brokenness of our food system. “I eat local so I’m better." Jump down off the soapbox for a minute and realize that there is nothing remarkable about this for the majority of the rest of the world. If you’re in Paris or Tuscany or Accra, the food just … IS. There is no label of “locally grown” or “farm to table”, it’s just a tomato that tastes good fresh in the summertime, and canned in the winter. It is the sweetness of an onion after the first frost. It’s just, “a pig." Flavor is king and king alone.
The other part of the puzzle when examining our food system is the volume of cooking in this country, or lack thereof. We’ve become a culture centered on convenience, speed to table and price. Cooking is reserved for the special occasion or the desire to impress. Continuing to look at other cultures, cooking is in fact, a daily occurrence. It’s the time when you learn about the day of each of your family members. Maybe you argue about today’s news. You may even tell a new funny joke you heard. More than anything however, it’s a consistent gathering of family around a home-cooked meal, the things memories are made of. Ask any chef worth a damn about food memories and they inevitably rewind back to their grandmother’s kitchen and the aromas and flavors coming out of it. I sometimes wonder if, in 30 years, grandmothers will no longer be the culinary idols they are today. Perhaps this is a bit hyperbolic, but cooking is a dying art within the average household, with familiar smells of sauce on the stove going by the wayside. Cooking, however, is how we make the aforementioned flavors sing, creating those memories and not be just a bowl of necessary caloric intake.
Cooking is where our food system takes a huge turn, and in my opinion, the worst turn. Look at any store, Whole Foods included, and they are littered with pre-made or boxed meals, vegetables out of season to satisfy your tomato and strawberry fix in January. In other cultures, produce and meat get to be free. They share no burden of making a social statement. Eating seasonally in other cultures isn’t an accomplishment; it just is what you do. No one in Italy would expect citrus out of season or olives before they were ready for the year. Cuttlefish from Venice would never show up in Amalfi. Each region has what they have, and there is no forcing the issue otherwise. Prepared foods in Europe are largely a foreign concept, and not being able to cook could be the difference between getting the blessing from the matriarch of the family to marry her son or not. If you did eat at your local trattoria, you’d boycott the establishment if you found that they poured a sauce from a jar. Just look at the guidebooks for any foreign country, I can promise you that in any large city, there is mention of a remarkable market with amazing produce and ingredients. This is not an intended tourist stop by the locals, this is just where and how people shop for the day’s meal.
If you want to talk about how to change the food system, or any system for that matter, you need common ground on which to broach a conversation. If you were to look at the usual State-of-The-Food-System conversation, you may think that the common ground is ire against Big Ag and CAFO operations. The catch is, in most cases, this is a conjured up common ground riddled with assumptions, misinformation and a total lack of experience and understanding. How many people in this country have ever set foot on a farm, let alone work and provide off of one, or have even seen a factory farm with their own eyes? With so little experience, how can this be the platform on which we talk about enacting change? If you’re taking an honest, hard look at what this country demands, it’s cheap, easy access and quick-to-table foods. This cheap, easy and quick-to-table food desire is not exclusive to the uncaring consumer, it's perhaps even more prevalent amongst the culinary 1%'ers. Vegans want pre-made tofu and "chicken-flavored" sausages to cook up. Soccer moms want Annie’s mac and cheese for their precious little snowflakes. Even the most local of local food supporters want plump, boned-out chicken breasts, rather than a whole 3-lb. chicken. Our food system provides for this variety in spades. You can get whatever you want, whenever you want it, at whatever price point you want it. It is, essentially, perfectly suited for this country, no matter what side of the political food spectrum you fall on. Even if you’re in the small percentage who does cook and eat seasonally, there is a farmer's market in just about every area these days and small farms nearby if you put in the work to find them. Boxed food, big farms, small farms and even Big Ag are all part of the world’s most perfect food system. We, quite literally, have something for everyone.
