Wild vs. Farmed Fish — Pros and Cons

Wild vs. Farmed Fish, Pros and ConsA Tale of Two Fishes
If you are one of the many people who has been trying to eat better by cutting out red meat and including more fish, you have had to make the decision between purchasing wild vs. farmed fish. It can be a hard decision because there are pros and cons to both.

The only real difference between the two is where they are raised. Wild fish is exactly that, fish caught in the wild. Farmed fish are raised in pens submerged in ponds, lakes or saltwater. Pretty straightforward.

Public perception would tell you that wild-caught fish is better for you because it is caught in its natural environment, the way we have always caught fish. This may or may not be the case, as I will explain.

The stigma attached to farm-raised fish suggests that it is a genetically modified Frankenfish. It is not. It is the same animal you have always eaten that has been raised in a controlled environment.

In an effort to try to demystify your fish shopping experience, we have compiled a list of pros and cons to help make your decision easier.

Wild Caught
The biggest proponent of buying wild-caught fish is that it doesn’t contain any antibiotics or pesticides, though the later really depends on the waters that are being fished. Buying wild caught is no guarantee that mercury or other toxin levels in your fish will be low, again, it all depends on the environment they are swimming in. Read more…


BaconBacon — The Other Food Group

Though people have been enjoying the awesomeness that is bacon for centuries, lately it seems that bacon is everywhere. You can find it in chocolate, jerky, and even jam. There is so much bacon available nowadays that it is hard to know which one to buy. Hopefully, we’ll be able to help…

Uncured  vs. Cured
The first question you should be thinking about your bacon Uncured or Cured? The term Uncured, however, is a little misleading. All bacon is preserved by either using smoke or salt, so by definition, bacon is a cured meat. If it were not cured, it would just be pork belly (or loin, or fatback…).

Flavor-wise, the difference between the two is difficult to discern. The real distinction between Cured and Uncured is how it is cured. So that means the only real difference between the two is the manner in which the pork is preserved.

Cured bacon is made by adding artificial nitrates, generally sodium nitrate, to the salt and brine mixture. The added nitrates help prevent the growth of bacteria on the meat so they are an important part of the process but they may have a negative impact on your health.

Because of those health concerns, uncured bacon has become much more popular. Though Uncured bacon does not have any added artificial nitrates, it is not nitrate-free because you are using the naturally occurring nitrates in celery extract or sea salt to cure the bacon. So while you may not be eating artificial nitrates, you are still eating nitrates.

The argument for or against curing basically comes down to preference. Uncured bacon hasn’t been fooled with as much, so it has been left in a much more natural state than cured bacon. And sometimes has a flavor closer to pork belly. It can also be saltier because the meat has to be in the brine longer to get the same preservation result as the cured bacon.

So you may be asking “If the cured vs. uncured doesn’t make that much of a difference in taste, why the explosion of the different bacon products?” The answer my friends is all in the smoke.

Once you’ve cured the pork it’s time for the smoke. This is what gives bacon that smokey-good flavor and also makes the bacon easier to slice.

Traditionally smoked bacon is put in a smoker and heated to 130 degrees. Some industrial producers though will skip the smoking and apply liquid smoke to the cured meat before heating it. To avoid this product, look for the label that says Hardwood Smoked or Naturally Smoked as this means it has actually gone into a smoker.

Taking things a step further, you can look for labels that say Applewood Smoked or Mesquite Smoked. Obviously, this means that the product was smoked using the specified wood. The average bacon eater will probably not notice the flavor difference between various smoking woods. But to a bacon connoisseur, the difference is similar to the wine lover who can taster the black cherry notes in his Zinfandel.

The good news in all of this is that you get to try each and every version of bacon to find your favorite. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it…

Prime Rib

Prime Rib The Butcher's BloceIf there is one cut of beef that just screams holidays or big celebrations, it is the prime rib.

