Food & Health Archive


Cooked Without Heat: Michael Pollan on Sandor Katz & Fermentation

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

In his latest book, Cooked, Michael Pollan takes the reader on a journey through history, explaining the evolution of cooking using the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth.

In the Earth section of Cooked, Pollan explores just how deeply we’re connected to death, the earth itself, and “’the microcosmos’ – the biologist Lynn Margulis’s term for the unseen universe of microbes all around and within us.” Pollan also leans heavily on the expertise of Chelsea Green author Sandor Katz, the man who piqued his curiosity on fermentation.

In his inspired foreword to Katz’ bestselling and James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning book The Art of Fermentation, Pollan’s admiration of Katz and his skills as a teacher and ground-breaking “fermento” bubbles over. The same collegial admiration is found in Cooked, where Pollan talks about his own “first solo expedition into the wilds of the post-Pasteurian world” where he tested some of Katz’ recipes:

“After three weeks, I first opened my crock to assess the progress of my kraut, but the scent that wafted up from the fermenting pinkish mass put me back on my heels. It was nasty. “Note of septic tank” would be a generous descriptor. In view of the off-putting scent, I wasn’t sure whether sampling the sauerkraut was a good idea, but in trying my best to channel Sandor Katz’s nonchalance, I held my nose and tasted it. It wasn’t terrible and I didn’t get sick. That was a relief, but…well, this seemed kind of a low bar for a food. Judith compounded my disappointment by requesting that I get the crock out of the house as soon as possible. I wondered if I should throw out the whole batch and start over.

But before doing anything rash, I decided to check in with Sandor Katz. He advised me to stick with my kraut a little longer.”

After an explanation of the “funky period” that ferments can go through, Pollan decided that “Sandor was right. A month later, when I dared to open the crock again, the stink was gone.”

Pollan goes on to describe Katz’s anticharismatic, unpretentious presentation after attending one of his many fermentation workshops, as seen in the video below. In one episode from the book, Pollan recalls attending a Fermentation Festival with Sandor, where despite his seeming reserve, “Sandor Katz was a major celebrity, unable to cross a room or field without stopping to sign an autograph or pose for a picture.”

For nearly a decade — when his first book Wild Fermentation was published — Katz has been criss-crossing the country, if not the world, to lead workshops on fermentation. Pollan aptly dubs Katz the “The Johnny Appleseed of Fermentation” and names him as likely the most famous of the growing league of fermentos.

It’s a legacy well-deserved for the understated Katz, and we can see why this combination draws Pollan to to Katz, especially given how in Cooked the writer explores man’s manipulation of culture and nature through cooking, while Katz “regards his work as a form of “cultural revival” – by which he has in mind both meaning for the word “culture, the microbial and the human.”

Whether you’re grilling, making sauce or reductions, baking breads, or fermenting anything from cheese to pickles, you are connecting with the elements, your culture, and its food.

Acres U.S.A.: Food Rights Under Fire with David Gumpert

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Increasingly, consumers are turning away from mass-produced and excessively processed foods, and seeking out local farmers and neighbors for antibiotic- and hormone-free milks, meats, and organic produce they can trust.

Meanwhile, as food-borne illnesses continue to appear in the industrialized U.S. food supply, regulators are cracking down on small-scale farmers.

In his new book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat, author David Gumpert tracks the increasing tension between consumers and regulators, industrial agriculture and small farmers, and what it means for access to, and the distribution of, raw, whole foods in the United States.

Chris Walters of Acres U.S.A. sat down with Gumpert and talked about some of the recent farmers who have gone on trial, and the significance of this emergent battle over access to food. In the interview, Gumpert comments on the growth of the movement, “We have a lot more awareness about food safety. Some might call it fearmongering about food safety, but certainly there’s been a lot more attention given to food safety beginning in the mid- to late 1990s, and it has grown in importance and attention. It has become a big issue in the legal arena.”

In this wide-ranging interview, Walters and Gumpert offer salient details of some of the larger trials and incidences of government attacks and retaliation on farmers and private food clubs, but also examine the fragile future of our right to buy private food; a right that earlier generations never thought could be jeopardized.