So what is our common ground if it isn’t access and convenience? It’s cooking. It’s something we all can do. It’s something we’ve all done [hopefully!] and it forces the issue of flavor mixed with togetherness and slowing down. If we are to fix our food system, we all, as a society, need to get back to cooking. Cooking is our common ground. I’ll give you an instance of this very point; I work in advertising and one of our clients is, well lets call them a big producer of fresh foods. The juxtaposition between my “farm life" and this client is about as severe as you can get… or is it? I get asked all the time, “Doesn’t it make you sick to work on that account?“ to which I always respond, Not even a little bit and here’s why. We share the same enemy… packaged foods. Our goals are to get people back to cooking a meal for their family. Note: COOKING, as this is not pre-packaged, par-cooked product. This is a product that requires someone to stand at an stove or oven, and cook a meal. Would I rather someone buy an organic box of mac and cheese or a CAFO piece of meat with bagged celery and carrots? All day, every day, I vote for the CAFO meat and veggies. If people buy those things, regardless of the ways that food is produced, they are cooking and getting back to the core of what food is— togetherness and flavor. So, in the simplest of terms, it’s my job to get people cooking more, both in my day job and with our farm.
Cooking is the language we both understand when talking about the many virtues of our "cheap" cuts of meat, the stuff we can hardly even give away. Many farmers end up eating their own blemished produce because, even in markets, people will bypass a bruised apple or an ugly carrot for something more familiar, more polished. Despite the intensely meaty flavor of beef hearts, people hesitate to buy them— is it because hearts remind them of Valentine's Day? Their own mortality? Who knows. We have a freezer filled with feet, gizzards, livers, hearts, hocks, bits and bones in every imaginable size and from every animal we raise and sell for meat. Those bits and bones contain some of the best nutrition and flavor we can provide, and it's the cheapest of anything we sell... if only people would buy them and commit to the process it takes to glean that flavor and nutrition for themselves, their family and friends by preparing and cooking it.
Putting the blame of our food system woes on Big Ag, the government or even worse yet, farmers, is short-sighted and wrong. Everything you eat is Farm-to-Table. It may not be the bucolic red barn with animals skipping around that you have in your mind, but that milk, those potatoes and that corn, all come from proud family farms. Some of them are big, some of them are small, but they are all working to put food on their tables and yours. They are the ones working tirelessly, with significant annual investment, on the promise of a return at the end of a growing season. If they have a bad year and crops don’t grow, they are SOL. They now need to struggle until next season to make ends meet. Yet, as they struggle to survive, many in this country snub their noses at the work of these people. Criticism towards large-scale farmers is at an all-time high, and if you don’t believe me, ask our farmer friends who supported a GMO sugar beet initiative and then had $80,000 in hay, and a tractor, burned to the ground as a result.
The people to "blame" for our food system are you, your neighbors and us. If our country continues to exist and thrive in a boxed or pre-cooked food culture, and one centered around a too-busy-to-cook culture, we will forever be in the current food system. One needs to look no further than the aisles of any supermarket, Whole Foods, or your local food co-op (if it even still exists), where shelves upon shelves, freezers upon freezers, are lined with “organic” boxed options. If the general public, even those paying a premium for organic goods, doesn’t exist in, or support, a cooking and meal-driven culture, how do you have any common ground on which to talk to them about food? How do we explain why free-ranging pigs taste better, and tomatoes in season are divine? They won’t get it. They also won’t care. They still want their tomatoes in December and their limes in the fall. All the Big Ag companies have stepped up to the plate to meet these demands, providing options galore for however it is you want to eat.
The conversation needs to shift and the attitude of judgment towards those not shopping “organically” need to stop. We need to focus less on labels or proximity and more on getting back to cooking in our homes and flavor on our plates. We need to get back to preparing meals for our friends and family, while creating flavor memories for generations to come. To put it in the most simple of terms, if you don’t know how to cook a pork chop, you’ll never be able to understand why our pork chop is better.
If you were to ask people, "What is your most feared meal?", chances are it would be Thanksgiving. The meal is always a large one, usually with many people around the table, all eyes on the pièce de la résistance. This is what we think of when we think about the Thanksgiving table, and no one wants to be remembered as the one who ruined an avian centerpiece. The fear is unwarranted, however, as with a few steps ahead of time and some careful planning the day of, you should be able to avoid a dry, tasteless turkey and have something remarkable for your guests and/or family.
