The Phantom Menace: Law firm fights malodorus meat
In DC you have the seat of power. And you have the K Street corridor, where influence resides. But if you want a decent bite you are going to have to go further north. With a few notable exceptions (and the anomaly of Georgetown), food foraging takes place in the narrow but fertile area between Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, including, of course, U Street.
Typical of DC humor, somebody thought it would be hilarious to call a Dupont Circle burger joint Rouge States Burgers. Funny, until hegemony struck in the form of a peeved white shoe law firm above the place.
The law firm Steptoe and Johnson claimed Rouge States was invading its airspace. And fired at the patty purveyor in court, taking it down with the first salvo.
Claiming the burger shop was a nuisance, something that causes “substantial and unreasonable interference,” Steptoe sued Rogue States in DC superior court. And down crashed the tin-pot burger king. The judge effectively ordered it closed immediately.
The blog Above the Law points out that judge in the case made a specific effort to preempt the inevitable cries of “Big Bad Lawyers v. Innocent Little Burger People” when he wrote:
“[This case] was not about anyone trying to run a small establishment out of business, nor is it about a small business that does not care about its neighbors. It’s about the nuisance that interferes with the use, comfort, and enjoyment of [Steptoe’s] place of business.”
However, he’s, um, like a part of big bad law. So, we’re still going to caution you to check out the upstairs neighbors before firing up the frialator.
Hitting le Links
Most New Yorkers are surely familiar with Simon Oren’s Tour de France group of restaurants, including Nice Matin, Marseille, Le Monde and L’Express. You may not always notice them, but you know they’re there, a part of the fabric of the city like green and white subway lamps, hot dog vendors, or that guy who walks around squawking like a bird. You’ve likely had brunch with an eccentric old aunt at Cafe D’Asace uptown, stopped into Pigalle when you found yourself trapped in midtown for a meeting or some such nonsense, and, of course, you’ve noshed on some late-late-night cheese and charcuterie over a glass or two of wine at one of the 24-hour French Roasts.
Every October the group celebrates two of our favorite things, beer and sausage, with a pairing festival at all nine of its restaurants. This year marks the 14th such festival. For the first time, though, the boîtes will be pouring so-called “large format” (you know, the big bottles topped with corks) — and, in some cases, vintage — beers by the glass, all selected by Gianni Cavicchi, the group’s Beer Sommelier. Cavicchi says he hopes to show off the complexity of the bottle-fermented beers.
So, for instance, a Chimay Grand Reserve 2010 pairs with the roasted pork shank confit sausage at Pigalle, and the Stillwater Saison pairs with the grilled Moroccan merguez at Maison; while at Marseille Chef Andy D’Amico’s sausage tart with crispy sweetbreads pairs with Trois Monts Golden Ale and at Le Monde Chef Regis’s house-made boudin blanc, prepared in the traditional Loire Valley style, pairs with Loriette Biere de Blanche. Like many of the chefs, Chef Regis will be making some of his sausages in-house.
The sausage plates vary in price, but all beers by the glass will be $6 (qu’elle bargain!). The Sausage and Beer Festival runs from October 20–30. Check out the menus here to plan your tour.
The farms of Ohio have been replaced by shopping malls
It might be getting harder and harder to listen to actual vinyl records now, but one of the great things about YouTube is that you can find a video of a guy playing his old 45 of the Pretenders’ “Back to Ohio” (B-side of “Back on the Chain Gang”) from 1984 on his wood-grain Panasonic and be a vinyl listener by proxy. There’s even a little skip down the middle. The key bit though, is the record needle lifting off at the end and the arm auto-returning to its perch. Alas, embedding is disabled on that so you get this crap bootleg version:
Mr. Reynaud’s Pork Candy
Bacon is fine … if you are a small child or you suffer from some sort of debilitating heart condition. A fuller, more robust experience can be had from pork belly, as we all know.
And Stéphane Reynaud’s recipe for “plain and simple rillons,” while neither plain nor simple to make (this involves rendering fresh lard and marinating salted chunks of pork belly in Quatre-épices for 24 hours), does produce the most plain and simple (and concentrated we hasten to add) expression of pork belly possible. Rillons are two-inch hunks of pork belly that have been slow cooked in fresh lard and caramelized with sugar.
If you’ve lost whatever regard you have for your health (which by now you must have), you will of course, “butter” your rillons with more lard as shown in Pork & Sons.
