Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Where's the beef?

I canNOT wait to see what the lovely and gracious Karen and the lovely and gracious Mary Jo blog about today's events. Make sure you ask Karen about the "St. Ignatius Battery Charger."

I'll leave it at that until they blog first.

That all said, I had to swing back after dropping them off at the airport because I had to feed assorted people.

Which, pending their review of today, is the subject of this post.

Your task for this week is simple, but hardly easy.

Find yourself a GOOD butcher. This means an independent operator (either an independent shop, or a good butcher dept. in an independent market), because moving plastic-wrapped sirloins and boneless/skinless chicken breasts from the back to the refrigerated case is not the same thing. You need someone who can score you the good stuff, and the hard-to-find stuff. You may want breast of veal, or a saddle of lamb or free-range capon or Kobe (or Hereford, or whatever) beef, or some unusual cuts like flatirons or hanger steaks.

You need to find someone who knows his (or her) stuff. You need to hack away the distance between the front end of your personal food chain and you. You need to find a butcher that doesn't sell "ground beef" but rather, sells beef that he (or, again, she) will grind to your specs on the spot.

It is one of the pillars of food sense that the fewer the number of people involved with your food, the better it will taste and the better it will be for you. Food that has been lovingly -- even passionately -- raised will give you a huge-@$$ jump on getting something delicious on the plate. And a good butcher is one person who can get you that.

Find one and cultivate that relationship. A butcher who is both knowledgeable and on your side will let you know when something beautiful has come in, when you should be guided into considering a different something, or when you don't need that super-pricy cut.

Of course, this is likely easier in the big cities that have enough of a population to make such a butcher establishment economically viable. But even mid-sized locales still have a good butcher shop somewhere. All you need do is find it.

To show you the lengths I will go, here is a link to "my" butcher shop:

If you look carefully, you'll see it is WAY THE [HECK] across the state*. It is, in fact, an easy 90 minute drive, on a quiet stretch of interstate, with nary a curve and, entre nous, the 90 min. drive usually winds up being ~60-75 minutes.

Anyway, this is one of the few full-service butcher shops around and it's easily the very best one in FL. Given the distance, I can't feasibly get there every week, but since I have business in that part of FL, I can get there once a month. I usually take a cooler and, at the Walgreen's just two doors down, I load up on ice. I normally grab something fancy-schmancy (but quick) for dinner that night and a few other things which Jim P. or Jimmy P. will vacuum pack. This way the beef (or lamb) can "wet age" without problems** and keep for a couple of weeks. They will also ship, but I much prefer to pick and choose the specific bits and pieces I get.

Also, they will often have specials not featured on the website.

Having said THAT, their Kobe beef is a (relative) steal. Especially if you get the less pressworthy cuts. Whenever they have any available, I like their Kobe "London Broil" shaved thin for carpaccio. Their Kobe Top Sirloin (at a sort-of manageable $12/lb) makes a killer roast beef***, and their Kobe NY Strip is awesome (but $40/lb. is still expensive even if the going rate, say at Allen Brothers in Chicago, is around $116/lb. OUCH!) and finally, their whole Kobe beef tenderloin is glorious and a "bargain" (compared to the going rate--Allen Brothers is $175/lb!--it's practically free) at only $45/lb. Naturally, at these prices, Kobe Tenderloin & NY Strips are in the "blue moon" category, but their London Broil ($9/lb.) and tri-tip and Top Sirloin are quite manageable in an "every once in a while" way, and not at an outrageous premium over comparable supermarket offerings and pretty much the same as "regular" prime beef (to which it is superior in every regard).

Jimmy P's also even make their own hot dogs with a real casing which is indispensable in making a hot dog edible, IMCO. Anyway, when I go there it's for something special-ish, otherwise I go to a local independent market's butcher department for more everyday (but still excellent) stuff, such as Niman Ranch or Bell & Evans poultry. It's not as idyllic as the Naples place, but it would still be an unalloyed delight were it my only option.

The point is that if you live anywhere near a medium-sized (or larger) city, you HAVE such a butcher shop nearby. You should throw them your business. If you don't, eventually you will have your choices whittled down to whatever XYZ MegaMarket Inc.'s cow-extruding facility in Marmot Teat, WI can profitably crank out in a "case ready" (i.e. plastic-wrapped preportioned) format. We will lose artisans, we will lose a whole host of great recipes from great cuisines, we will lose the ability to make specific requests, we will lose the advice and advocacy and experience of said artisans, and what few high end places survive will charge an arm and a leg--and possibly a firstborn--for even the most pedestrian offerings to those seeking out edibles that actually taste like something.