“We have a long tradition in this country of people being able to obtain food privately. Until the supermarkets sprang up after World War II, that’s how people obtained a lot of their food, direct from farmers or other food producers or small stores that obtained it directly from farmers. I grew up in Chicago and we always had food people coming around. In fact, even in suburban Boston through the 1970s we had a chicken man, an egg man and a milk man,” notes Gumpert.

Acres U.S.A. is giving Chelsea Green readers exclusive pre-release access to the interview. If you haven’t already, take a look at Acres U.S.A. – A Voice for Eco-Agriculture and consider a subscription – support another remarkable independent publisher with a focus on sustainable agriculture.

Read the full interview below.

Acres U.S.A. Interview with David Gumpert: Food Rights Under Fire by Chelsea Green Publishing

Summer Green Beans: 4 Ways to Preserve Using Salt

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

It’s summer time and green beans are officially in season. Yum! It’s so tempting to gobble them all up, but now is a great time to think about simple ways to preserve your food.

Here’s to months of delicious green beans ahead!

The following is an excerpt from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by the Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante. It has been adapted for the Web.

Above a certain concentration of salt in food, microorganisms cannot develop and thus the preservation of food is assured.

While preserving with salt seems a relatively ancient process, it is not as old as the methods we have described so far. At one time, salt was mainly used for preserving meat, fish, and butter; every rural household had a salt tub. Today, salt still is used for fish, such as cod or anchovies, as well as for pork and butter. Among vegetables, we sometimes salt green beans, herbs, and vegetable mixtures for soup stock.

There are two main disadvantages to preserving food with salt:

1. The salt must be removed from most foods before consuming them, which usually requires lengthy soaking and repeated rinsing that also eliminate some of the nutrients;

2. If the salt is not completely removed, we risk consuming more than is considered healthy these days.

However, for preserving foods that we eat in small quantities, or that don’t need much soaking and rinsing, salt has its place. It is one of the best ways to preserve fish, for which other methods tend to be less convenient. Green beans seem to be the vegetable that best lends itself to being preserved with salt. There are many versions of this method of preservation, and we have included in this chapter several of the most common ones. Yet, among all the foods preserved with salt, mixed vegetables are perhaps the most appealing: no salt need be removed; they do not cause you to eat too much salt; and they make instant stock for soup.

 

Bottled Green Beans

  • Green beans
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • Widemouthed jars

String and wash the beans. Pack them tightly in jars (preferably with a wide mouth) and cover with water. Change the water every day for three days.

On the fourth day, replace the water with a brine made of one-half cup of salt to one quart of water. Finish with a capful of oil and close the bottles.

Mr. Buisson, Riorges
Green Beans in Brine

  • Green beans
  • Salt
  • A saucepan
  • A stoneware pot

Make a brine using one-half cup of salt to one quart of water. Boil and let it cool. String, wash, and blanch the beans in boiling water for five minutes, and let them cool. Put them in a stoneware pot, cover them with brine, and check now and then to see that they are always well covered in brine.

Soak the beans in water for a few minutes just before cooking them.

Marie-Françoise Lavigne, St. Ismier
Green Bean Halves with Coarse Salt

  • Green beans
  • Coarse salt (1 cup per 2 lbs. of beans)
  • A bowl
  • Canning jars and lids

Break the beans in half, and put them in a bowl with the salt. Leave them to marinate for three days, stirring occasionally.

Next, put the beans into canning jars (used rubber seals are okay). Fill the jars to the top and seal them. Do not transfer any liquid from the bottom of the bowl to the jars, nor should you remove any salt from the beans as you pack them in.

These beans will keep for three years. To use them, rinse the beans under the tap, before parboiling in a large quantity of water. Rinse the beans once again under the tap, and then finish cooking them.

Maurice Valle, Neufchâtel-en-Bray
Green Beans in a Salt Pot

 

  • Green beans
  • Table salt
  • An earthenware or stoneware pot or wooden barrel

Use only young and tender green beans, preserving them as you harvest them. Using the following method, they taste as good as fresh ones, and much better than frozen ones. Another great advantage: You don’t have to prepare all the beans in one day.