The Trouble With Eataly
It seems the most talked about, as Andrew Zimmern put it, “food thing” recently is Eataly. And Mario Batali’s megaplex is undoubtedly a triumph. And there are some very important things the food thing does right (though it would be nice if he got more meat and cheese from — never mind local but — at least American suppliers). Creating, as Mega Mario calls it, “a temple” to slow food isn’t a bad thing, and Batali himself has always been a champion of fresh and local and the slow food movement in general. It’s arguable few in mainstream media have done more.
But a few blocks away is something vital to the survival of a workable and healthy food system in America. The Union Square Green market is model for how local suppliers can come sell direct to consumers and restaurants in a metropolitan hub. The market doesn’t have just a few vegetables or an artisan product here or there — one could basically do all his food shopping right there.
Sure, Eataly is probably doing wonders for the deals Batali and Joe Bastianich can make for their restaurants with suppliers and importers, but it’s not doing much for the farms and artisan producers in upstate New York and other nearby agricultural areas. And when you hear Batali talk about the volume of cheese and meats he’s going to go through at the new market, you almost cringe a little thinking about what it could mean to them, and the shining example that Eataly New York — with its size and share of the spotlight — could have set, especially when there are high-quality locally-produced alternatives available. After all, the Eataly in Turin certainly isn’t shipping in Berkshire hogs from Newman Farm.
And this is at a time when we are watching the death of the family farm, one farm at a time.
The story of the end of the TLC Ranch in Northern California is very much entwined with the forces shaping our food system. The family-run farm that practiced sustainable agriculture couldn’t even sell its meat at local markets. It’s hard to be a farmer, yes. It’s always been tough. But it’s becoming damn near impossible to run small sustainable farms in most of America.
If farms like this fail, we all fail.
As the owners Rebbecca and Jim detail on their blog, one of the most untenable aspects of running their ranch was getting their meat processed. With the slaughterhouses and abattoirs so lightly regulated, the family tells of having the animals they so lovingly raised debased at every turn.
For example, they say that the processing centers for example would “put nitrates in the hams that you asked for ‘nitrate-free,’ cut all the fat off your pork chops when you asked for 2 inches of fat on them.” If it weren’t bad enough that the animals were not processed with the same care and respect with which they were raised, the family was ripped off. “These abattoirs charge you by the carcass weight of your animal, and then sometimes won’t even give you the whole animal back that you paid for, such as taking the head, the organ meats, the feet, etc,” write Rebbecca and Jim.
The family also further detail the USDA certification roadblocks in California for ranchers selling the meat from their livestock direct to the public. The laws are obviously slanted in the interests of large suppliers and processors everywhere, but to hear the effects on one local farm makes the problem more tangible.
It’s probably not enough for you just to get to the tomato lady in your town and buy a box of heirlooms every week. But it’s a start.
You can also read and follow the suggestions Rebbecca and Jim have made on their blog Honest Meat.
Making Cracklings … Er … Fresh Lard
Now, we assume our readers are a sophisticated and enlightened lot (we also assume we have readers, but that is the least of our delusions) and that you all are well aware of the great many benefits of using fresh lard in cooking vs. using the bricks on supermarket shelves that would outlast Twinkies, etc… so we won’t bore you with all the details here.
Unless you live somewhere olde-timey and home-spun, or, ironically, in New York City, it might be hard to find proper fresh lard in a store. We ran into this problem recently, when, having relocated to Chez Boucher Ouest, we realized we were now roughly 3,500-miles too far from Chelsea Market to run over and pick up a tub (yeah, we make bad jokes; live with it).
The recipe for Pork Rillons in Stéphane Reynaud’s indispensable Pork & Sons, however, called for fresh lard. We briefly considered substituting duck fat, but then heard an old Frenchman’s voice in our heads, one of Stéphane’s cronies. And we can tell you, ladies and gentleman, that he was not saying things repeatable in a family publication such as this. So, out we trudged, in search of lard. To no avail, of course. None was available locally. What was available close-ish, was two pounds of pork fatback. And you know what you can do with that don’t you?
Herewith and henceforth, our recipe and advice for producing your own fresh lard:
The entire process is fairly simple, sort of like juicing a pig, except you can’t do it with one of those contraptions Jack LaLanne sells on late-night TV.
Step One: Find pork fat. This is tougher than it sounds. You’d figure with the mountains of bacon Americans are eating (and even making sculptures out of) that the stuff would be all over the place. Alas is is not. You will, of course, also want to make sure that the fat is coming from a reputable source, a supplier or butcher whom you trust, just as you would any meat you bought. We started with about two pounds of fatback with the intention of producing a bit more than two cups of lard (we did so on the advice of the butcher at the Fatted Calf in the Oxbow Public Market, and we have no reason to believe he’s a liar).