Heritage vs. Broad Breasted
One of the main reasons people fear cooking a turkey is because conventional turkeys have been bred to the point of massive breasts and overall unnatural size and growth rates— weighing in well over 20lbs when they are processed! If there is one thing that's certain in this world, it's that a wild turkey or any heritage breed turkey, will rarely, if ever, weigh in past 20lbs dressed weight. You see, while the Broad Breasted Whites are the Kardashians of the turkey world, our heritage breed birds are far more in proportion, with a whole lot more flavor to bring to the table (pun intended). They have smaller breasts, much more proportional bodies and higher distribution of intramuscular fat [not to mention being far less obnoxious and way more useful than any Kardashian, ever]. All of these things mean that we need to cook these turkeys differently, but when done right, you'll be met with some superb flavor. If this is your first time having a pastured, heritage breed bird, well, you are in for quite a treat.
Cooking and Prep
Cooking a turkey is not difficult in the least if you pay attention and think it through. It all starts with the prep of the animal, and as far as I see it, there are three basic options as to how you begin the Turkey Day ritual. Lets take a look at these methods now.
It seems that the most popular way to prep a turkey is to brine it. Brine is simply a solution made up of water, salt, sugar and various other aromatics to impart flavor and water into the bird. Notice I said flavor AND water, which is key to understand. The water is what keeps the bird seemingly "moist", however it's a bit of a misnomer, as it's not so much moist so much as it is wet. When meat is tender, it's because of the fat, the protein breakdowns, etc. Think dry-aged beef for instance— it's the fat and the protein breakdown from the aging that improves the texture, not a brine. The same is true for turkeys.There is 0 shame in the brine, so long as you're aware of why it works and what it's doing. If you do happen to take this path, make sure to pull the bird out of the brine with adequate time to let the bird come up to room temp and for the skin to dry. Do not cook from cold, as this will both slow down cooking times, as well as begin the horrible uneven cooking process.
If you're interested in detailed science and studies around brining (I know this is odd), here is a fantastic article on it: http://www.genuineideas.com/ArticlesIndex/brine.html
If we're keeping with common tradition and going to put a whole bird on the table, this is my go-to method. It's also incredibly simple, yet so very effective. Take 1/2 to 1 tbsp of salt per pound of bird, and very generously salt the skin of the bird. Place on a wire rack over a plate or pan in the fridge for 24-48 hours. About 2 hours before you're ready to cook, remove the bird from the fridge to allow it to come up to room temperature and then begin the roasting process. This prep method has proven to create the most crispy skin and evenly seasoned bird of the methods mentioned here. I use this very same method on pretty much any bird I cook, except duck, but that's a post for another day. What happens here is that the salt helps to pull out the moisture from the skin, as well as break down some of the protein in the muscle, creating tenderness, as it migrates throughout the bird.
If you can get away from the traditional mindset of a whole turkey, trussed and stuffed, the absolute best way to cook a turkey is in rolled form. One of the biggest challenges with cooking a whole turkey is that different parts of the bird do best at different temps and different lengths of time [think legs vs. breast]. When cooking a whole bird, you're really in an exercise of compromise, trying to find the happy medium. However, if you modify your cooking shape, you can unify the cooking times and create a much more evenly-cooked turkey, but in a non-traditional form. I know that boning out a turkey may seem daunting, but with a little bit of patience and a sharp paring knife, you can accomplish it with no problem. Here is a great video for deboning a chicken, which is exactly the same as a turkey, just on the obviously smaller scale.
Now that you have a prep method, you're going to need to make sure you cook it to the right temp. If you read any conventional cooking method instructions for typical turkey, they will suggest pulling the bird at a temp of 160 - 180. If you happen to hit anywhere near that temp with a heritage bird, which has smaller breasts, you will have a beautiful mount for your wall, rather than a delicious heritage bird. Don't do it! For a heritage bird, you want to cook to 145 degrees. A meat thermometer is essential, and for a whole roast bird, you're looking at 6-8 minutes per pound at about 400 degrees. When you pull the bird, you'll get carry over of about 10 degrees, leaving your dark meat at about 155, which is perfect. You can go lower temp if you choose, but the time per pound will obviously increase (325 is 12 - 15 minutes per pound). Invest in a good instant read thermometer to monitor the thigh and breast meat, they are indispensable. You'll want to ensure that your thigh is cooked to 145
Stretching the Bird
No, don't physically stretch your turkey out! People splurge on holiday turkeys, we all know this, but there are way to extend your purchase beyond Thanksgiving dinner and Leftovers sandwiches. Save the bones and gristle that's left over and make a stock. Take that stock and remaining meat and make some pot pie. Save the bones again and make a remoulage.
