Being not much of a meat eater, I have decided that when I do eat meat I want to eat only the best. I know that this sounds a little high-handed but since it will not be an every-day occurrence, I’ve decided it is quite okay to indulge myself. However, I have found that this is not as easy as it once was. First of all there are no longer many butcher shops catering to such whims and, in the second place, even those markets featuring full-service meat sections, skilled, old-fashioned butchers have gone the way of a full carcass of meat hanging in the cooler. What I’ve found is that indulgence can’t be a spur-of-the-moment thing—at least when it comes to buying great meat.
Because I love to cook meat on a grill, this summer’s first culinary acquistion occurred in the height of early spring mud season when we purchased the grill I had been waffling about buying for the last couple of years. Unbelievably, I found it on sale at Lowe’s for an incredible $99.00. Our old Weber had succumbed to upstate New York rust and we had checked out the fall clearance sales to no avail. We had seen every extravagance of gas grill—some with burners on the side, some with double grills, some that were made to be permanent installations and on and on—but no on-sale charcoal grills were to be had. Actually, I lie—we did find this very same gas-grill-looking charcoal grill early on in the search but I was too cheap to spend what I thought was the hefty amount required to take it home. Now, here it was with melting snow on the ground, cheaper than the classic, domed Weber, I had a $10.00 off certificate, so, in my excitement, I bought the 2 that were left. It has the larger grilling surface of a gas grill with the requisite side shelves and a grate that can be raised or lowered. One grill now sits in our yard and the other has a home “on the hill” of our close friend’s farm where we spend many summer evenings sipping rosé, grilling, and watching the sun go down. At the end of summer, they will both move to covered spots so we can continue to grill until the winter snows get too deep to move food from the kitchen to the grill. Well, I lie, we have pulled on our Wellies and plowed through knee-deep drifts to get the perfect char on a steak!
Now to find the meat to throw on the glowing hard wood charcoal that we’ve come to love. And, to try our hand at grilling directly over wood which is our goal for this summer’s feasting.
Prime beef is succulently delicious, flowing with fatty juices, very, very expensive, and really difficult to find, particularly in today’s inflated marketplace hammered by mad cow disease, fuel pass-alongs, feedlot costs, and import/export issues. Since almost all of the prime beef is purchased by steak houses and starred restaurants, there is very little left for the average consumer. Even in New York City, there are only a couple of markets from which you can be assured that the steak you buy will be prime. Lobel Brothers is one such place. The meat is as prime as you are ever going to be able to buy but, boy, so are the prices. This is pure indulgence. You can, should you be of my same mind, visit them on the web and I’ll bet that they will be more than happy to indulge you.
On a more realistic plane, there are a couple of great artisanal suppliers that I use that may not offer meat labeled “prime” but they do sell small-farm raised, grass-fed veal, pork, lamb, beef, rabbit and goat that is absolutely delicious. One of them, Meadow Raised Meats (www.meadowraisedmeats.com) is a small cooperative located in the tiny, rural town of East Meredith, New York (607-278-5773). You can buy a whole side or a quarter or, for the home freezer, individual cuts, as well as chickens, eggs, goat cheese and other goat’s milk products in addition to lamb’s wool items such as hand-woven blankets and throws.
The other is Valley Farmers (http://www.valleyfarmers.com) in New York’s Hudson Valley. This cooperative specializes in grass-fed lamb, beef and the distinct red-colored veal that signifies that the animal has been fed grass in addition to its mother’s milk. This type of veal is more like European veal than the more-recognizable pale, almost-white, pink of milk-fed American veal.
