This week I'm reposting some of the very best cookbook reviews of recent months. Meat by Pat LaFreida is simply at the very top of the meat cookbooks you will encounter. It is brilliantly illustrated and photographed. And the family recipes will become yours, too.
Pat LaFreida may be the most famous butcher in America. His book cover actually calls him the “most celebrated.” Famous or celebrated, Pat is without doubt mightily accomplished. He has led the transformation of his family business and now, with Meat, he’s given us an important, insightful, and at times intense survey of the food type that is central to American cuisine.
To make it very clear, over the past few years we have seen a number of fine cookbooks devote to meat. Pat’s Meat is unsurpassed and truly sets the standard for a book that offers both recipes and education.
No fish here, just four-footed and winged creatures appear. But that leaves plenty of territory to cover. Meat has a key subtitle: Everything You Need to Know. The book lives up to that claim with every page, every recipe, every chapter.
Today, in lower Manhattan, the thing to see is the High Line, the old elevated railroad line that has been converted to an exceptional park. When you walk it now, it’s like walking through a subway car, filled with people you have to take care to dodge. Go early in the morning and you can have some of the privacy a “park” was intended for. And, you will occasionally hear people say “meatpacking district” as they point to an upscale restaurant two stories down on street level.
Newcomers don’t know that the meatpacking district, now a focal point for these restaurants and fashion shops, was until a few years ago a 44 acre maze of interconnected buildings where 250 meat purveyors took in raw product, prepared the meats, and shipped throughout the city and beyond. Suzen and I often used to walk through those blocks, curious about the activity, and in the winter saw men standing on the loading platforms and warming themselves using fires in barrels fueled by chicken scraps, the fat and skin that had first fallen to the floor. Today, the loading docks are either gone or offer racks of designer dresses on sale.
Pat’s father actually used to climb up to that elevated railway, when it was a railway and not a park, a railway that snaked through the buildings of the West Village and Chelsea. The father would go into a parked railway car, buy a carcass, sling it over his shoulder and take it down to the LaFrieda space down in the maze. LaFrieda meets started in Brooklyn in 1922, migrated to the meat packing district, and then to a 1,500 square foot store at 10th and Bleeker. That store had about 20 restaurant customers in the city. Since 1994, Pat has spurred a bit of growth: now 35,000 square feet in New Jersey with shipments to 1,200 customers across the United States.
Pat’s dad, the man carrying carcasses across his shoulder, wanted Pat to have another life. So Pat was premed, and then finance. He worked for a stock brokerage company, hated it, and came home to take over the business. Meat is in his blood, his genes. It’s his passion and that passion is revealed in this wonderful book.
Meat is divided into six chapters:
Each chapter comes in four parts:
All About: typically six pages devoted to how long we’ve been consuming this meat, tips on how to buy, and advice on how to cook [There is also a photo of the complete animal, head to tail, cut right down the centerline of the animal, soft tissues removed, all bone and muscle remaining; this is the intense part of the book, but really makes clear where all the pieces come from!]
Cuts: up to a dozen pages with photos and descriptions of all the cuts you can get from the animal, including the offal [plus side trips like a photo array of dry-aged steaks from 7 to 120 days]
Butchering Techniques: several pages on how to bone, butterfly, tie up and other kitchen skills
Recipes: about ten grand ideas for each meat.
Remember that subtitle? Everything You Need to Know? This book layout is designed for that educational purpose. There are more pages devoted to the “about” than to recipes. If you want to understand meat, to finally be able to recognize the different cuts and distinguish them in the market, then all this information is indispensable. And understandable. You may have seen a chart of beef cuts, but still been mystified. Use Pat’s dozen pages of pictures and detailed text, and you’ll be a beef maven.