Prime rib makes a dramatic impression when brought to the table, and the flavor and tenderness can’t be beat. As an added bonus? Any leftovers will make fantastic sandwiches, which is good because prime rib is an expensive cut of meat.

Prime rib, also known as a standing rib roast, is a cut of beef from the primal rib, one of the nine primal cuts of beef. This area is made up of ribs 6 thru 12 of the steer. The full rib roast, meaning all 7 ribs, on average can weigh up to 16 pounds or more. That’s a lot of prime rib. Not to mention the financial hit. As a general rule, 1 rib can serve two people so if you have 10 people coming for dinner, you will need a 5 rib roast. A “Ideal” roast is 3 to 5 ribs and will weigh from 6 to 12 pounds.

Most prime ribs are sold in smaller pieces of 2 to 6 ribs. The best portion, according to some, is the section that contains ribs 10-12 and is known as the small end. The meat in this area is tender and flavorful and is more lean than the other side known as the large end.

Prime ribs can be ordered without the bones, however the presentation is not as impressive. If you decide to go with a bone-in roast, remember to ask your butcher to trim off the feather, or chine, bones to make carving easier.

Cooking a prime rib couldn’t be easier. All that is required is your favorite seasoning and a good thermometer, so that you know it is not overcooked. Resting the roast after cooking is also essential.

Though there are plenty of options for seasoning your roast, you can never go wrong with classic salt and pepper. We strongly recommend Butcher’s Salt from the French Farm Collective, or Andy’s Rub that’s available in our Meat Department. And there is always our perennial staff favorite, Oakland Dust

Below is our preferred method of cooking your prime rib. These instructions can be applied to any size roast.

Standing Rib Roast
Adapted from the Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells

Read more…

Preparing Your Turkey: A Thanksgiving Survival Guide

Preparing Your TurkeyIf it’s November, you know we’re going to be talking about how preparing your turkey. Because most people only cook a turkey once a year, it can be a challenge to get things just right. And there are so many ways to prepare a turkey.

We have put together this Thanksgiving Survival Guide to answer the questions that may come as you think about preparing your turkey for the big feast.

How Big a Bird?
The first questions you should be asking are, “How big of a turkey do I need?”, and “What will actually fit in my oven?” As a general rule, you should plan on one pound of turkey per person. This should cover dinner, and leave you with a few leftovers. If you require a lot of leftovers, a pound and a half per person should be sufficient.

If you are planning to have a large number of people for Thanksgiving and are ordering a large turkey, you want to make sure that it will fit in your oven with sufficient room to roast. If it gets too close to the top element it will burn. If you’re uncertain it will work, you can always go with two smaller turkeys. Smaller birds cook quicker, and will ensure there is enough for everyone—including leftovers.

Spatchcock or Splay
Another option for large birds (or any turkey) is to spatchcock or butterfly the turkey. This flattens the turkey, so that it will not only fit in your oven, but your cooking time will be much faster. Spatchcocking also allows for more even cooking so that your light and dark meat are both juicy. The only drawback is you don’t have the drama of bringing a perfectly roasted turkey to the table. You can spatchcock a turkey yourself, or ask our butchers, they will be happy to do it for you. Read more…

Pork Loin

Pork LoinPork is one of the most commonly consumed meats in the world, both for it’s ease of production and for it’s versatility in cooking. Think about how much bacon is consumed globally on a daily basis. Add in some sausage and that number grows dramatically. Not to mention ham sandwiches…

Pork is not just fatty cured goodness, however. For Fall weather cooking, there are few things that are better than a slow-roasted Pork Loin.

Unlike beef, which is divided into eight primal parts, the pig is only broken down in to four. The first two sections are the shoulder and the belly…mmmm, bacon. The hind leg or ham is the largest of the four. The back, or loin, comes next, and is and is probably the most popular.

The loin can be sold whole or cut into three parts called the sirloin end, the center-cut loin, and the blade end. If you are someone who enjoys a nice pork roast, this is the section that your roast comes from. It is also the same section of the pig that produces your favorite bone-in chops, and the always impressive crown roast.