Recipes to get you going
After the wild success of Christian's post about The $18 Chicken last week, we've been playing catch-up on calls, emails, comments and messages. If you haven't heard back from us yet, we apologize... we're not ignoring you. My phone died among some other things, so, ya know, try to get in touch with us again if would! The other, arguably more distracting thing happening here on the farm is the arrival of two very sweet baby goaties. They were born 5 days apart, and are best friends. Jasper is the brown w/black stripe buckling, while Sage is his wildly-colored and fuzzy half sister! I could go out and sit with them forever, just watching them play. They love to jump on and off of just about anything, including their mamas, the barn, and chickens! Sage also loves to chase and butt the chickens. Jasper is more interested in people.
There are few things as adorable as a baby goat, so we're just taking time to sit with them and enjoy it. Soon they'll be big enough to get into trouble, and they won't be quite as cute. Well, that might not be true.
Everything is but a hop, skip and a jump away when you're a goat.
Look at that face... <3
I've been mulling over this post for quite a while now. Whether I should even write it, what the POV should be, is it going to backfire on us, etc. All questions that I've been working through, but after a few recent interactions with folks and some stark realizations after reflecting back on this year's growing season thus far, I felt like I had to write it. Here is a conversation from a farmer's market interaction not too long ago: " Hi there, thanks for coming to the market." " We're so happy you're here, we've been looking for free range, heritage Chicken. " " Oh that's great. While it's not a heritage breed, it's a different breed that raises out much longer than your standard Cornish Cross and is a far better ranger around the pasture. " " That's great, how much is it a pound? " " $6.00 whole, $6.50 cut up. " " Wait, so one chicken will cost me $18.00? That's outrageous! I am happy to pay $2.00 or even $3.00/lb for chicken, but that is crazy. " " I'm sorry you feel that way, but as I explained, they are far better rangers, take longer to grow and have superior flavor. " " I just can't see how you can charge $6.00/lb. " " Ok, well, have a nice day and thanks for coming. "
Kate and I stared at each other and just started laughing after about 30 seconds of silence and awkward smirking. Our booth partners were also chuckling, as they've been doing this a lot longer than we have and face similar comments about their beef, but apparently not nearly to the degree and frequency that we do with regards to chicken. It made me think though, where is this expectation coming from? Why is it that people seem 'ok' with higher prices for pork and beef, but chicken, regardless of rearing method, is still just a cheap commodity to most. What pricing is not "crazy" and how is it that people seem qualified to evaluate the merits of our pricing? So, lets dive in a bit and I'll reveal just how we calculate pricing.
Determining Factors on Pricing
- Growth Time - 14 weeks
- Feed conversion ratio (best case) - 4:1 [yes, 4 lbs of food per every 1 lb of carcass weight gained]
- Average weight after processing [carcass yield] - 3 lbs
- Bird Cost - $3.00 per chick
- USDA Processing - $5.50 per bird
- Processing: $4.00
- Giblets: $1.00
- Neck & Feet: $0.50
- Organic Feed Cost - $0.44/lb [$22.00 for 50 lb. bag]
Summary of costs
- Total Feed Cost per bird: $5.28
- Our Total Bird Cost: $13.78
- Consumer Cost: $18.00
- Profit per bird: $4.22
* All feed is over 75% locally grown by a 4th generation farmer roughly 30 miles from our farm.