Put some salt in the bottom of a clean container (an earthenware or stoneware pot, or a wooden barrel). Fine table salt is best, but coarse salt will do.

Quickly wash and dry the beans. Remove the stems and the strings. Put a layer of beans in the container, packing them down carefully but firmly with a wooden stick or a bottle.

As you harvest additional beans from your garden, continue adding salt and beans in alternating layers until the container is full. Cover the container and store it in a cool place. Eventually, a brine will form, soaking the beans. Do not discard this brine—it’s the essential ingredient in the preservation process—but from time to time remove any film that has appeared on the surface.

When winter comes, use the beans as you need them. Rinse first in cold water for five minutes; then soak for two hours (not longer). Cook as usual.

Martine Saez-Mercadier, Camarès

 

New from our Publishing Partners

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Food. Water. Energy. Raw materials. Resources are limited and in high demand. Cultivating the ability to harness, reuse, and replenish is essential to sustaining a healthy planet.

Since 1984, Chelsea Green has been the go-to publisher for people and communities seeking sustainable solutions to systemic problems. Along with our own authors and books, we are proud to promote and feature books produced by like-minded, forward-thinking writers and publishers from around the world.

Whether they’re cooking up delicious local and seasonal foods, conserving woodlands, or collecting rainwater, our publishing partners offer the same quality, hands-on advice Chelsea Green is known to publish. Below are a few of the most recent books we’ve added to our catalog; more will be arriving in the coming weeks.

– –

Farm-Fresh and Fast Cover

The makers of nationally best selling From Asparagus to Zucchini have done it again. FairShare CSA Coalition brings us practical culinary techniques and over 300 original recipes to the table with Farm-Fresh and Fast. Menu suggestions, flexible recipes and beautiful photographs and illustrations encourage creativity and inspiration for any cook to make the most of fresh, local produce throughout the seasons.
Living Wood Cover

Mike Abbot takes us along for his green woodworking journey in Living Wood. Now with visuals from his workshop at Brookhouse Wood, the fourth edition is a comprehensive guide to developing and managing a woodland facility and setting up a woodland workshop. Tips, projects, instructions and resources abound to get you started on your own green woodworking adventure.
Rainwater Harvesting Vol. 1 Cover

In its second edition, Rainwater Harvesting Vol. 1 provides even more integrated tools and concepts, along with updated illustrations to aid in the design and implementation of sustainable home water-harvesting systems.

Brad Lancaster offers simple, time-tested solutions to making better use of the water falling on properties. The tools and strategies presented have the potential to help homeowners replace nearly all their landscape water use with water derived from onsite sources: rainwater, stormwater runoff, and greywater.” —Water Engineering Australia

Lancaster’s latest project, American Oasis, builds on these techniques on a larger scale to revive and expand the traditions and heritage of water-harvesting in the American Southwest.

Community Resilience: Rebuild, Renew, Reform

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Increasingly, citizens are finding new and innovative ways to reclaim, if not rebuild, their food, energy, and financial systems — and with incredibly successful results.

How can you help your community join this growing relocalization movement and become more resilient?

Chelsea Green Publishing has partnered with Transition US and Post Carbon Institute to bring you Community Resilience Chats—a webinar series that delves into details essential for communities that are ready to take the necessary steps to reclaim their future. These chats stem from the Community Resilience Guides co-published by Post Carbon Institute and Chelsea Green.

In the first Community Resilience Chat, Philip Ackerman-Leist, author of Rebuilding the Foodshed, tackled the array of questions that arise in the face of the foodscape revolution. Missed it? Watch the video here:

The next chat is tentatively scheduled for July 24th at 11 AM (PST): Power From the People. Greg Pahl’s book fortifies community resilience through the planning, finance and production of reliable, renewable, clean, local energy for a sustainable future. Two of the people featured in the book will talk about how they launched community-based energy projects.

Coming Soon: Local Dollars, Local Sense. Michael Shuman’s perspective sheds light on rebooting the economy to meet the needs of investors and entrepreneurs for a healthy and secure local economy.

