The Cook & The Butcher by Brigit Binns is enough to make any carnivore salivate. Beyond the extensive selection of delectable recipes, every chapter (one each for beef, pork, lamb, and veal) begins with a complete primer on that particular meat, including a comprehensive chart of where the various cuts come from; which cuts to look for—and which to avoid; the meaning behind labels like grass fed, certified organic, and dry-aged; which cuts are a good value for everyday meals; which cuts are splurge-worthy; how to best store meat; and clear-cut answers to questions frequently asked of butchers.
There are also helpful "how to" sections, like how to make your own beef jerky; how to grind meat at home; and how to butterfly and stuff meat. Rather than addressing other professionals, Binns approaches the subject as a serious home cook eager to learn all she can from the experts. Indeed, some of the most valuable information comes from over twenty top-notch butchers and steakhouse chefs who share their preferences, prejudices, and tricks of the trade in the numerous "Notes from the Butcher" spread throughout the book. It's like having a master butcher as your BFF.
You see, there are butchers, and then there are meat cutters. Meat cutters are the guys with electric saws and bloody aprons you see working behind the window in the supermarket meat section. The ones breaking down large cuts into smaller ones, grinding hamburger; busily encasing the carnage in plastic wrap and slapping on a price tag. No doubt they're good at what they do, but most lack the expertise of a butcher, as well as the intimate knowledge of the products they package. Out of desperation unsuspecting shoppers frequently turn to them for cooking advice, which usually becomes a case of the blind leading the blind.
Then there are butchers—the artisans of the dead animal kingdom. You can find them in upscale supermarkets or in their own independent shops, proudly overseeing refrigerated cases of carefully selected meats they have personally handled. For a time it seemed that proper butchering would become a thing of the past; but with the increasing awareness of what we consume there is a new breed of butchers highly respected for their extensive knowledge of all things meat, and their nose-to-tail approach to butchering naturally raised and humanely slaughtered animals. They are familiar with every muscle and bone and strip of fat, and how each reacts to heat. They are enthusiastic about their work, and freely share information with customers. If you're not lucky enough to live near such an establishment, reliable sources can be scarce. At least, they were before this book.
Along with tantalizing photographs by Kate Sears, the book contains 100 meaty recipes paired with fresh, seasonal ingredients. You can't help but drool over entrees like Oven-Smoked Brisket with Bourbon-Honey Mop; Cuban-Style Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Mojo Sauce; Grilled Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki; and Veal Stew with Rosemary and Lemony Greens, as well as a number of tempting salads, sides, and toppings. But beyond the recipes, this is a book that every cook will inevitably refer to again and again.
Baby Lamb Chops with Fig Balsamic Pan Sauce
Recipe from The Cook and the Butcher by Brigit Binns (Weldon Owen, 2011)Lamb rib chops, also called "lamb lollipops" in reference to their size, are extraordinarily delicious and tender. If fresh figs are in season, incorporate a few into the sauce. During the rest of the year, dried figs, which plump up in the liquid, will work equally well. I like to serve the chops with a simple green salad, and sometimes with orzo or couscous.
Cut midway between every second bone of the rack to yield 4 double-rib chops. (Or ask your butcher to do this for you.) Pat the chops thoroughly dry and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- 1 rack of lamb, about 2 lb (1 kg) and 8 ribs, chine bone removed, frenched,
- and well trimmed of fat
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
- 1 oz (30 g) prosciutto, finely chopped
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 4 dried figs, stems removed, finely chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
- 1/3 cup (3 fl oz/80 ml) good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 3/4 cups (14 fl oz/430 ml) reducedsodium beef broth, simmered to reduce to about 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml)
- 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, for finishing the sauce (optional)
Preheat the oven to 225°F (110°C) and place a baking dish inside. Place a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, add the oil, and heat until very hot, about 2 minutes. Add the chops. Sear without moving them until golden brown, 2-2 1/2 minutes. Turn and sear for 2-2 1/2 minutes more. Lift each chop with tongs and sear all the fatty edges, about 1 minute total. Transfer the chops to the baking dish in the oven and continue to cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a chop, away from the bone, registers 135°F (57°C) for medium-rare, 20-30 minutes, or to your desired doneness (see page 144). Let rest for about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, discard any oil from the pan, add the 2 teaspoons butter, and melt over medium-low heat. Add the prosciutto and shallots, and cook until the shallots are softened and the prosciutto is golden, about 2 minutes. Add the figs, rosemary, and vinegar, raise the heat to medium, and deglaze the pan, scraping to remove any browned bits from the bottom. Continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by about two-thirds, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in the broth and a pinch of pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and, if desired, stir in the cold butter until melted. Arrange the chops on warmed plates, top with the sauce, and serve at once.
A NOTE FROM THE BUTCHER
To prepare perfect rib chops, allow them to come to room temperature before searing them. Pat them dry with a paper towel prior to cooking so they will caramelize well in the pan. Once the pan is hot, sear the chops quickly, then finish them in the oven.
- Erika Nakamura, Lindy and Grundy's Meats, Los Angeles, CA
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.