The recipes? What would you expect of an Italian-American family in the meat business? These are not recipes from Paris. These are recipes from grandmas in Brooklyn:
Granma LaFrieda’s Braised Stuffed Veal Breast
Pat’s Whole Shank Osso Buco
LaFreida Family Stuffed Lamb Crown Roast
Tuscan Fried Chicken with Lemon
Deep-Fried Turkey with Giblet Gravy
Biscotti-Stuffed Boneless Pork Loin
Braised Beef Shank Bourguignon
Standing Rib Roast with Dried Porcini Rub and Port Wine Reduction
Meat is a treasure for those of us, most of us, who dabble in protein. Suzen and I cooked from this book the first weekend we had it. What did we cook? Roast, steak, duck? Good heavens, no. It’s easy to know where to start. Look for tomorrow’s post on the Four-Meat Meatloaf. Simply the best meatloaf, and surely the prettiest, we’ve ever had.
The man knows about meat.
This week of 7/27/2015 to 7/31/2015 I'm repeating reviews for some of the best cookbooks we've looked at here at Cooking by the Book. Let's begin with the wonderful Shrubs.
Just to be clear, I love this book. I have tested more recipes out of this book than any other I have ever reviewed. And I’m not done.
If you drink beverages, alcoholic or not, if you enjoy flavored water of any kind, or just water, then Shrubs is a book for you, one you can employ every day. Since we all drink at least water, you really can benefit from Shrubs.
Oh, if you hadn’t noticed, this is a book about shrubs as in things you drink, not the things you plant. The story of drinkable shrubs is a cultural tour covering centuries. It’s such a good story, please indulge me.
There is an Arab word sharab that means to drink. From that root, and from food development, have come sherbet, sorbet, syrup. And the drinking form of shrub.
Drinking something sour, some vinegar based beverage or lemonade, is an age-old way to stimulate saliva which triggers your appetite and even alerts your digestive system to get ready. In alcohol-free Muslim lands, vinegar based beverages arose as a major form of liquid refreshment. Actually, Roman legionnaires drank water with vinegar, the vinegar serving to protect against contaminants in the water.
Besides vinegar beverages, in the Middle East the first sherbets were developed. Not ice cream-like desserts. Sherbets were, and still are, sugar tablets infused with citrus, herb or nut flavors. Dissolved in water, they are most refreshing.
In England, four hundred years ago these sherbet tablets were widely enjoyed. And then the changes began. The clever British started deleting the sugar part, emphasizing the citrus, and adding rum or brandy to these beverages. Then putting the concoction in barrels and the barrels on ships. Sailors drinking the beverages daily were said to be much happier. That was the contribution from the rum, I suppose. And the high levels of citrus solved an ongoing problem: scurvy.
By the time of the American Revolution, shrubs, as they were then called, were widely enjoyed. In Shrubs you can find the recipes followed by Benjamin Franklin, and Martha Washington.
At the same time, in fruit-rich North America, people began making fruit vinegars, literally adding fruit and vinegar together as a way of preserving the fruit. And, as a way of forming the base for a beverage. You could drink a fruit vinegar directly, but the tradition was to dilute with water, or something alcoholic.
In the 1800s, the two very different beverages began to overlap and become confused. The fruit vinegars also began to be called shrubs. The two co-existed for a hundred years, made at home or purchased in stores. In 1895 you could by a rum-based shrub at Bloomingdales for a mere $5 a gallon.
World War I spelled the end of the both shrubs as popular drinks. The alcohol versions were the victims of Prohibition. The vinegar versions faded as people got home refrigerators, or ice boxes, and started stocking them with sugar-rich sodas.
Shrubs languished until 2004 when a series of articles in The Wall Street Journal spoke of the magic of shrub cocktails and promoted the handful of boutique firms still making shrubs.
Author Michael Dietsch was intrigued then addicted. This book is the product of his years of experimentation in making shrubs from just about anything he could get his hands on. Not just sweet berries but also plums and cranberries, cucumber, ginger, and, it’s true, tomatillos.
Along the way, Michael refined the techniques for making a shrub, which can take 10 minutes if doing it with cucumbers but really needs three days if doing the blackberries with lime zest. He offers advice on what kind of vinegars to use and how to adjust the sugar and vinegar levels so you fashion your own personal shrub.