Want more? Chelsea Green is offering The Community Resilience Guide Series Set to keep you informed in the conversation on rebuilding clean food systems, creating renewable energy and reforming the economy as resilient community.

Summer Recipe: Suffer-free Succotash from Jessica Prentice

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Is your backyard garden positively bursting with ripe, red tomatoes? Have you been leaving your weekly CSA pickup weighed down with armloads of squash, greens, corn and root vegetables? If you’re in a warm climate harvest time is approaching, and you’re probably prepping for canning, cooking, preserving and gobbling down the abundance of the season. If you’re in a northern climate and your summer is just starting to get cranking, stow this succotash recipe from Full Moon Feast away to use in the coming weeks.

“The ancient Celts and many Native American peoples called the lunar phase that fell on the cusp of summer and fall—when the grains were ripe in the field and ready to be harvested— the Corn Moon. But translating the Celtic moon name and the Native American moon names as the Corn Moon creates some confusion

Corn in North America and corn in Europe are two different things. In the United States, the word corn refers the species Zea mays, the tasseled plant that produces cobs of kernels in earthy hues of yellow, white, blue, and red. In Northern Europe the Germanic word corn means simply “grain.” When Northern European colonists first encountered the plant Zea mays that had been cultivated and developed over many millennia by the indigenous peoples of this continent, they named it Indian corn, meaning Indian grain. Over the centuries the plant became known simply as corn in American English, while barley, wheat, rye, and other familiar cereal crops came to be referred to as grains. Early on, many colonial dishes that made use of Indian corn were given names like Indian pudding (a dessert made of cornmeal and sweetened with molasses) and rye’n’Injun bread, which was made of rye flour and cornmeal. In most other Englishspeaking countries, what we call corn here in America is called either maize or sweet corn, to distinguish it from grain.

For many of us who grew up in the United States, summertime evokes images of corn— the sweet, juicy variety that can be eaten right off the cob, dripping with butter, at a barbecue or a summer beach house. I can’t seem to get enough of it once the season starts. But while our associations conjure feelings of carefree, lazy days, for the peoples that called this the Corn Moon, corn was a serious affair. Many American Indian moon names reflected what was happening in the cornfields. You can find a Planting Corn Moon, a Green Corn Moon, a Moon When Women Weed Corn, and a Moon When the Corn Is in Silk in various languages. For both American Indians and the Celts, this time of year heralded the ripening of grain. So while the Corn Moon of the Celts and the Corn Moon of indigenous peoples referred to slightly different harvests, they came down to the same thing: The Corn Moon meant survival and sustenance. It meant that the sacred, staple grain, the agricultural foundation of the community, would soon be ready for harvest. The crops ensured that there would be food to last through the winter. A year’s worth of planting and tending had been successful.

Suffer-free Succotash
Serves 3–4
The word succotash comes from a Narragansett word, m’sickquatash—with variants sukquttahash and msakwitash—which apparently meant “fragments” and referred to a stew of various ingredients, always including corn. This is my version.

Ingredients:

1 cup dry or fresh shelling beans, preferably white or pale green (lima beans, butter beans, or gigante beans are ideal)
1/2 dried ancho chile pepper (or other mild, dried chile), without stem or seeds
1/2 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter, olive oil, lard, tallow, or other traditional fat
1 medium leek or onion, chopped or diced
1 large (or 2 small) sweet pepper(s), red, orange, or yellow, diced (bell, gipsy, or other)
3 ears of corn, kernels cut off the cob
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/2 cup raw cream or crème fraîche
1 or 2 scallions, minced

Procedure:

