When you start counting your James Beard Awards in round numbers (about a half dozen?), you've long since earned the right for concise cookbook titles. James Peterson's latest, Meat: A Kitchen Education is a primer on how to properly cook bipeds and quadrupeds, albeit those most commonly consumed in the U.S. today (no guinea pigs). But like all of his work, meat is not a topic that Peterson approaches lightly.
He begins the book by recalling a story from his former days as a chef when faced with slaughtering two rabbits for dinner service. They were "discarded" rabbits (notably not Peterson's word choice, but a word referring to their life's purpose as control animals in a science lab, for better or worse). And still alive. A customer had offered them up. Peterson says he naively accepted, thinking they would arrive butchered (side note; no need to panic over lab animals showing upon your dinner plate, this was decades ago). It was a life changing moment.
Peterson continues the Introduction to say that after the incident, he was "left convinced that people who consume meat should have to [literally] kill for their supper at least once in their lives." That lesson in appreciation, he says, would do all of us (clarification: Americans) who consume on average more than 8-ounces of meat a day good. Enough good, perhaps, for us to consider stepping away from the processed, massed produced (and more likely than not, inhumanely slaughtered) meats that we pass off as cutesy lunchbox filler in favor of farm raised and humanely slaughtered beef, chicken, pork. And rabbit.
The book itself is laid out in typical Peterson fashion, filled with thoroughly tested, step-by-step recipes. How to make confit, proper poaching techniques, a clarification of the difference between sautéing and sweating (the latter typically refers to vegetables and is a method of getting food to release its moisture, sautéing does just the opposite, sealing in flavor).
The chapters are divided by type of meat (chicken and turkey, pork, beef, veal, lamb and goat) and are illustrated by Peterson's step-by-step color photos (even America's Test Kitchen typically uses black and whites for their step-by-steps). And that's exactly why this book, like Peterson's others, is so alluring. Sure, there are some compelling recipes that might give you that momentary gotta-make-it-now high (Moroccan-style chicken with almonds and dried apricots, chicken breasts à la Milanaise, roast chicken with ricotta and sage). But mainly, this is the sort of reference cookbook that you flip open when you need to remember, or learn how, to score the skin of duck breast.
Or figure out what exactly that pork chop cut is that you picked up on special at the grocery store (center-cut, loin, or sirloin?). Curious how to cut a slab of fatback into lardons? Peterson has a recipe for that here, too, along with rather intimate photographs of chuck blade roasts undergoing lardon surgery in the "Beef" chapter.
And then, just as you start to tire of all that fatback lore, you hit page 293. A chapter on sausages stuffed in the back of the book that feels like a little meat-amalgam gift with its recipes for pork, creamed turkey, pistachio-duck, chorizo, kielbasa and veal sausages, followed by another chapter on pâté, terrines and foie gras. Just the sort of things we imagine Peterson is cooking up right now in his four-story Brooklyn brownstone complete with a test kitchen on one floor, a photography studio on another. Yes, we are terribly jealous.
Turn the page for Peterson's recipe for skirt steak rolled with prosciutto and sage.
Skirt Steak Rolled with Prosciutto and Sage
From: Meat by James Peterson
Note: Peterson grills the skirt steak but says broiling works well, too ("Be sure they are close enough to the heat source to brown nicely."). He recommends Prosciutto di Parma or another high-quality imported prosciutto. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water to cover for 1 hour before loading.
2 skirt steaks, about 1 pound each
6 large, thin slices prosciutto, cut in half crosswise
12 fresh sage leaves
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Olive oil or melted butter
1. Prepare a hot fire for direct grilling in a grill.
2. Cut each skirt steak crosswise into 6 pieces of equal size. Place a half slice of prosciutto on each steak piece, and top the prosciutto with a sage leaf. Roll up each piece of beef into a snug cylinder, then slide the roll onto 2 metal or wooden skewers, piercing the roll once near each end. Repeat to top and roll the remaining 11 pieces of steak, putting 6 rolls on each pair of skewers (or fewer if you have only small skewers). Season the rolls with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil.
3. Place the skewers on the grill rack and grill, turning as needed and brushing with additional oil, for about 10 minutes total, or until the rolls are nicely browned and the meat is medium-rare.