Step Two: Cube the fat. This part is lots of fun. The slightly pinkish slabs of fat make you feel sort of like you are swimming in Mr. Reynaud’s wonderful book. Chopping them is way more fun than it should be. Cut into strips, then divide the strips into cubes. There’s no reason to go nuts. You should end up with a mountain that looks most like are about to host a reading with wine and cheese, but resist the urge to sample as you’ll be sorry. The chopping process has the side effect of making everything — your hands, the knife, the camera with which you are trying to take pictures for your meat blog — feel like it has been slathered in pork fat (and indeed everything basically has). This is why you may notice that we took precautions and poured our beer in a large coffee mug.
Step Three (optional): Buy a fan. Your kitchen will soon be full of a cauldron of bubbling pork fat. Just saying.
Step Four: Start cooking the fat. Heat a large heavy pot over medium-low heat (yeah, decide yourself what that means: it’s a little hot but not so hot that the mess comes to a boil or turns brown), and pour in half a cup or so of water; immediately start to add the cubed fat, until you have at all in there and then give it a good stir with a wooden spoon. Go sit down. Finish beer.
Step Five: Wait. Keep getting up every ten minutes or so to stir the pot and refill your beer. After about two beers the mess should really be sizzling and popping.
Step Six (optional): Refill mug. That’s not really optional. We were just trying to see if you were paying attention, and attempting to make the recipe seem more complicated by adding steps. You’ll also want to stir the pot more frequently, now. The cracklings that are forming (yes, that is the bonus) should be floating to the top.
Step Seven: Cool it down. When the cracklings sink down, that sucker is done. They may not all sink, but you can definitely tell nothing is going on anymore. Turn off the flame and switch the hi-fi to some reggae station.
Step Eight: Strain. Yeah, we don’t mean you should make a great effort (no big ting, mon), but you should line your strainer or colander with some cheesecloth and strain the rendered liquid into a jar or glass bowl (which at this point should look sort of sludgy and yellow). What you have left will be cracklings. Eat, and throw the liquid away.
Step Nine: OK, no, we’re kidding. Put the container in the refrigerator over night and the next day you’ll have some creamy white lard that looks like the hair cream on the cover of that Black Keys’ record. Then you can start to finish your Pork Rillons (which hopefully you’ve not had marinating for 48 hours the way we did, because you, dear reader, are a planner.)
Grindhaus Grinding into Los Angeles
While driving to work this morning, my brain swollen from whiskey and rye, too much beer and an unadvised shrimp cocktail at 1 AM last night, I noticed a sign at an intersection like a beacon of hope in that strange decimal area between point A (my home) and point B (my place of business).
GRINDHAUS, Los Angeles, Specialty Sausage / Custom Butcher / Coming Soon
I immediately posted the photo to Twitter for my butcher blog colleagues and heard back, “post it to the site man, and have a cup of coffee your spelling sucks.” According to the twitter account @GrindhausLA, the foodtruck and specialty sausage shop hopes to open by Halloween. We shall see what Grindhaus has to offer when it opens.
’Cuing At Facebook HQ
Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. sit on a sprawling grassy campus formerly occupied (and still owned by) HP. Behind the main building is a basketball court, which if today’s menu is any indication, employees had better start using.
Today, the day of Facebook’s hot-anticipated press conference coming off it’s lockdown period, the court hosted not a game of 3-on-3, but three folding tables laden with hamburgers, barbecue ribs, collared greens, mac and cheese, and cookies. The ribs had just a hint of the slightly sweet tang of Korean BBQ, and the mac and cheese clotted above the canned heat. And, save the buttery greens, there was not a vegetable in sight.
In short, the meal will take a great deal longer to digest than today’s announcement.
It’s been a long time since that summer in Brooklyn
In keeping with our new-found tradition of emulating the pop station here in wine country by dubbing Mondays “Music Mondays” we present you with Tom Waits singing (yes, singing) the poem “Fortune” from Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti at the tribute to the poet this past weekend in San Fransisco. This version was recorded not by us but by another attendee, and we are glad he did.
Waits introduced the poem/song by saying that when he first read it when he was 15, it knocked his hat off. “I wore a hat then, and it was frequently knocked off,” he added. Tom basically turns the song into one of his bawlers, calling it “one of my favorite poems of [Ferlinghetti's], interpreted by myself.”
