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While we can’t help you in the love department, we can help get delicious meats into your capable hands and teach you a little about cooking them! Looking for something special to wow your dinner guest this Valentine’s Day, or just looking to improve your steak technique in general? Check out this helpful post from Kari Underly of Range, based in Chicago.
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.