The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More by Joshua Applestone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A wonderful book on the inns and outs of meat, from someone who really knows. There are many things being written right now about the evils of the food industry and the need for a change. This book is unique among them in the focus of its scope (meat only) and in the way it makes normative claims: not quite so doctrinaire as Pollan, not quite so real-world-eater as Mark Bittman's excellent Food Matters.
The move within the politico-culinary world from vegan being the only conscientious way to eat has been long in coming, but it is at last making waves. Like it or not, people all over the world, and especially in America, are going to keep eating meat. If those that care about the treatment of animals or the effects of animal by-product and meat production on the environment remove themselves from the system entirely, their voices for change are effectively removed—the essentially cast a null vote on the way meat is produced. However, if they buy sustainably, humanely raised products, that creates demand for them and therefore the supply will also increase. The purchase of these products is a monetary vote for the change that they want, and this is a realization that many have been coming too. This book will help to ease them into a meat-friendly lifestyle by whetting their appetites and providing guidance on the finer points of eating meat that is produced in this way. (Grass fed beef must be cooked slightly differently, and pastured chickens tend to toughen up even more than conventional if not handled properly, etc.)
The book's stance as a normative text is interesting. As I said above, it is perhaps not so normative as Michael Pollan (eat food, not too much, mostly plants), at least not on the surface. The Applestones expect us to eat meat (else why would we read the book...), but they expect us to eat less of it. In this they agree with Bittman and Pollan who say that we as Americans eat far more meat than we need. However, they try to soften the advice by couching it in economic terms—this kind of meat is more expensive, so just eat less of it. I can't quite decide if this re-packaging is patronizing or a welcome shift from the "if you eat this you're killing us all" rhetoric that has been flying around recently. I think, probably the latter, based on the fact that I had no adverse reaction to it at the time.
The color photographs were wonderfully done and the book was well organized and mostly very well written. There were some repetitious points, but that is hardly to be avoided in a book of this nature.
The recipes were nice, and I look forward to trying the chorizo, but the sausages were actually one of the reasons that I didn't rate this book higher. An important step was omitted in the instructions, one that beginning sausage makers need to know about: mixing. After the meat has been ground with the spices, it must be mixed together to form the necessary emulsion that occurs when the protein myosin binds with itself, trapping the liquid in the meat (along with any that you add) and making the meat adhere to itself. This "primary bind" is important if you don't want a crumbly sausage that dries out quickly once it is cut open. I cannot excuse the omission of this step in the recipe instructions, for it will only lead to unsatisfactory results.
One last reason for the rating is the commercial-like tone of some of the book. There a few mentions of the book that was written about them by one of their apprentices, and several mentions of the fact that maybe you, too, can one day apprentice with them. Don't get me wrong here: I would LOVE that. I might even apply some day. And while it will be because I read about it in this book, I just felt that the pitch was a little too forward. Why not just put it in the back with the rest of the resources?
Over all, it was excellent. I really recommend it to anyone wanting to know what it takes to be a butcher, what this dying art looks like, and how your meat comes to you.
8 hours ago