Because it is so lean, the cuts from the back area of the pig can tend to dry out if not cooked correctly. As a general rule, pork should be cooked to a final temperature of 150-165º Fahrenheit. To ensure you don’t end up with a dry roast, remove it from the oven when the internal temperature reaches 145-155º Fahrenheit. And then let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes. The carryover heat will keep the roast cooking to achieve the proper temperature without overcooking. Brining the meat before roasting can also be helpful.

Choose pork for Fall weather cooking because it’s flavor stands up well to the sweet flavors that go with the fall. Apples, maple syrup, sweet potatoes and cinnamon all compliment any pork entrée.

For a perfect example, check out this recipe for Stuffed Roast Pork Loin with Figs, on our What’s For Dinner Wednesday blog.

London Broil

London BroilChances are good that you have seen steaks labeled London Broil almost anywhere that sells meat.

The true definition of London Broil can be tricky, because it doesn’t actually refer to a specific cut of meat. London Broil refers to the preparation, mainly a grilled flank steak that has been marinated in a tangy sauce.

What you see in the butcher’s case labeled London Broil is actually a less tender steak. It can come from the top round, sirloin, or even the shoulder. All of these cuts are best served when marinated.

And they are some of the most popular steaks sold because they are relatively cheap and can be cooked using dry heat methods, like grilling.

Because this cut of beef is very lean, a wet or dry marinade is required for a juicy and tasty steak.

The sirloin is located by the hip on the top side of the hindquarter. It is one of the biggest cuts of the animal and can weigh about 30 pounds. Most sirloin arrives boneless and can be called by all sorts of names: top butt steak, top sirloin butt, sirloin butt steak, hip sirloin, or center cut sirloin as well as London Broil.

And, London Broil is the perfect cut for tailgating since you can cook more than one at a time and sliced it up to eat as is or put on a fresh roll for sandwiches . Give this marinade a try at your next get together…

London Broil Bourbon Marinade
Adapted from The Complete Meat Cookbook
by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly
Begin this recipe the day before you plan to serve it, so the meat has time to marinate. Read more…

New York Steaks

New York SteaksYou can find New York steaks on most restaurant menus. Why is that, you may ask? Because New York Steaks are one of the most tasty and tender steaks you can buy. Of course, as with all meats, how you prepare them can have a huge impact on taste and tenderness.

New York steaks are cut from the short loin area of the cow, which is located in the middle of the back. This area gets very little exercise, and results in very tender meat.

There is a T-shaped bone that separates the tenderloin, or fillet, muscle from the larger top loin—otherwise known as the strip, or New York.

A boneless top loin steak is what we usually refer to as a New York Steak. But it can go by many other names such as: Kansas City steak, New York strip steak, boneless club steak or plain old strip steak.

No matter what you call them, these steaks are best prepared over a grill or seared in a hot pan. Their flesh is firm enough that you could marinate a New York if you wanted to. But you can’t go wrong with simple salt and pepper…and maybe a good bottle of Cab.

For one of our favorite steak recipes see our What’s for Dinner Wednesday Chimichurri post. Read more…

Rack of Lamb

Rack of LambMany people consider lamb to be a special occasion meat, which can make sense. A roast leg of lamb can feed a crowd, and a rack of lamb can be a once-in-a-while treat because of the price tag. However, lamb is a versatile, flavorful, and tender meat that is perfect for every day eating.

For a long time farmers have been breeding their sheep specifically to produce higher quality meat, so most of the lamb we buy today is tender and easy to cook using high dry heat. There are a few exceptions: the shoulder area cuts and the shanks are better cooked using a moist heat method, or braised to make them tender.

Lamb comes from animals that are between five and twelve months of age. Since lamb is much smaller than beef, it’s cuts are easier to understand. The five primal cuts are: Shoulder, Forelegs and Breast, ribs, loin, and hind leg.