Marcus Shelby, whose band provided rock steady support to the poets and musicians throughout the show, accompanies on the stand up bass.
If we didn’t miss Brooklyn already, we do now.
Fuller versions can be seen here. (Via The Eyeball Kid.)
How Does GIPSA Affect Small Producers? (And Who Are Senators Looking Out For?)
GIPSA (The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration), reacting to the 2008 Farm Bill that required it to clarify the nearly 90-year-old Packers and Stockyards Act, has proposed new rules that will affect producers.
The proposal now puts strict limitations on packer-to-packer sales and institutes guidelines on preferential pricing. Proponents say this will increase competition and create a more transparent marketplace.
Some opponents claim the rule could lead to a litigious industry and make an argument that might sound familiar to anyone who’s ever heard the rhetoric at a Tea Party rally. It’s about big government coming in and telling you what to do with your cattle, they say. Funny how these same folks aren’t as concerned when large industrial farms get fat government subsidies allowing them to keep prices low.
GIPSA has extended the comments period on this matter until November 23. Producers may submit comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, two senators from Idaho, Mike Crapo (R) and James E. Risch (R) filed a letter (below and PDF here) urging the Department of Agriculture to reconsider the GIPSA rule. The two charge the rule goes beyond what was required by the Farm Bill. Incredibly, the senators, while conceding the rules are designed to target large producers, make the argument that they will “detrimentally affect the small to medium sized vertically integrated packers across the nation.”
We are sure that these two are not beholden to agri-business at all and that they are sincerely looking out for the little guy. Now let us wipe the placenta out of our eyes because we were just born.
Sticky Fingers: The Rich Get Fatter
According to a report from American Express the wealthiest Americans are gorging on more processed meat patties than ever. What the company refers to as the “ultra-affluent” spent nearly 25 percent more on fast food than they had the year before. Am-Ex defines the “ultra-affluent” as those who charge more than $7,000 a month on their credit cards. What? Did you expect the credit card company to call its best customers “bourgeois climbers”?
The Kevin Bacon ‘Bacon’ Bust and ‘Our Long Coronary Nightmare’
Yes, as Grub Street and others have so emphatically pointed out every time it comes up, bacon is a tired trend. All the bacon chewing gum and vegetarian-friendly kosher powders that make everything taste like bacon are an abomination. Some in our stable have even written multiple letters directly to bacon begging it to stop. But it doesn’t stop.
The latest bacon idiocy is a bust of Kevin Bacon made out bacon. Sorry, yes, it’s to help cancer patients. But it doesn’t look a thing like Kevin Bacon. It does look exactly like Conan O’Brien, however. But that sort of ruins the joke.
People get away with way too much dumb shit just because they say they are raising money for cancer, anyway.
But all of this nonsense is beside the point. Because everyone loves bacon, right? As Jessica Applestone pointed out Primal in Napa this weekend, even vegetarians eat bacon. So, we think bacon is the wedge to start the whole-animal conversation. Give a man a bacon pork jowl and he’ll really be listening to you (if he can hear you over the crunching). So, bring on the busts of Kevin Bacon made out of bacon and sell them on eBay. Go ahead.
Because you can’t stop bacon. Hell, there is even a bacon mania Wikipedia page. How can you hate on any trend that allowed this to be written in Wikipedia?
There is a “clamoring” for the bacon happy hour at Bad Decisions bar in Fells Point which includes a menu that is completely redone with bacon dishes and big bowls of bacon served on the bar (using up to 30 pounds of bacon in a two hour period).
But despite the gross implications of 30 pounds of bacon being consumed in a Baltimore bar alongside Natty Bos at break-neck speed, the insatiable thirst for bacon is an opportunity. The Wikipedia entry on “bacon mania” references a story in The Stranger subtitled “The End of Our Long Coronary Nightmare” that predicted swine flu would end the bacon explosion. Of course, it did not. And therein lies the strength and power of this foodstuff.
Casting: Family Fued With Knives
Hey friends, and friends of friends, and people who hate your friends’ friends: If you’ve had an itch to make a fool of yourself on television, and you like to cook, and you are in the LA area (a fairly broad cross-section, we’d imagine) your opportunity is here.