1. Reconstitute the ancho chile pepper in the boiling water by pouring the water over the chile in a bowl and letting it soak while you begin the recipe.
2. Heat a large skillet or shallow pan over medium high heat and add the butter or oil.
3. When the butter or oil are hot, add the onion or leek, and sauté for about two minutes.
4. Add the bell pepper and continue to sauté for another couple of minutes.
5. Lift the ancho chile out of the hot water and mince it small. Add the chile mince to the sauté and stir. Allow to cook for a minute or so, then add the chile soaking water to the sauté (strain out seeds).
6. Drain the beans and reserve the cooking water. Add the beans to the sauté and bring mixture to a simmer. Add bean cooking water as needed to keep the mixture wet and saucy.
7. After about 5-10 minutes, when the mixture is soft, add the corn kernels and cook for another minute or two to heat through, and add salt and pepper to taste.
8. Remove from heat and stir in cream or crème fraiche.
9. Serve as a stew with chopped scallions on top, or as a side dish to fried chicken, pork chop, or other meat.”

Jessica Prentice is the author of Full Moon Feast and is co-author of the Local Foods Wheels.

Watch Live: The Necessary (r)Evolution for Sustainable Food Systems Conference

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Want to know how to create a climate-resilient foodshed? Interested in all things fermented? How about exploring the links between farmers and consumers?

Join Chelsea Green authors Sandor Katz, author of the New York Times Bestseller and Beard Foundation Book Award winner The Art of Fermentation and Gary Paul Nabhan, author of the recently-released Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, and many more food revolutionaries.

Live streaming begins: Thursday, June 27 at 1:00pm (EST)

Live video for mobile from Ustream

Raids, Crackdowns, and Armed Seizures: What Consumers Confront to Access Real Food

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Here’s the scenario: You decide to start selling the goods from your farm so that your community can enjoy fresh, unprocessed food from a local source. Somehow, the government finds out. How do they respond? Do they…

A)  Applaud you for your entrepreneurial spirit?
B)  Ask you to help them spread the word about other cow shares and co-ops in the area?
C)  Tell you that you could face jail time for privately selling food to local consumers?
D)  Take you away in handcuffs?

If you guessed A or B, wrong! If you’re Rawesome Foods, your answer is D. If you’re Alvin Shlangen or Amish dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger, then the government handed you C (in the form of a lawsuit).

Think you control the right to choose what you eat? Think again. “In the name of food safety…the U.S. government has declared war on people who would dare to exercise their most fundamental human right to choose their food,” writes Joel Salatin in the Foreword to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights by journalist David E. Gumpert.

Salatin continues, “The fact that neither the Declaration of Independence nor the U.S. Constitution ever mentions the word food indicates that it was such a ubiquitous and common part of human experience that the framers of our country couldn’t imagine its restriction. Like air for breathing or sunshine for growing plants.”

This unprecedented government regulation and control has spurred activists and eaters across the country to cry out against such crackdowns and demand the right to choose what they put in their bodies.

Why are hard-working normally law-abiding farmers aligning with urban and suburban consumers to flaunt well-established food safety regulations and statutes? Why are parents, who want only the best for their children, seeking out food that regulators say could be dangerous? And, why are regulators and prosecutors feeling so threatened by this trend?

This erosion in the confidence of the food system carries serious implications. It financially threatens large corporations if long-established food brands come under prolonged and severe public questioning. It threatens economic performance if foods deemed “safe” become scarcer, and thus more expensive. And it is potentially explosive politically if too many people lose confidence in the professionalism of the food regulators who are supposed to be protecting us from tainted food, and encourages folks to exit the public food system for private solutions like the consumers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, and elsewhere. Just look at the vituperative corporate response to recent consumer-led campaigns to label foods with genetically-modified ingredients.

As more consumers become intent on making the final decisions on what foods they are going to feed themselves and their families, and regulators become just as intent on asserting what they see as their authority over inspecting and licensing all food, ugly scenarios of agitated citizens battling government authorities over access to food staples seem likely to proliferate. It’s a recipe for a new kind of rights movement centered on the most basic acts—what we choose to eat.

“With incredible clarity and masterful storytelling, David Gumpert leads us on a journey into the trenches of America’s battle over food rights,” writes Ben Hewitt, author of The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food. “No one knows this terrain and understands the implications as thoroughly as Gumpert, and the result is a book that will by turns enrage and inspire you. The battle for the right to nourish our bodies with real food must be won, and this book is an essential part of making that happen.”