This is the basic formula for how we calculate our pricing, however, here is what we're not charging for, but arguably should be:
- Our Time
- Farmer's market fees
- Misc. Expenses
If we were to add in incremental charges for this list, we'd be up in the $7.00/lb - $9.00/lb range easily. Obviously, that's not going to happen, but why shouldn't it? That is the cost of producing chickens after all. The answer is simple— no one gives a shit about chicken, or meat chickens for that matter. They are well below other livestock, such as pigs and cows on the totem pole of "care" and marginally above fish when it comes to the meat we consume. Backyard laying hen keepers name their individual birds and devote swaths of their social media presence to following them around taking pictures, but what about the chicken they eat? There are blogs devoted to candid pictures of egg-laying chickens with cute homemade Pinteresty coops in the background, yet the chickens we eat are relegated to wooden suitcases in the middle of fields at best. I would venture to say that people care more about their vegetable growth practices than they do about how a chicken or fish are raised, caught and processed. If you disagree, look no further than the rabid GMO debates vs. the actual outcry of debate around industrial raised chickens. Anecdotally, a simple search on google reveals far more articles and rhetoric around GMO than it does about industrial chicken production. People will pay $1.00 per lime and $3.00/lb for tomatoes, but a chicken, they want at $2.00.
We decided to humor ourselves with this realization and see if we could drastically change our pricing, and this year we decided to try to get our costs down on birds. We've tried 4 different breeds now, tried different feed amounts and here is what we came up with. If we want to raise a $3.00/lb chicken, you'll be eating Cornish X, raised on Conventional Feed with minimal grazing, as the birds simply don't graze to the same degree. They'll have an abundance of white meat, little flavor and will be the furthest thing from heritage breed chickens you can possibly buy. In short, that won't be happening on our farm, even if it means we don't sell chickens publicly anymore. It's just pointless, lazy and continues to encourage and support Laissez-faire attitudes and inconsiderate behavior by consumers. They will continue to undervalue the life and true cost of a chicken if we change our raising habits and ethics to produce an inferior product simply to compete on price. For us, on our scale, with what we want to do, it's not worth it to change.
If you think this is simply a result of industrial farming, you're flat-out wrong. You need look no further than the god of chicken farming himself, Joel Salatin. (Editors note: That is sarcasm). He will not, and has been very open about it, raise anything other than Cornish X chickens because every other chicken is just not profitable at the per-pound costs his customers are willing to pay. Even more disturbing to us, is that he speaks to the idea of "pastured" and "free range" poultry, however, these chickens never free range. They are confined to 10ft x 10ft boxes, with slightly more than 8" of head clearance, and simply live their entire lives in that box. If you're against confinement farming, tell me how it's ok for 30+ birds to live in a 10ft x 10ft box their entire life, moved or not? I am not delusional, I realize this is a huge level above standard CAFO-raised poultry, but if this is what the community looks to as the standard for small farm chicken production, we're nothing short of fucked. We will never get to a point where heritage birds are on people's plate because people just won't be willing to pay. Even small farmers will continue to encourage and support the behavior of "Chicken should be cheap".
Note, the argument that people should eat less meat but higher quality meat, we fundamentally agree with, but it's also way beyond unrealistic to expect 280 million people to change their eating habits at this point in the game. We fully support the ideal of that, however, we chose to support the practice of getting better meat to people who want to eat meat than to chastise them for their food consumption decisions.
Here's the rub though, there is a huge difference between saying "that's crazy," and "I can't afford that price." We have, and always will continue, to work with people to find a way to get our food in their hands with a payment method and plan that works for them. We've tailored a CSA share to accommodate a lower food budget than we initially offered. We've provided payment plans to folks who needed to spread out costs. We've cut chickens in halves to make the overall end price more affordable. We've even done home deliveries and looked into accepting food stamps for those who need it. This isn't meant as a self righteous sharing, but rather to speak to the flexibility that's possible to support and encourage good relationships and understanding between farmers and consumers.
We always have options. We always have ways to get the quality of food we believe in to customers, but those options don't have to include an inferior product. Work with your community to educate and accommodate positive behaviors. But, Consumers, this goes both ways. Work with your farmer, help them understand what your wants and needs are. I promise you, 9 out of 10 farmers will work with you. It's selfishly to our benefit so that we can continue to do what we do, the way we want to do it.
To those of our customers who have supported us and continue to do so, thank you so much. We look forward to your stories of enjoying the meals, surprising your friends with superior flavor and even just the fact that you're willing pay $6.00 a pound for our chickens. We appreciate it and so do the chickens (well, mostly, until you eat them).
