When we decided to circle back to Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat by Deborah Krasner this week, we didn't realize that Oprah and her staff of 370+ would be simultaneously announcing their week-long vegan cleanse. More maple sugar walnut pie made with a butter and suet crust for us.
This is a big and yes, inevitably meaty cookbook. It is also a responsible meat guidebook, nothing along the lines of Animal excess. Krasner insists on using grass-fed beef (often buying half a steer) and uses every single part of it. She cooks her way through the tongue (beef tongue with sweet and sour sauce), organs (liver with parsley, garlic and red wine vinegar; pan-fried sweetbreads in butter with white wine sauce) and testicles (Monte Verdi deep-fried "oysters").
The requisite charts indicating the various cuts of meat are also here, but in real butcher-shop time with action shots from stellar photographer Marcus Nilsson. Which means you actually see what it means to "remove the flank" from a hanging side of beef, or "break off the short loin." It all serves to instill a greater appreciation for the animal. Much like buying whole duck (head and feet attached), reading and cooking from this book reminds us to pay closer attention to what we buy and ultimately, what we make for dinner.
That's easy enough to do with Krasner in the kitchen, as the recipes are as interesting as her personal stories woven among the butcher shop lessons. The recipes run the global gamut, from a Madras coconut beef curry and Krasner's favorite Bolognese sauce to Yemeni style beef shanks and classic pot roast. The chapter on pork isn't merely another southern recipe re-hashing. It includes kimchee soup with fried pork belly, a classic French pork loin stuffed with Armagnac and prunes, braised pig cheeks with fennel, crispy pig tail, and "pig candy" (peanut brittle with bacon and red pepper).
There's a chapter dedicated entirely to rabbit, one on poultry (chicken, pheasant, turkey, duck), eggs, and another on side dishes. All are filled with entirely too many enticing recipes to mention (air-dried chicken with fresh thyme, rabbit fricassee with oranges, stuffed goose neck, sautéed duck with rose petal jam and "Middle Eastern" fried eggs with za'atar). And we thought this was going to be just one more meat manual to add to the growing pile.
The recipes are so diverse and appealing in part because Krasner makes no excuses about relying on the expertise of many colleagues and mentors, as we all do in the kitchen. But here, she names that person who inspired a specific dish as she introduces a recipe, be it Joan Nathan, Leslie Newman or Samual and Samantha Clark. It is a refreshingly honest admission today, when recipe poaching (something Krasner is not doing) seems to have unfortunately become one of the many now "acceptable" online plagiarisms.
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Ultimately, it is the lamb chapter that brings the point of this cookbook home -- quite literally for Krasner. In 2006, she and her husband began raising lambs "for the freezer" on their property in Vermont. Shank and Burger, their first chocolate-brown Icelandic sheep, were dubbed "the Scharffenbergers" by their daughter as the family bonded with the animals.
They still decided to slaughter the lambs, and they continue to raise lambs for food. "We talked a lot about the difference between eating sheep you know and sheep you don't know," Krasner explains in the book. "It seemed clear to us that our sheep would have been someone's dinner if they weren't ours -- sheep don't get a chance to die of old age... Frankly, I thought eating my lambs would be harder -- I remember those particular living lambs with fondness, but they are disassociated in my mind from the meat in my freezer." As this is a family that raised their own animals and slaughtered them humanely, we'd be inclined to argue that we are actually the ones who are guilty of being completely disassociated with last week's chicken soup and bacon cheeseburger.