How do you make a shrub? If it’s cucumber, the cucumber, sugar and vinegar go into a blender. You zip, sieve, and enjoy. If it’s, say, berries, the berries and sugar are muddled together and sit for day. Then vinegar is added on Day 2. You can strain then and be done, but I prefer to let it all sit in the fridge for another day, then sieve it. Or, if you can take a little body in you beverage, keep all the little berry pieces. That unsieved blackberry shrub mixed in equal proportions with bourbon gives you a viscous cocktail with a symphony of flavors.
Shrubs has recipes for sweet shrubs based on fruits. Then a section of more savory and sour shrubs, offering recipes with tomatillos and golden beets with coriander. There are sections for new cocktails Michael has invented along the way plus updated classics now using his shrubs — like his Cherry-Mint Julep.
You can use the shrub with water, sparkling water, sparkling wine, or the booze of your choice: rum, gin, bourbon, … There is an endless span of combinations here, made all the richer by the way you choose to make your particular shrub — how much vinegar, what kind of vinegar, the level of sugar.
The downside? Your refrigerator will fill up. Your spouse may complain. What to do? Take out the wonderful Strawberry-Pepper Shrub, add some rum and offer up a sacrifice to the beverage gods.
When you buy Shrubs, buy some pint and quart jars with sealing rubber lids. You are going to need them.
One last note. I’ll post a couple of shrub recipes here and cocktails to go with them. I can’t reproduce all the wonderful shrub ideas from Shrubs here. You need your very own copy sitting right next to your blender.
This is Suzen’s favorite tomatillo salsa, bright and intense. Tomorrow, I’ll post a cooked tomatillo salsa, the one I prefer, for it seems to have a deeper, more complex flavor. But, I’m happy to eat either one. So is Suzi. And so will you.
If you search, you’ll find dozens of recipes for tomatillo salsa using raw, and not cooked, fruit. Most of these recipes use jalapeno or serrano chiles. I’m using arbols here: small, red fire bombs. They provide those red flakes of color you see in the photo and the heat you will taste. Lots of heat. I made this using 10 dried chiles and I would not add one more. You may wish to back off a bit right at the start and use, say, only 6.
The next day, this salsa is significantly hotter. So hot, that while she was still in love with it, Suzen could not eat it. We mixed the leftovers of this uncooked salsa with the leftovers of tomorrow’s cooked one. That marriageaffords incredible flavor complexity and color.
Tomatillos do contain lots of pectin. On Day 2, the pectin may have taken effect and the salsa may become very thick with an almost custard consistency. Just add a tablespoon or two of hot water and stir to loosen the salsa. The flavor will not be noticeably affected, but it will now be very dip-able.
You can make infinite adjustments to this recipe. If you are cilantro-sensitive, you can back off the amount to just a tablespoon. Cumin or chile powder can be added in the amounts you desire. Don’t forget the cardinal rule of added hot components: you can add but subtracting is difficult!
Brian's Uncooked Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Yield: 2-3 cups
6-10 dried arbol chiles
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced
12 ounces tomatillos, husked and rinsed
½ cup finely diced onion, preferably sweet
½ cup finely chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime, added ½ lime at a time
1 tablespoon sugar, optional
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, optional
Place the dried arbol chiles in a bowl of hot water and allow to soften. They will become flexible but not at all mushy. Place the chiles and the garlic in a blender and pulse. The chiles will fragment and fly all over the inside of the blender. Use a spatula to rearrange these pieces towards the bottom of the blender.
Place the blended mixture in a glass bowl. Add the onion, cilantro, juice of ½ lime and stir to mix. Add a little salt and taste test.
Because of the arbols, this salsa will be hot. You can now add some additional lime juice, some sugar, or the wine vinegar to adjust the flavor balance and the relative heat.
You can serve this salsa immediately or refrigerate until another day. On subsequent days, the salsa will become hotter and you may seek adjust with additional sugar to temper the heat.
Source: Brian O’Rourke
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60mm Macro Lens, F/4 for1/30th second at ISO‑800