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat is available now and on sale for 35% off.

Read the Introduction below.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: Introduction by Chelsea Green Publishing

Save 35% on Our Recent Spring Releases

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Resilience, Regeneration, and Rights — these are the three “Rs” covered by several recent releases.

Whether you want to read an in-depth guide to personal preparedness and homestead resiliency; how to grow food in hotter, drier climates; save money (and the environment) with a green home makeover; or learn more about the emerging battle over food sovereignty in the U.S., we have the right book for you.

Since 1984, Chelsea Green has published books at the vanguard of sustainable living and our latest offerings keep that tradition alive and thriving. Aside from the three most recent releases featured below, check out additional sale titles from our Spring list to inspire you in your backyard or your community.

Happy reading from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing!

P.S. In case you missed it, The New York Times profiled The New Horse-Powered Farm and its author Stephen Leslie in a feature about draft power as a re-emerging trend in farming. You can see Leslie at work in the fields with his Fjord’s in this special Times slideshow

The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach

The Resilient Farm and Homestead Cover
Retail: $40.00
Discount: $26.00

The Resilient Farm and Homestead will be essential reading for the serious prepper as well as for everyone interested in creating a more resilient lifestyle or landscape.”—Carol Deppe, author of The Resilient Gardener

“This intelligent, challenging book, rooted somewhere between back-to-the-land idealism and radical survivalism, sees resilience as both planting and building for the use of future generations …. ”—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights: The Escalating Battle Over Who Decides What We Eat

ife, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights Cover
Retail: $19.95
Discount: $
12.97

Foreword by Joel Salatin

“With incredible clarity and masterful storytelling, David Gumpert leads us on a journey into the trenches of America’s battle over food rights … the result is a book that will by turns enrage and inspire you. The battle for the right to nourish our bodies with real food must be won, and this book is an essential part of making that happen.” —Ben Hewitt, author of The Town That Food Saved

 

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land Cover
Retail: $29.95
Discount: $19.47

Foreword by Bill McKibben

“Gary Nabhan’s latest book is indispensable. Everyone who grows food—make that, everyone who eats food—should be grateful he wrote it. An homage to old wisdom and to the latter-day soil magicians who are Nabhan’s living muses, it is a rich herbarium of delicious, hardy sustenance and a manual for our future.”—Alan Weisman, author, The World Without Us 

New Books: 35% Off Until June 19th

The Greened House Effect Cover

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The New Horse-Powered Farm Cover

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The Grafter's Handbook Cover

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Discount codes do not combine with other offers—our books already on  sale for example. Free shipping for orders $100 or more is applied after the discount is applied.

How to Cook the Perfect, Tender, Grass Fed Steak

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Today is Memorial Day, one of America’s first “BBQ Holidays” of the year. It’s finally warm enough to grill outside in most of the country, and almost everyone has the day off to bask in the glory of the coming summer.

Treat your tastebuds to an ethical feast: grill up some grass fed steak this year! You’ll probably pay a little more for your t-bones, but you’ll be supporting small-scale farmers and those who use the most planet-friendly methods of raising livestock possible. In fact, if you support truly well-managed grass fed beef farmers, you don’t need to feel guilty at all. After all, haven’t you heard that cows can save the planet? It’s true…

But in the meantime, you probably need some pointers on how to treat your premium, pasture-raised porterhouse cuts or filet mignons. Grass fed beef is a different animal than your bargain-priced grocery store steak.

Here to help you cook it to perfection is farmer and cookbook author Shannon Hayes. Check out her books Long Way on a Little, and The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook for more amazing recipes.

By Shannon Hayes

Last month brought two splendid, nearly 30-month old steers through the cutting room for the fall harvest. Our freezers were filled with glorious, full-flavored, prime beef. And I mean prime. Incredibly, there are still folks who assume beef cannot marble without the aid of grain fattening. Balderdash, I say! The steaks coming out of the cutting room throughout the late fall have been deeply marbled and rich in flavor. Typically, early December in the Northeast has many customers leaving the steaks off their shopping lists in favor of the stew meat and roasts. But those who pause over our beef display just long enough to notice the marbling seize upon the rib eyes and porterhouses…Beef that approaches 30 months in age results in grassfed steak that is truly magnificent. The trick is to know how to handle it properly, whether you are cooking it indoors, or outside.

