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Archive for September, 2011

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What’s better than an old photo of a butcher? An old photo of a butcher in a top hat. Seriously, I’m gonna have to get Josh, Bryan, and the rest of the Fleisher’s butchers to dress this way.

The photo, which is circa 1875, is from the International Center for Photography’s “America and the Tin Type” collection. Special thanks to Kirsten Hively for bringing it to the Butcher’s Case’s attention.

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Meanwhile, a few meaty notes to wrap up the week:

• Remember our Protein Police Blotter entry from last week? Reader Cort McMurray informs the Butcher’s Case that several Texas men have been charged with stealing 6,000 lambs, valued at $1 million, from a feedlot. Meat crime: Everybody’s doing it!

• I didn’t think it was possible for me to find Michele Bachmann attractive, but I was wrong. Those shots were taken during a campaign stop she made at a packing house in Iowa. Not bad, Michele, but next time visit a farmer raising pastured beef!

• Remember, Brooklyn Beefsteak this Sunday. See you there.

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What you see above is a classic New York beefsteak. In this context, the term “beefsteak” doesn’t refer to the meat itself — it refers to an event, an all-you-can-eat mass feed centering on meat and beer (as in “Are you attending the beefsteak tonight?” or “Let’s throw a beefsteak!”).

Beefsteaks became popular in New York in the late 1800s and flourished for several decades after that. Much of what we know about early beefsteaks comes from an article called “All You Can Hold for Five Bucks,” written by the great New Yorker essayist Joseph Mitchell in 1939 (you can download the full article here). Beefsteaks were already on the decline by that point, and they’d disappeared from New York altogether by 1970 or so. Meanwhile, however, a parallel beefsteak scene had sprung up in northern New Jersey. Interestingly, the North Jersey folks had no idea that their beefsteak rituals originated in New York, and New York foodies who were lamenting the loss of the beefsteak didn’t realize that beefsteaks were still being held just across the river. I wrote about all of this a few years ago in a New York Times article.

That article inspired a pair of young entrepreneurs, Derek Silverman and Andrew Dermont, who set out to revive the old New York tradition. The result is the Brooklyn Beefsteak, a series of events that Derek and Andrew have held at the Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn, roughly every six months, complete with all the beef you can eat, all the beer you can drink, a live band, contests, and more. Truly a raucous caucus. (You can see photos from one of last year’s beefsteaks here.)

The next installment of the Brooklyn Beefsteak is this Sunday, Sept. 25. There are two seatings — 1-4pm and 5-8pm. Tickets are available here. If you’re serious about meat, it’s the place to be this weekend.

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A lot of work still has to take place between now and September 28th, opening day, but you can see all the pieces coming together at the Park Slope location. “It’ll be tight, but we’ll make it,” says Garrett Roche, whose company, Garro Building Works, is the main contractor (that’s him on the right with his main design man, Andy Palmer, on the left). Garrett, who grew up in Dublin, comes from a family of butchers, making him the perfect choice for the job.

The shop has that “old-timey butcher” feel already. The walls are covered in classic subway tiles, dark woods line the shelving, and the marble-topped cutting surfaces reflect the gleam from the brand-new tin ceiling.

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The cases, which stretch from the very front of the shop to the back, stand empty now, just waiting to be filled with the remarkable cheese selection (curated by Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers), the assortment of deli meats (the Jewish-style salami makes a fantastic Sunday salami and egg scramble), and the wide array of pastured meats and organic chicken.

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Maybe it’s the economy, maybe there’s something in the water, or maybe people just really love meat, but there’s no getting around it: Meat theft and other meat-related crimes in America are on the rise. Check out this sampling from the 2011 meat police blotter:

Feb. 4: Someone in Alabama makes off with a truck loaded with 41,350 pounds of ground hamburger, valued at $95,000.

May 17: Three people are arrested for stealing pork shoulders, ribs, hamburger, and French bread from a California supermarket. (We’ll cut them some slack regarding the bread — man cannot live by stolen meat alone.)

July 11: $400 worth of frozen beef, pork, and chicken is stolen from a delivery truck in Pennsylvania.

Late July: Authorities in Texas launch a sting operation, dubbed Operation Meat Locker, and end up stopping a ring of criminals who’ve been stealing supermarket meat and reselling it local restaurants. (Further details here.)

Aug. 29: A Pennsylvania man is arrested for trying to steal a rack of ribs in his pants — for the second time in three months. (No word on whether the cops said, “Is that a slab of ribs in your pants, or are you just glad to see me?”)

Sept. 1: Two men walk into a Scranton supermarket and steal $500 worth of meat.

Sept. 3: Thieves in Iowa make of with a truck loaded with 42,000 pounds of meat.

Sept. 5: A Utah man is arrested for butchering a cow in his driveway. (Well, you can’t expect him to do it on his front lawn, what with all the blood, right?)

• Sept. 8: An Illinois woman dies after injecting herself in the face with hot beef fat. Okay, so that isn’t a crime (yet), but she was facing felony charges and other legal problems at the time.