Leg of lamb can be extremely versatile. A boneless leg of lamb is great on the grill or stuffed, rolled and roasted. In a pinch, it can even be cut into cubes for stew.

By far, the most tender cuts come from the ribs and loin, and the most well-known of those are loin chops and rack of lamb.

Roasting a rack of lamb is super-easy. If you choose to give it a shot, make sure to ask your butcher to remove the chine bone, so that you will actually be able to cut the rack into individual chops when serving.

All racks of lamb come frenched which means that the fat between the bones has been removed. A frenched rack of lamb weighs approximately one to one and a half pounds, and should feed two people.

Herb-Crusted Roast Rack of Lamb
Adapted from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly

Read more…

Hanger Steak

Hanger SteakThe lazy days of summer have begun—which means most likely you will be firing up your grill for easy summer dinners. Summer grilling offers so many possibilities: there are the obvious ones like Rib-eyes and Chateaubriand, but there are some other, less expensive options, that might be just as good without breaking the bank.

If you have been in a restaurant lately. you probably noticed that Hanger steak is everywhere. What is Hanger steak? It is the section of meat from the plate section of the cow (meaning the front of the belly), it “hangs” off of the cows diaphragm, hence the name. Why is it everywhere? Because it offers a fantastic beefy flavor generally associated with the more expensive cuts like rib eye, with a much more affordable price tag.

There are many names for hanger steak including butcher’s steak, bistro steak or onglet steak but they all refer to the same cut of meat. When in doubt, ask your butcher.
In order to get the best out of your hanger steak, you have to cook it correctly. It is essential that you cook it over high heat, while flipping occasionally. A perfect hanger steak will be cooked to medium-rare or medium. Anything above medium and your steak will be too hard to chew, due to it’s texture and grain. On the flip side, a rare hanger steak will be mushy and not appealing. Use a thermometer while you grill, and cook it to 125º to 130º F before pulling it off. This gives it a little extra room for the temperature to rise while the steaks rest.

To serve, make sure you slice it against the grain. If cooked the right way and sliced up properly, your hanger steak will be very tender.

Because of it’s texture, hanger steak is a perfect candidate for marinating. A simple marinade can be great, but this cut of meat does well in most Mexican recipes as well as Vietnamese and Thai recipes.

If your looking for a good marinade for you first attempt at grilling a hanger steak, try this one.

Hanger Steak Marinade
Read more…

Skirt Steak

Skirt Steak for FajitasThe Block is back!

For this episode of The Butcher’s Block, we focus on skirt steak. Why, you may ask? Because skirt steak is hands down the best cut for tacos, and with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, this will make for an easy Thursday night fiesta.

Skirt steak is an inexpensive cut of beef from the “plate” or the diaphragm muscles of the cow, located in the area just below the ribs. It is long, flat, and prized for its intense beefy flavor. Similar to flank steak, it is very lean, contains tough fibers, and is best served rare to medium-rare. To make it easier to eat, slice skirt steak across the grain of the meat when serving. When marinaded and cooked, it is a delicious go-to for any meal—and you get great flavor bang for your buck.

Skirt steaks take to marinades very well, and are best cooked quickly over high heat (though you can slow cook it or braise if you want). Skirt steak really shines though when grilled, seared, or used in stir-fry: anything that uses fast, high heat.

Skirt steak is so versatile that you can find it in many cuisines. We love it for tacos and fajitas, but it is great for Korean Bulgogi, any beef stir-fry, and yummy when slathered with fresh chimmi churri. It also, makes a very tasty steak sandwich.

Here are some great recipes for the dishes that we mentioned:
Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos with Roasted Poblano Rajas from our What’s for Dinner Wednesday recipe blog, Argentinean Chimmi Churri from our What’s for Dinner Wednesday recipe blog, Korean Bulgogi from The Kitchn, and for quick, weeknight fajitas, we recommend using Frontera Seasoning Sauces, gourmet Mexican seasoning from Chef Rick Bayless. Read more…