For chicken and turkey, if you are not lucky enough to have a local farmer selling hand-raised birds, I find that Eberly Poultry (http://www.eberlypoultry.com) in Pennsylvania’s Amish country delivers some of the best I’ve tasted since my childhood when I munched on the leg of the roasted chicken Mrs. Lowe had taken from the coop but an hour or so earlier. Many of the finest chefs use these birds and swear that they are as near to the fine Bresse chickens of France as we will find in America. Of course, once you get the chicken (or turkey) you’ll have to take the time to brine it to bring out its flavor and insure its tenderness. (Here I digress for a moment—if you don’t brine, start doing so—it makes a world of difference in the outcome—I recently did my own taste test with a large pork loin I had purchased on sale—I cut it in half—brined one and left the other as it came—the brined one held its texture beautifully and was tender and juicy while the other held its texture so firmly that it was tough, lacking in flavor and, in fact, as near inedible as anything I’ve ever brought to the table. All the difference took was a couple of hours and some cold water seasoned with a good handful of coarse salt and a bit of sugar. If you have any growing on the sill or in the garden or even left-over in the fridge, a few fresh herb sprigs—any kind—add a little zip to the brine—but don’t run out and purchase any especially for this purpose—herbs aren’t at all necessary to complete the process.)
So, what I’ve found is that indulgence takes a bit of perseverance. For me, a few years to find the perfect grill. And, for those really special meals, deep pockets to hit the prime circuit. Or some patience to allow my order to arrive in the cold-packed box, a wait for my favorite local farmers to present their wares at the Union Square or Cooperstown farmers markets, a trip to the country to snag my dinner straight from the farm, or a wait for our friendly hunter (and best friend) Doug’s luck to run with a catch of wild turkey, pheasant or other birds, or, in the fall, the first venison of the season.
Stuffed Pork Loin
Pork loin is a great bargain meat. I usually buy a whole piece on the bone; then, I remove the bones and freeze them for later use either grilled with some zesty spices or added to beans or greens for additional flavor. I cut the loin into pieces—usually one half and two quarters. The half I use when we have guests (as in the following recipe) and the quarters I use to make cutlets, stir-fries, medallions, or loaves.
Because its flavor is relatively mild, you can use almost any stuffing for pork—fruit and nut is an old favorite, but an herbaceous bread stuffing would work as would a aromatic rice or mushroom mixture. You can also wrap the pork with bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, or really thin slices of smoky ham.
2 cups chopped dried apricots
½ cup yellow raisins
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1½ cups Calvados
½ cup dry white wine plus 1 cup, if roasting
One 5-pound boneless pork loin
Coarse salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1¼ cups finely diced onion
Approximately ½ cup fine bread crumbs
Approximately 2 tablespoons canola oil
Combine the apricots, raisins, and nuts in a medium bowl. Add the Calvados and wine and set aside to marinate for at least 1 hour. (If you prefer an alcohol-free stuffing, use cider.)
Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the pork open to make a neat, flat solid piece of meat. This is best done by cutting from one side into the center (without cutting through to the edge) and then carefully folding the cut flap out. Then, cut from the interior out through the thicker piece to open another flap. Then gently push down to flatten the entire piece out. Cover with plastic film and let come to room temperature.
When ready to stuff, place the butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 4 minutes or until softened. Scrape the warm onion mixture into the marinating fruit and nuts, stirring to blend well. Add the crumbs, a bit at a time, to make a firm, but wet stuffing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat and oil the grill or preheat the oven to 450ºF.
Uncover the pork and carefully cover with an even layer of the stuffing, leaving about an inch around the edges. Roll, cigar fashion, from the bottom up to make a neat log. Using butcher’s twine, neatly tie the roll closed.
Rub the exterior with oil and again season with salt and pepper.
If grilling, place the loin on the grill and sear, turning frequently, until all sides are nicely colored. Move to the coolest part of the grill, cover, and grill, turning occasionally, for about 1 hour or until an instant-read thermometer reads when inserted into the thickest part reads 160ºF. (If roasting in the oven, place the loin in a roasting pan along with 1 cup of white wine. Place in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes or until nicely colored. Lower the heat to 375ºF and roast for an additional hour or until an instant-read thermometer reads when inserted into the thickest part reads 160ºF. Proceed as for grilled.)
Remove from the grill and let rest for 15 minutes. Untie and cut, crosswise, into thin slices. If roasted, there may be pan juices which can be drizzled over the sliced meat.