A few days ago, I had to skip across the state to look in on a client. So, I took the opportunity to pass by this most excellent butcher shop. Now, the first time I popped by, I went nuts and I practically brought home half a cow. These days I'm more moderate in my outlook. I usually bring some "flat iron" steaks and a Top Sirloin or tri-tip or ribeyes.

Since we'd be dining en famille, I decided to splurge and prepare a Kobe tenderloin with Balsamic-caramelized Onions and Aged Gorgonzola.

Take your tenderloin and, if needed, peel off all the "silver skin" and extraneous fat. Season generously with coarse salt (I use sea salt, kosher's good too) and then wrap t-i-g-h-t-l-y in plastic/cling wrap. This will keep the juices in, and the osmosis effect will transport the seasoning deep into the beef. Set aside for +/- a couple of hours at room temperature.

Then, mince a fat clove of garlic (or two small ones) Then you chop a 1/4 onion.Get a pat of butter (not the cultured stuff, which lends an off-flavor when cooked, but plain sweet butter.)Melt said pat.Add the onion/garlic and cook on low until translucent. Add a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar (nothing super aged or too artisanal...however, if all you have is the stuff that's barely aged or too industrial, you may cut this with a splash of orange juice) and for this recipe, I prefer the 4-6 year old stuff. Your onion/Balsamic thing ought look, at the halfway point, like this: Preheat your grill. If you use charcoal, do this on one side as hot as you can get it, on the other just "pretty warm." If it's a gas grill, just crank it up full blast. I have the latter, and therefore I do this.

Take out your beef (this also works with flank or large-ish sirloins, etc.) Pat it dry. This is crucial. Rub LIGHTLY with oil (I used EVOO, you do whatev.) and season with pepper (or whatever you use). The oil layer is key because it helps the seasonings adhere thereto.Take a roasting thermometer.Put the sensor parallel to the flat of the beef, at the thickest part, to the furthest extent it can go.
Start cooking over VERY high heat. The moment you have proper sear marks, flip. Once the other side is equally seared, turn the heat as low as possible and cover. Once the temperature sensor reads 130F, turn the heat off completely. The temperature will have thermal momentum and continue to rise. If you did this right AND you want your beef medium-rare (and you do), the temperature will reach 140F and go no further. Take out some sort of green leafy thing. Normally, I'd opt for something a bit sharper (arugula, etc.) but this is what I had.Plate it up.Beef is good to go!Cut beef into approximately 1/2" (1cm) slices on the bias (i.e. "slanted") because oval-ish slices look snazzier than round ones. Note how the pink at the tip (the most cooked part) extends almost to the crust, without a layer of ruined overdone well-done between the surface and the medium-rare bits. This is exactly what you want. The heat from the beef will begin to wilt the leaves. You want that also.Take +/- 3 oz. of aged Gorgonzola. ("Stravecchio") If you can only get the young, creamy kind you'll probably need more. The old stuff is much sharper and so less is needed.Place a generous spoonful of the balsamic onion thing atop the beef. Cut t-h-i-n slices of the Gorgonzola and plop them on the onion thing. Like so:
We opted for a medium-aged (this was a well-rested 2000) Rioja.The beef was truly decadent. I can't see myself getting $43/lb. beef more than once a year at the very most, but it really was sensational stuff. My oldest wanted to print up menus and then he suggested we put "the story of the cow"on the back, so everyone was brought up to speed with the story of how these Japanese cows are massaged with sake or rice bran oil, fed copious amounts of beer, etc.
(This is my wife's plate. That little slip of a girl demolished it.)

There you have it.


* OK, so it's a narrow state.
** In the case of a roast, I like to give it some dry-age time of my own, usually 4 days in the fridge.
*** This works beautifully with "regular" beef.


  • At 10:45 PM, April 19, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Joe, moan....that looks incredible--thanks for the recipe, the lesson on searing,--ah-h-h-h gorgonzola! the tutorial on butchery--and a PERFECT day.

    You Carmelite sisters were inspirational--thank you again for a wonderful event.

  • At 10:56 PM, April 19, 2008 , Blogger Joe said...

    We're all thrilled to bits that you guys came down! You'll have to come again to meet the rest of our Jesuits.


  • At 9:39 AM, April 21, 2008 , Blogger Karen said...

    I want to meet the rest of the Garcias!

    I will blog about it as soon as I turn "Vows" in.

    Meanwhile, that thing you made looks almost as good as what I had at Chili's. (Next time I want to eat dinner at YOUR house.)

  • At 9:39 AM, April 21, 2008 , Blogger Karen said...

    Oh yeah, and like MJ said, it was a perfect day! Until I couldn't find my car in the Orlando airport parking lot and walked around with the noodle basket for an hour.

    I loved the Carmelites and now I know what I want to wear when I'm buried.


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