Frustrated amateur chefs will square off against their own kin on a new live-kitchen competition show. Yes, we imagine it’ll make what Micheal did to Fredo look tame by comparison, but we have a pessimistic world-view. If you enjoy cozier familial relations than we do, details are below:
Playing With Fire: Primal Cooking in Napa
Ryan Farr couldn’t find his ribs. Basically an entire side of beef — grass-fed and dry-aged Highland beef courtesy of Long Meadow Ranch — either hadn’t arrived or had gone missing. Farr, of 4505 Meats, was preparing to demonstrate long-rib butchering at Primal Napa (the double meaning of the name refers to the obvious as well as the primal cuts, which comprise every animal), a day-long celebration of open fire cooking, sustainable meat production, whole-animal utilization, and bacon. A ridiculous amount of bacon. (“There’s bacon EVERYWHERE” one happy attendee posted on Twitter.)
But at that particular moment, enjoying the bacon was far from the mind of Chef Dave Varley of Bourbon Steak in DC, one of the many talented chefs who traveled to Napa to help put on this carnivorous tour de force. Varley kept whispering to butcher Kari Underly of Range Inc in Chicago, who was cutting a different side of beef, hung precariously from a chain in a tree overlooking the vineyards of Chase Cellars in St. Helena, Calif., Primal’s home for the second year in a row. Underly, a third generation butcher, laughed at the prospect of what her butcher father would have to say about butchering an animal from the vantage from which she currently worked.
If the Highland couldn’t be found, Varley, whose task it was to cook the beef Underly was butchering, said they’d stop at the ribs and share the side with Farr, meaning they’d miss some important sirloin cuts. Just as Underly got close to where she’d need to stop, word came that the Highland had turned up (and what a beauty, dark and well-marbled). Underly grinned. “Let’s have some fun with them,” she said, getting into the choice cuts and swinging them over onto the table where she separated the cuts.
Chef Varley surveyed the slabs of beef, some of which were so tender Underly could rip the cuts away with her bare hands, and wondered at how he might cook them. “This,” he said eying a roast, “we’ll put in a salt oven.” Salt oven?
Now would be a good time for us to explain that all of the cooking at Primal is done in a field over open fires. The chef got to work, tending a fire surrounded on all four sides by cinder blocks. He dropped an iron plate on top of it, sending flames shooting from the holes in the blocks. Next he began building another layer over the plate with more cinder blocks, which he then began to fill with salts and spices. Oh, that salt oven.
Meanwhile, on the main stage, New York’s Joshua Applestone of Fleisher’s Grass-fed Meats sawed through a whole heritage-bred pig (a sirloin roast from which we had the pleasure of grilling the next day) while Jessica Applestone explained to the crowd what he was doing and why, saying that this (and not very long ago) once went on in every community in America and wasn’t an oddity at all. You might take, as a start in understanding the type of conscientious carnivores who take part in Primal the fact that when the Applestones (now partners at Fleisher’s) first met, Joshua was vegan and Jessica a vegetarian (“With,” she says, “a bacon exception.”)
Sure there was plenty of education spiked into the mix, but, of course there was also flash and showmanship, much of it courtesy of San Francisco’s Dave the Butcher. Dave brandished his two scimitar knives on stage, crossing them as Jessica Applestone pointed to each in turn, one from the 1890s and one from 2010. She urged the crowd to practice the art of meat cutting at home, and said, “You don’t need a knife from 1890 to do this; that’s just cool.”
In the end, the dino-sized ribs Farr sprinkled with chipotle-dust were enjoyed by all — former vegans and those who came mainly because they were enticed by the “Bacon Hall of Fame” alike.
And there were plenty who came with no preconceptions whatsoever, generally they were under the age of eight, though, many possibly seeing where their food comes form for the first time. They watched wide-eyed at the demonstrations, but happily for the future, never reacted with the squeamishness one might fear. One dad, toting a tow-headed boy, walked up to San Francisco’s Tia Harrison as she broke down a lamb on a table. “He just wanted to say, hi.” And the boy did, peering over over the edge of the table and waving. “Hi,” Harrison waved back with her knife.
Knives from Bavaria (er, Oregon)
We were inspired by a program on local Napa radio station The Vine, which heralds Monday mornings with “Music Mondays.” And while this makes little sense for a music station, we figured it would be a neat idea for a meat blog. So today, in honor of our newly acquired hand-made knife, we present Dean & Britta’s “Knives from Bavaria” (our knife is actually from Oregon, but it’s a cool song).
Here’s our knife made by blacksmith Michael Hemmer of Oregon, pictured alongside a roll of pork sirloin straight from Primal Napa.