The real crime, of course, is that most likely none of this meat was pastured, and all of it was raised unsafely and inhumanely. But meat doesn’t have to be that way. For proof, come down to Fleisher’s, and we’ll show you what real meat is like. You’ll have to pay for it, but we think you’ll agree that it’s a steal.

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Photo by Lindsay Pugnali

Jason Fox will be the manager of the new Fleisher’s shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He recently sat down with the Butcher’s Case to talk about the new shop, his background in the food world, and his pick for the most underrated cut of meat.

The Butcher’s Case: How did you decide to become a butcher?

Jason Fox: I have a history of working in the food industry. I worked in my grandfather’s deli when I was growing up, and I was a food photographer and food stylist for several years. And the more I worked with food, the more I realized I wanted to open my own restaurant in Brooklyn. I wanted it to be nose-to-tail and seasonal, and I wanted to do my own butchering. I knew about Fleisher’s, so last winter I took their eight-week butchery course and apprenticeship.

During that time, the restaurant plans fell through. I was talking to Josh [Applestone, Fleisher’s co-owner] about it, and he said they were planning to open a shop in Park Slope, and he asked if I wanted to run it. I couldn’t refuse an opportunity like that.

TBC: So when did you really know that you’d made the leap and you were doing what you were meant to do?

JF: I was driving home from Fleisher’s after cutting all day, literally still covered in blood, and instead of being disgusted I realized I really loved the smell.

TBC: You’re going to be running the Brooklyn shop—which makes sense, because you already live in Brooklyn, right?

JF: Yes, I live in Bushwick. I’ve been commuting back and forth to Kingston, but after a long day of hauling and cutting meat, carrying rounds and arm chucks, you want to be in your own home. My boyfriend is in Brooklyn, my dogs are in Brooklyn, so it’s worth the long trip back home. So, I’m looking forward to the commute from Bushwick to Park Slope. It should be much better!

TBC: It seems that everyone at Fleisher’s has a specialty. Some people focus on charcuterie or creating sausage recipes. What is your forté?

JF: People in the Slope tend to be very busy, so I’ve been working a lot in the kitchen with various cuts of meat to come up with new additions for our line of prepared foods. Cottage pie, meat loaf, meatballs, a sausage pie. The sausage pie was my biggest challenge, but I was able to marry the two textures (sausage and flaky pie crust) by creating a mustard béchamel. It’s delicious, and a recipe I’m really proud of, but there are going to many options to choose from.

TBC: Everyone on the Fleisher’s staff seems to have been a vegetarian at one time or another, too. What about you?

JF: I was a vegetarian for 16 years, but I really felt like I was missing out after awhile. I was doing a lot of cooking for other people and it was often meat-based, so I started to feel left out. I felt like I couldn’t be a good cook if I didn’t start to eat meat.

TBC: Let’s talk a bit about the Brooklyn shop. If someone walks in, will they see you cutting meat, just like in the Kingston shop?

JF: Yes, that’s the Fleisher’s way, to work out in the open. You’ll see us cutting every day for the case.

TBC: The Kingston shop is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. What about the Brooklyn shop?

JF: We’ll be open every day except Monday.

TBC: Okay, lightning round questions: What’s your favorite steak to eat?

JF: You can’t beat a rib-eye. One rib-eye, an inch and a half thick, will feed two people. Personally, I like it very rare.

TBC: What’s the most underrated or overlooked cut of meat?

JF: People tend to be scared of oxtails. But they’re very affordable, they have a really beefy flavor, and they’re easy to cook, because you just put them in the oven and braise them. If people would try them, I think they’d be surprised how good they are, and how simple they are to prepare.

TBC: Favorite ingredient?

JF: Stock, I use it in everything. We sell every kind at Fleisher’s—from lamb to duck.

TBC: Meal that you would make for your boyfriend after a fight?

JF: Lamb anything, potato anything—he’s Irish.

TBC: Favorite side dish?

JF: Roasted Brussels sprouts with Fleisher’s bacon, made crispy in a cast-iron skillet. We are even growing Brussels sprouts in our garden, I love them so much.

TBC: Favorite type of customer?

JF: Little old ladies. They always know exactly what they want!

TBC: Favorite technique that you have learned at Fleisher’s?

JF: I didn’t know anything about the Jaccard meat tenderizer. It really does the trick for notoriously chewy steaks like London broils and flatirons. It has 48 flat blades, like little needles, that puncture the flesh and shorten the muscle fibers. It’s really eye-opening.

TBC: Anything to add?

JF: Just that I’m really excited about the new shop. We’re going to have a really good time. We love what we do, and the mood in the shop will be very happy, very positive. I think people will notice it right away.

The Brooklyn branch of Fleisher’s is scheduled to open on Sept. 22, at 192 Fifth Avenue, between Sackett and Union Streets.

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Here’s the latest in our Friday series of old butcher shop photos. This one shows an Irish meat market, circa 1901. Look how everything is arranged in perfect symmetry — except the butchers themselves.