The simplest, most commonly heard distinction made between grassfed and factory-farmed meat is that grassfed is leaner. As we’ve just seen, that is not always the case. The real difference lies in the fact that, by virtue of a beef animal’s active and healthy life, there is true muscle integrity in the meat. This is wildly different from the feedlot animals, which get little or no exercise, resulting in more flaccid (and, hence less flavorful) cuts. This does not mean that grassfed steaks are less tender - on the contrary. Cooked more gently, grassfed meat is wonderfully tender. The healthy muscle texture does, however, mean that grassfed steaks will be more variable than grainfed meats. Taste and texture of steaks will vary based on breed, farming practices, pastures, and individual animal characteristics. Thus, the trick to cooking a delicious steak is to work with the variability and take advantage of that beautiful muscle quality.

We should be treating this meat as “tenderly” in the kitchen or on the grill as the farmers treated the animals in the fields. When cooking a grassfed steak, we want to achieve a delicious sear that creates a pleasant light crust on the exterior of the meat, then allow it to finish cooking at a much lower temperature; this allows the naturally-occurring sugars to caramelize on the surface, while protecting those muscle fibers from contracting too quickly. Tough grassfed steaks result from over-exposure to high heat, which causes the muscle fibers to contract tightly and become chewy and overly dry.

Keeping these principles in mind, below are two techniques for cooking a fantastic steak, using the same seasonings. The first technique, taken from The Farmer and the Grill, is for working outdoors with open flames, my preferred method, YEAR ROUND. If you plan on winter grilling, be sure to check out the list of tips for safe winter grilling that appear at the end of this article. (And now for a shameless plug: The Farmer and the Grill thoroughly covers how to cook all the different cuts of grassfed and pastured meats out on the grill; plus it thoroughly explores ecologically responsible grilling practices…which actually result in better tasting and healthier meats. And hey! It’s even printed on recycled paper…Anyone in need of an ecologically-sound, socially responsible and inexpensive holiday gift???)

The second technique is taken from my newest cookbook, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously. Much to my surprise, not every family on the North American continent has access to an outdoor grill – hard to believe! Thus, in an effort to include you in the thrill that comes from eating the best-tasting steak available, I’ve included an indoor steak recipe that guarantees your grassfed meat will remain tender and juicy. Enjoy!

THE BEST STEAK – OUTDOORS

Recipe adapted from Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…and for saving the planet, one bite at a time, by Shannon Hayes

(The amount of seasoning you will use will vary based on the size of your steak. If it is close to one pound, use less. If it is closer to 2 pounds, use more.)

  • 1-2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Either 1 sirloin, sirloin tip, tri-tip, top round or London Broil, rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, top loin (NY Strip) or tenderloin (filet mignon) steak. Steaks should be at least 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the steak, then allow the meat to come to room temperature while you prepare the grill.

Start the grill and warm it until it is hot. If you are using a gas grill, turn off all but one of the burners once it has come up to temperature. If you are using charcoal, be sure all the coals have been raked to one side. Use the hand test: the grate will be hot enough when you can hold your palm 3-4 inches above the metal for no more than three seconds.

Sear the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side directly over the flame, with the lid down. Then, move the steaks to the part of grill that is not lit. Set the lid in place and allow the steaks to cook, without flipping them, until they reach 120-135 degrees**, about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the steak. Remove the steaks to a platter and allow them to rest a few minutes before serving.

THE BEST STEAK – INDOORS

Recipe taken from Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, by Shannon Hayes

(The amount of seasoning you will use will vary based on the size of your steak. If it is close to one pound, use less. If it is closer to 2 pounds, use more.)

  • 1-2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter, tallow or rendered lamb fat
  • Either 1 sirloin, sirloin tip, tri-tip, top round or London Broil, rib eye, porterhouse, t-bone, top loin (NY Strip) or tenderloin (filet mignon) steak. Steaks should be at least 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inches thick.