"My only complaint about the Old Spot breed of pigs we raise is that their amazingness and personable personalities make it even harder for me to take them to the processor. I say harder because regardless of the species of animal it will always be hard to transport them to the their end. The Old Spots have always made it too easy to love them with their playfulness and desire for human affection. These were my thoughts as I walked down the hill after having coaxed the group of pigs I am taking in tomorrow onto the trailer and closing the door behind them. The drive is beautiful on the back roads yet quite difficult emotionally." —Donald M. Arrant, Jr., livestock manager at Glynwood Center
One of the best and worst things about having a small farm is your personal relationship with each animal. Many people ask us, how can you name the animals you're going to eat? We have so few animals here on the farm that, even without names, they would have names. Whether we gave each pig a number, assigned each chicken a letter, or referred to each duck by their defining qualities, coloration, size... that would become a name.
"Oh, you wouldn't believe what Seven did today!"
If we didn't want to have these relationships with the animals, we wouldn't have them here. But that doesn't detract from their ultimate purpose: meat providers, nourishment purveyors. In their time here, they work for us in other ways, too. Our pigs get to spend their days doing what they love best... destroying just about everything in their path. We brought them here because of the untamed, poison ivy-riddled, burdock- and garlic mustard-filled, tanglewood old gardens left from 30 years ago when this place was a working farm. Thirty years of untended gardens mean soft, fast-growing trees and weeds take over fertile soils. One year of pigs means overturned earth, slowly girdled trees, and new beginnings.
Historically, pigs were kept by households as meat-producing garbage disposals. Take them your kitchen scraps and garden waste, and they will create for you fertile garden beds and a winter's worth of meat preserves. The onset of industrial agriculture meant more and more pigs, kept in smaller spaces, fed grain instead of scraps because what farmer can produce so many scraps for dozens or hundreds or thousands of animals day after day?
Despite efforts to turn pigs into "The Other White Meat," subsisting only in concrete barns, the instincts of a pig are incredibly strong. A domestic pig, once escaped or turned loose, will revert to its wild roots in mere months. Our boar Orson, who had never seen sunlight or dirt before coming home to our farm at the age of a year and a half, is an efficient rooter and joyful wallower. He didn't need to be taught to root or wallow, he just needed to have the dirt in front of him. At first, our plans were to let Orson do his boar duty [aka make babies] and then process him, but we enjoy watching him out in the world so much that he will probably be here to stay.
Such is the nature of small farms. Our decisions aren't always based in sound financial logic, but as a former boss told me once, "Sometimes you just have to give yourself that special animal." Not every animal gets to stay for life, but every so often an extraordinary animal comes along to challenge your heart strings. Our chicken Mother Goose is one of those. She follows us around while we do chores, and even when I am working in the garden she is close by. She will let you hold her, and eat swatted mosquitoes deftly yet gently from your hand, and maybe even snooze in your lap for a while.
On the other hand, we raised a batch of Freedom Ranger meat chickens this summer who were the most savage beasts we've ever had here at Ham Sweet Farm. They pecked your arms with intent if you reached down for anything in their pasture, tore bits from my Muck boots as I waded through the flock, and refused to be contained in any sense of the word. One actually met an early death after I removed it from Gnocchi's pen and it jumped back in while she was eating. Gnocchi doesn't share, so when this chicken tried to sneak grain from in front of her, she swatted it away with her head, and caught it in the brain with a tooth. Not exactly a USDA-approved means to an end, but we did eat it for dinner the next day.
For the animals who don't stay here forever, it's nothing personal. But it is sad [with the exception of the Freedom Rangers, who we were happy to escort into our freezer]. You get to know the personalities of individuals as well as groups. When a group of ducks reaches the age to be processed, you don't get to see them each morning dash out of their coop and beeline for the little duck pond. No longer will they waddle around with wings folded across their backs like old Italian men in a piazza. Maybe each duck didn't have a name, but "The Ducks" are their own character here. They have a place, and when they leave that spot is open, empty.
There will be another group of ducks, more poultry, and other animals who might even live in the same place the ducks did when they were here. It's the nature of farming, and necessary when you and your family, friends and customers eat meat. It's the reason we save all of our bones, from every meal and every animal, and make stock and remouillage before the bones reach their final resting place, in our compost pile and then, once again, out on pasture.