Friday, September 18, 2009

A Little Grass Fed Education

I was reading a local blog, Diary of a Locavore, when I learned that grass fed meat requires a different method of cooking than standard meat. The differences in the make-up of the meat structure, fat content, etc. call for a lower cooking temperature, and maybe some marinating or tenderizing. I am sure most of you know about the health benefits of eating grass fed beef, and that having a "grass-finished" cow is extremely important (a cow finished in a feed lot loses much of it's added nutritional benefits) so I won't get in to all of that here. Check out the Locavore's post for some good recipes.

We have been eating "natural, sustainably raised" beef grazed in VT for many months now and there is certainly a difference in texture. We have said it is a little tough comparatively speaking. My next meat order should be arriving at year's end from River Rock Farm in Westport. This Angus is 100% grass fed, organically raised, and hard to come by. A year on a waiting list was not going to get me a 1/2 side, luckily they reserve some cows for sale solely through my CSA which turned out to be a wonderful surprise. I am very excited to feed my family what I believe to be some of the best meat available locally. The cows are to be slaughtered at Blood Farm in Groton Massachusetts, a farm I used to live just minutes from and one that is USDA approved. Good stuff all around.

Now I like my cow 'still moo-ing', but my husband prefers a medium to medium-well steak, so our meat has been sampled at many degrees of doneness. I did not purchase any roasts in my last order from Rhodemont Farms, just 35-40 lbs of steak, kabobs/stew beef, and ground. We have been very pleased with the steaks and ground beef, but the kabob/stew beef has been almost inedible due to the toughness when kabobed or stewed. Maybe I am doing something wrong? The subtle differences in preparation and cooking required with grass fed beef make perfect sense to me in hindsight though I never thought to seek them out. There are actual books on the subject such as The Grassfed Gourmet, and a number of great articles like this one over at Sustainable Table. Here is a marinade I will be trying today on the honkin' sirloin steak that is sitting in my fridge:

(Marinade recipe taken from Alderspring Grass Fed site)

Italian beer marinade - UPDATE- We did not care for this marinade.
12 oz beer
½ c Italian salad dressing
5 cloves garlic; (minced)
2 Tb lemon or lime juice
1 tb sugar
Salt and pepper
2 Tb ground cloves
¼ c Worchestershire sauce
2 Tb Vinegar

I learned that 30% less cooking time is required and the low fat content begs for some special preparations including adding a little fat and using a lower cooking temperature. All sources say a meat thermometer is a must. I will be doing some more reading on this subject since the incoming 90 lbs of beef is going to last my family a looooong time, I want to do it right. If you are already eating, or have been thinking about finding some local grass fed beef, lamb, or poultry check out the linked sources and join me in my journey of learning the best ways to cook the good stuff.


Thomas said...

Hi Kelly, great post! We've thinking about joining a meat CSA for awhile now but The cost has put us off somewhat. In a way though, I guess it would allow us to be much more aware about the amount of meat we eat and to cut down on it. I was reading about Chestnut Farms in Hardwick, MA. In addition to beef, they also have pork, chicken and lamb (which I'm not too fond of). Also, they have various distribution sites and seem like good people from what I can tell. Do you think you'll stay with your vendor?

Erin said...

Kelly, we have been eating the sustainably raised, grass fed and humanely slaughtered stuff for about a year now, and the one thing we have found is that ours is as tender as butter! Maybe the grass and pastures that grow in different parts of the country have something to do with it? As far as prep goes, for any of our steaks or boneless cuts, I just use salt & pepper, rub a little oil on and sear in the pan, then straight onto the grill. The hamburger is phenomenal as long as you barely mix it together with your seasonings and form patties quickly without smushing them too much, my husband says he can taste the grass, but maybe that's because he had more than one homebrew, lol!

Erin said...

one more thing...I have read that the manner of slaughter has way more to do with the taste of meat than previously thought. High stress levels during the slaughter process can cause differences in taste, the same way people have always known about game such as venison...quick and painless death and processing = great tasting meat!

Kelly said...

I have read that too Erin. If the animal is stressed I think it can toughen the meat as well.