Combine the salt, pepper and garlic in a small bowl. Rub the mixture into both sides of the steak then allow the meat to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees, then heat a large cast iron skillet or other oven-proof skillet over a high flame. Once the skillet is so hot that you can see a little smoke rising off of it, add the butter or fat. Sear the steak for two minutes on each side. Turn off the flame, and insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the boneless edge of the steak – do not insert it into the top, as there is not enough thickness for the thermometer to take an accurate reading. Leaving the steak in the skillet, place it in the oven and allow it to finish cooking, about 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the cut, until the internal temperature reads 120-135 degrees.** Allow the meat to rest five minutes before carving and serving.

**Weren’t aware that grassfed meats have different internal doneness temps than grainfed? Get a handy magnetic grassfed temperature guide, the Don’t Overdo It Magnet, from grassfedcooking.com. They’re inexpensive, and you can feel good about them, because they are made by a small, locally owned factory in my community.

WINTER GRILLING TIPS

Yes, the indoor method described above is terrific. The meat is super-tender and juicy. But I prefer to season with a little smoke and flame. Thus, I’ve become one of those hard-core advocates of year-round grilling. If you are new to the idea, here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Choose a safe place for grilling outdoors. The garage may not be your best bet, since it probably contains a few explosives, such as cans of gas, or lawn mowers, chainsaws or other vehicles that contain gasoline. I actually have a screened-in porch with a brick floor that shelters me for winter grilling. That’s a little more deluxe than most folks have – just try to choose a sheltered spot that isn’t too close to your house.
  2. Keep the path to your grill site, and the area around it, free of snow and ice. It would be deeply annoying to ruin a perfectly good dinner because of a last-minute trip to the emergency room.
  3. Dress wisely. I find that my charcoal throws up a lot more sparks in the winter…or perhaps I’ve just noticed them more, because I’ve made the stupid mistake on occasion of wearing drapey and flammable garments, such as winter scarves, out to the coals. Learn from my experience, and don’t make the same stupid mistake.
  4. Limit your grilling repertoire. It’s cold out. Barbecuing is a culinary tradition from the warm south. Unless you have some pretty sophisticated equipment, and are some kind of BBQ Macho-Man (you know who you are), smoking and barbecuing are best relegated to summertime pleasures. Stick to the steaks, burgers and chops. They minimize the trips out to the grill, keeping the cold out of your house and out of your bones.
  5. Allow extra heat-up and cook times. Extreme outdoor temperatures will affect the warm-up and cooking time of your grill. To accommodate for this, always grill with the lid down, and monitor the internal temperature of your meat with an instant-read meat thermometer. If you are considering buying a gas grill and you plan to use it through the winter, buy the highest BTU rating you can afford. The cold truly slows the heat-up process. Also, high BTUs often accompany higher quality grills, which will do a better job holding in the heat during the winter months. If you are on a budget (like me) or just prefer the flavor (like me), a simple little Weber charcoal kettle will work beautifully for outdoor winter grilling (no, I do not work for them).
    Winter grilling is much easier if you are working with the ecologically responsible charwood (available in many hardware or natural food stores) because it is much easier to light, and it quickly gets a lot hotter than composite briquettes. I find that, with the exception of the most extreme weather conditions, I can keep to my normal cook times by simply using a few more coals in the fire. The bonus is that charwood is better for the planet.

    For more tips on ecologically responsible grilling, check out my book,
    The Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat…And for saving the planet, one bite at a time. 

** Weren’t aware that grassfed meats have different internal doneness temps than grainfed? Get a handy magnetic grassfed temperature guide, the Don’t Overdo It Magnet, from grassfedcooking.com. They’re inexpensive, and you can feel good about them, because they are made by a small, locally owned factory in my community.

Shannon Hayes is the host of grassfedcooking.com and radicalhomemakers.com. She is the author of Radical Homemakers, Farmer and the Grill, and The Grassfed Gourmet. Hayes works with her family producing grassfed and pastured meats on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.


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