In honor of Front Psych’s visit to SXSW, I thought it only appropriate to write my column Texas-style this week, i.e., about beef. For about a year I traveled to Dallas for work on a nearly weekly basis. I was introduced to traditional Dallas BBQ, excellent molé sauce, and 64oz Slurpees (everything’s bigger…). And I can say with confidence that Texans really do love their beef.
If you’re familiar with the movie Food Inc., what I’m about to say will probably resonate with you. The film takes a deep look at mass production of meat in this country, and ever since seeing it, I have been much choosier about where and when I eat meat. I try to avoid it at restaurants unless I know they value high quality products or, even better, if they list the farms where their food comes from. I’m not Portlandia-level crazy about it, but I do my best.
Anyway, despite Texas being the beef capital of America, I didn’t eat a whole lot of red meat. However, getting flack from my male friends about my steak-free Texan diet, I decided to make the journey to Fort Worth, about an hour from my hotel, to get my hands on what I had heard was some seriously good steak at The Lonesome Dove. This restaurant is known for sourcing local products and grass fed beef, and I figured it would be my best shot at satisfying my desire to try Texas steak without letting my values slip. It was undeniably delicious (juicy, tender, buttery), and my first real glimpse at the difference between high quality meat and everything else.
Fast forward to the present, where I recently went to a fantastic lecture hosted by Edible Brooklyn, all about well-raised meat, real butchers, and where to find this stuff in New York. We heard from folks representing Marlow and Daughters, Fleishers, and Brooklyn Cured about topics ranging from brave vegans opening an ethical butcher shop, how to make a sausage, and how to prepare and cook “brick chicken” (which I tried immediately with moderate success – perhaps another blog post for another day).
Curious to understand more about the “good meat” fad, I bought The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (by the owners of Fleishers themselves!), and also decided to take on a food experiment to compare grass-fed beef with the drek you might otherwise find at the grocery store. Grass-fed beef is supposedly tastier, and debatably healthier. Either way, it’s the way cows should be raised. Luckily, this past weekend, I was able to go straight to the source: Columbia County, NY. Columbia County is home to rolling fields and meadows, cute old-fashioned towns like Hudson, NY, a great little winery, and plenty of farmland. Not to turn this into the travel section or anything, but it’s a perfect weekend getaway destination.
Once I got the idea of a taste-test in my head, I figured I might as well do it right. This involved a trip to Kinderhook Farm in Valatie, NY, where I
met some chickens, sheep, cows, dogs, and a very friendly farmer named Lee. Lee ended up spending about 20 minutes with us, chatting about NYC butcher shops and showing us around the farm. Talk about “know thy farmer,” eh? The animals were truly free-range, just roaming around, nibbling at food, bah-ing, moo-ing, and clucking. The chickens were surprisingly interactive, and hopped over the fence to say hello to us. The sheep were guarded by an enormous Maremma puppy named Sarge who greeted us enthusiastically. This may sound a little dreamy, but the animals seemed genuinely happy, and we left feeling really proud to have bought dinner from Lee.
When we mentioned our taste test, Lee had no doubt that his ground beef would destroy the Price Chopper stuff, so I decided to up the ante and give him a more worthy competitor. Rather than comparing Kinderhook’s meat to the lowest of the low, we bought Price Chopper’s finest: grass-fed pre-packaged meat, which, the fine print later informed us, was imported from Australia. Coming from literally the other end of the earth meant that this stuff couldn’t possibly be very fresh, not to mention the horror of that ecological footprint! Lee was skeptical of the store-bought stuff, even the grass fed variety, which is still produced in mass quantities. He was certain that his would taste better. Anyway, in the name of science, I pressed forward.
Lee agreed with us that the best way to compare meats would be with a burger. We used minimal seasoning and simply grilled the meat to keep it a relatively pure sample. We tried the burgers just as bites of meat, and then again as composed cheeseburgers. All taste tests were blind. The results were unanimous: Lee’s burgers won! I’ll admit that the Price Chopper “grass fed” beef was still a pretty good burger, but all else equal, the Kinderhook meat was just so much more flavorful. It’s hard to explain what that flavor was (grass, perhaps?), but it seemed fresher, juicier, and richer, perhaps. You could also literally see the difference. The raw meat from Kinderhook was a much deeper, more appealing red, and it didn’t hold together like glue, the way the Price Chopper variety did.
Sure, this is just one taste test, but the bottom line here is that it’s important to know where your food comes from. Whether you literally go to a farm to get it is irrelevant (albeit fun), but finding a vendor that supports the small farm, ethically-raised meat mentality, does matter. I don’t know a thing about the Australian meat, but I feel like I all but met the Kinderhook cow. This saying may be old news, but you really are what you eat. And personally, I would love to be a happy cow at Kinderhook Farm.
Simple But Excellent Burgers
1 pound ground beef (we used 85/15)
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- Pre-heat a grill or grill pan.
- The ground beef should be thawed, but cold. Put it in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl, mix the bread crumbs, parsley, salt, and pepper, and then pour over the meat. Crack the egg onto the meat and add the onions.
- Mix well with your hands and form into 4 patties (or 5 smaller ones).
- Grill for about 3 minutes per side for a medium rare burger.