From the Butcher’s Block
Many people walk into to a butcher shop or grocery store prepared to purchase only one or two cuts of meat. Often it is based on what they grew up with, and what was used in family recipes. Little do they know, there are so many muscles that can be a substitute within the same cooking method, and are just as delicious and worth getting to know. I grew up in a house in which we would process and freeze a whole animal, like wild game – elk, deer. Or my mom would split a whole cow with a neighbor. But one whole animal would last us the entire year until the next hunting season. (Smaller game, like chickens and duck, were cooked and consumed immediately.) We categorized what we stored in the freezer by cooking process, not by cut. This is the most efficient method.
The process is very similar to our systems at Blackbelly. Our ranchers are our neighbors and friends. We butcher and sell an entire animal before we have another of the same kind come through the door. For example, Clint Bucker from Boulder Lamb, supplies us 100% grass fed, Boulder County, sustainably raised animals, in low quantities.
Honoring everything that goes into raising each animal by promoting less “popular” cuts of meat and the importance of consuming the whole animal, supports a sustainable food system for the rancher, butcher, and community.
Nate’s tip: Don’t assume anything when you approach the butcher counter. Always ask where a particular type of meat is raised and about the animals’ diet and living conditions.
Nate’s featured cut: Lamb shank
For a dramatic presentation, lamb shanks are sometimes cooked whole. You see this most frequently in restaurants, as it can be daunting to do in a home kitchen. The whole shank is large in size, and doesn’t easily fit into something like a crock pot. So, ask your butcher to cut it “osso bucco– style.” This is cross cut, with the bone left in, and normally measures about 2-3 inches thick. The cut makes the meat easier to sear, adding flavor and viscosity to the broth, since the bone marrow is exposed. It yields about 50% of the raw weight in meat, so it’s a great protein when the meat is not the only element of focus (such as in the case of a steak).
Braising is a favorite cooking method for this cut. This time of year we are craving foods that are comforting, and richer, intense flavors are more palatable. Simply brown meat in oil, and cook in a tightly- covered vessel in liquid broth (which can include wine, tomatoes, onions, different herbs and vegetables). Cook either on the stovetop, in a slow cooker, or in the oven. The key is to keep the temperature low and cook for many hours to render tenderness. Similar cuts in which you could apply the same technique are the neck and shoulder.