Today, I was asked what cuts would be ideal for a Valentine’s Day dinner. The following are what may be considered “top shelf” selections–from both beef and lamb–that would set the stage for a memorable (even unforgettable) meal this Valentine’s Day:

BEEF

Tenderloin Steak

The most tender cut of beef–and arguably the most desirable–a tenderloin steak is also called a filet mignon.

New York Strip Steak

“A stellar cut. The stuff carnivore dreams are made of,” (Mark Schatzker in Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef).

Delmonico Steak

Named after the famous 19th Century New York City restaurant, the Delmonico steak is taken from the short loin.

Ribeye Steak

“An emperor among steaks. Bow down and weep at its beauty,” (Mark Schatzker in Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef).

Prime Rib Roast

The ultimate in comfort food, the prime rib roast is used to celebrate life’s festive occasions. Roasted slowly at low temperatures it is tender, succulent, and flavorful.

Sirloin Tip Roast

Slow-cooked, this tender, juicy, and flavorful roast is the perfect accompaniment for Valentine’s Day. Drink with a glass of Burgundy or other full bodied red wine.

LAMB

Shank

Perhaps no other cut looks as appealing on the plate as the shank. Bone-in–and thus flavorful–braise or roast the shank, allowing it to “caramelize” and develop a rich flavor that is best described as savory.

Leg of Lamb

Great for roasting, broiling, or braising, the leg of lamb is the perfect way to mark a festive occasion.

 

 

“Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man.” (The Allman Brothers)

I

My wife and I sat down to a grass-fed, grain-finished steak on Monday evening: a cut of beef a colleague in the organic retail industry put in my hands to get my candid impressions of it. Carrie Oliver of the Artisanal Beef Institute rates beef according to three categories: “Grandma’s Beef”, “Gateway Beef”, and “Seductive Date Beef”. Grandma’s Beef: nice and sweet but rather boring (of course, I wouldn’t place my own grandmother in this category; she was anything but). Gateway Beef: beef with an enjoyable–even interesting–flavor profile that awakens a sleeping palate and helps bridge it for even more adventurous, exotic flavors. Seductive Date Beef: beef with adventurous taste and a complex flavor profile; it leaves you wanting more. The steak in question fits squarely in the “Grandma’s Beef” category: plain, little to no flavor profile, and–as a result–assessable to anyone. Bud Light of beef. Though sufficiently tender, I could not distinguish it from conventional beef. My wife was speaking this week to friends of hers whose property boarders a cattle farm. They bear witness to the trucking in of black–presumable Angus–cattle to feed for a time on their pastures. How much of what’s out there labeled as “grass-fed” beef spends the majority of its time on grain? I wonder whether this was the case of the steak we had on Monday night.

II

Yesterday, a shipment of Dundonald Highlands Highland beef arrived. A couple of the steaks (a chuck tender steak and a tenderloin steak) were cut so small that they ought not be sold to customers which provided a perfect excuse to do a little quality control. The chuck tender steak, which comes from the tougher chuck of a beef, needs a slow, wet cooking method that will tenderize it (sous vide is ideal for this cut). Nevertheless, we were hungry, and the steak was prepared in a saute pan at high temperatures. The tenderloin steak, too, was prepared in this manner (the high, dry heat method is the preferred cooking method for the more tender cuts). What I discovered was that while the tenderloin was pleasantly tender, it was the chuck tender steak that packed more flavor. I’ve read that certain cuts of beef contain a higher concentration of flavor. This seemed a confirmation.

As enjoyable as a steak is, I’ll admit that it’s our burger that we most look forward to eating: because of its flavor (and economics). I wonder whether it’s the tougher parts of a beef that are the more flavorful parts, parts which–because of their toughness–get turned into very flavorful ground. This is a hypothesis, one that I intend to test when next week I meet with one of our butcher.

III

In our most recent order of Highland beef, we asked our butcher to achieve a lean-to-fat ratio in our burger meat of 80/20. This was something that the Artisanal Beef Institute referenced above suggested that we give a try. I was excited to see what effect this would have on the highly-acclaimed Highland burger meat that we sell. Surprisingly, I found that this burger has less-intense flavor than our previous batch of Highland beef. The texture was great, but the flavor was not as intense. In more than one place I’ve read that fat contributes as little as 10% to the flavor of beef. Presuming our previous batch had a higher lean to fat ratio, could it be that the addition of more fat helped diffuse the flavor of the flavor-dense lean? This requires some further digging…

Those familiar with our work with heritage meats are acquainted with the factors that influence the quality and flavor of [pasture-raised] beef:  there’s the breed, the terrior, the skill of the farmer, how an animal is “finished”, the age of the beef at harvest, how the beef is aged (and for how long), and how it’s butchered. Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch is considered by some to be the father of the heritage meat movement. In a conversation with him, he added another factor to the mix: genetics.

Mr. Reese pointed out that one cannot expect high quality meat even from a pasture-raised animal whose family lineage includes generations of feedlot living conditions. One cannot, in other words, take an Angus or Hereford calf from the industrial farm industry, place it on pasture, and bid it yield superior quality meat (neither in the sense of superior nutrition or superior flavor). This comes, instead, from generations of breeding on pasture by a skilled farmer. Put it this way: pedigree is important.

It is a great pleasure to share with visitors to our website and those that follow this blog that much of our current inventory of beef comes from those regarded in the industry as amongst the country’s finest cattle breeders, whose breeding experience extends back–in some cases–through more than 30 years. These dedicated farmers win (and sometimes sweep) the national cattle conventions particular to their breed. It is also exciting to consider the long lineages of heritage cattle breeds which, as in the case of Highland cattle, reach back for a thousand years, allowing the process of natural selection to yield a robust, healthy genetic pool.

Considering the laws of genetics–as in the the law of gravity–the apple falls not far from the tree.

In Canada, Boxing Day: the 26th of December, the day–so the carol goes–that “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen, when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” It’s the day we traditionally pack up our skis and head north to the Leelanau Peninsula to glide through snow, “deep and crisp and even.” This Christmas season, however, our journey northward would be closer to home–to Fremont, Michigan–where we visited family.

We arrived in Fremont the night prior (Christmas) in the swiftly falling snow. After unpacking, shoveling, and enjoying some wine and a simple desert, I ventured out into the midnight air armed against the cold with a cigar and flask of Glenlivet 16 Nadura. The walk took me down the picturesque main street of Fremont where a solitary soul shoveled the walk in front of an area business. The whole scene was reminiscent of Christmas Eve in downtown Bedford Falls from Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Upon my return, I rejoined family for the end of A Christmas Story. My wife and I then retired for a long winter’s nap but not before beginning J.R.R. Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales.

We awoke on “the Feast of Stephen” to sunshine and a brief reprieve from the near-constant snowfall that we’ve know this winter in western Michigan. Those who know me well know that certain meals evoke the joy of a child on Christmas morning. On this day, Christmas came twice. First, in the form of a Christmas brunch. Then, later that evening, in the grilling of steaks from a mature Highland beef of nigh 10 years maturity. Each meal was crowned by a simple–but elegant and festive–winter desert: red wine poached pears with vanilla bean ice cream. If these two meals formed the bookends of the day, between them we found time to explore fresh powder on cross country skis. Our day ended as an epilogue in our neighbors’ living room while, in front of the fire, we sipped hot chocolate and eggnog. Life, you know, can really be wonderful.

Poached Pear

In observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas, our weekly posts will resume on Thursday, January 9, 2014. In case you’re keeping count, today (Thursday, January 2, 2014) is the Ninth Day of Christmas.

Happy New Year!