We’ll have more vintage butchery photos and ephemera each Friday. If you have any material you’d like to contribute, send it here.

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Dry-Aged Beef 4

Photo by Flickr user Gary Grogan

By Paul Lukas

One question people often ask about Fleisher’s beef — and about beef in general — is, “Is it aged?”

Much like beef grading, which we discussed last week, aging is a term that tends to intrigue people, even if they don’t fully understand what it means. We’ll provide a basic explanation of it here.

First, it’s important to understand that beef can actually be too fresh. You wouldn’t want to eat beef the same day it had been slaughtered. It would be, quite literally, a bloody mess. It would also be extremely tough (the carcass must pass through the rigor mortis stage).

So all beef is aged to some degree. Most of it is wet-aged, which means it has been sealed in a Cryovac bag — usually for a week or two, sometimes longer. This helps break down the meat’s connective tissue, making it more tender, although it does nothing much for the meat’s flavor. Meanwhile, some of the blood drains from the meat, so the beef is literally sitting in a pool of its own bodily fluids. This liquid is called purge, because it will be discarded when the Cryovac bag is eventually opened. This is how virtually all supermarket beef is processed, and most conventional restaurant beef as well.

Then there’s dry-aging, which involves storing the meat under precise climate-controlled conditions. The aging chamber can be as large as a sizable room or as small as a wall-mounted refrigerator case, but the key is that the meat is maintained under precise climate-controlled conditions — low temperature, relatively high humidity, and fans to provide lots of air circulation. Much like wet-aging, dry-aging provides time for the meat’s connective tissue to break down and tenderize. In addition, the exterior of the meat becomes covered with a light coating of mold and forms a tough, dark outer crust that will eventually be cut away (some packing or processing houses call this the scab).

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Photo by Flickr user DeBragga

Inside, however, some of the beef’s moisture is evaporating, which concentrates the meat’s flavor in a way that people have variously described as earthy, musky, mineral-y, funky, or just beefy. It’s a much more complex flavor than what you get with wet-aging — all the more so if you start with the pastured beef Fleisher’s sells, because pastured beef is always more flavorful to start with.

Our beef carcasses typically hang for a week at our slaughterhouse before being broken down into the primal sections — the chuck, the rib, the loin, and the round — from which we will eventually cut steaks, roasts, and so on. Then the primals are dry-aged at our shop for up to four weeks, depending on the cut. Our rib-eyes, New York strips, and sirloins get the longest time in our coolers, and both the taste and the price reflect their extended stay.

Dry-aging is expensive, because there can be significant loss of product during the aging process. Between the evaporation and the cutting away of the outer crust, beef can lose up to 25% of its weight by the time it’s done aging and ready to sell. But once you taste one of our dry-aged steaks, you’ll know it’s worth it.

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Photo by Jennifer May

From time to time the Butcher’s Case will be featuring recipes from The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, written by Fleisher’s co-owners Joshua and Jessica Applestone. Today I want to start with a recipe that’s versatile enough to appeal to virtually everyone reading this, no matter what kind of meat you like best: Fleisher’s dry rub.

Although this rub is best known as the secret behind Fleisher’s popular rotisserie chickens, it can also be applied to steaks, spareribs, roasts, or even seafood. Seriously, it pairs well with just about any protein, thanks in large part to the way the spicy paprika is offset by the herbaceous sage. Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup dried sage
1/3 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup onion flakes
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons dried thyme
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, rubbing the sage, thyme, and oregano between your palms to crush them as you add them to the mixture. The mix will keep in an airtight container for up to six months. Shake or mix well before applying to chicken, beef, pork, or seafood. Makes 2 cups.

If you’ve never tried dry rubs before, give it a try. No matter what you like to cook, you’ll find it packs more of a punch when you treat it with this rub.

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Hamburger Helper: It’s been a mixed bag lately for the Butcher’s Case’s favorite ballplayer, Texas Rangers pitcher Mark Hamburger. After pitching a perfect 1-2-3 inning in his big league debut last Wednesday, he lost his baseball virginity two nights later, getting roughed up for three runs in two innings. But then he recovered on Labor Day, tossing a scoreless inning. You can keep track of his game-by-game progress here.

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Photo and animation by Kirsten Hively, Project Neon

As the nation fires up its grills and smokers this Labor Day, the Butcher’s Case hopes you’ll find inspiration in the sign shown above. We like to think of it as a neon mantra.

Everyone have a great holiday. We’ll have lots of full-length posts later this week.

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We love old butcher shop photos. They tend to evoke the same sense of community and pride in one’s craft that we strive for at Fleisher’s (not to mention that the meat in the old photos was mostly grass-fed and all hormone- and antibiotic-free). This one, showing an old butcher named William Cohen, was submitted by one of our Kingston customers, who’s one of William Cohen’s descendants.
We’ll be running more of these old photographs in the weeks to come. If you have some you’d like to share — regardless of whether you’re related to the butcher in the photo — send them in. Or just bring them over to Fleisher’s. It’ll make our day.
Have a great Labor Day, everyone. We’ll be back with more meatiness next week.

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