Wednesday, April 6, 2011

FALLING OFF THE BONE: Jean Anderson Shows Us How to Survive the Recession Deliciously

"Without shanks, shoulders, spareribs, and such, there's be no beef bourguignon or ossobuco, no barbecued ribs or oxtail soup," reminds Jean Anderson, one of the very best cookbook writers in America. In FALLING OFF THE BONE (Wiley; $29.95; ISBN: 978-0-470-46713-8), Anderson reminds us that "every country, every culture has counted on the "lesser cuts" in lean times and as a result, created some of the world's most cherished meat recipes. How many great classics begin with steaks, chops, or prime ribs?" The lady has a very big point!

Before the economy tanked, Americans were spoiled.  We gorged on pricey steaks, lamb and pork loin chops, beef filets, and other expensive cuts of meat. For many of us those pricier cuts, once reserved for "special occasions", were becoming daily fare.  Less expensive, more flavorful cuts were right under our noses at the supermarkets, but in our haste to put a meal on the table in thirty minutes or less, we skipped those collagen-rich choices for boneless this and filleted that. Pulling out her soup pot and Dutch oven (and slow cooker), Anderson has set out to right these matters, and in four expansive chapters, FALLING OFF THE BONE explores the flavorful, economical, and endlessly delicious possibilities of beef, veal, lamb and pork.

In the Introduction, Anderson relates a story of her taking a semester-long meat-cutting course in college.  Her final test remains a vivid memory.  "There on butcher-paper-covered tables laid end-to-end in a room the size of a small gymnasium were more than a hundred anonymous cuts of meat. My challenge:  ID them one by one noting type of meat (beef, veal, lamb, pork), animal part (shoulder, rib, loin, and so forth), retail cut (not only name, flank, butt, boned and rolled rump--but also whether Chicago cut, Kansas City, or New York), grade (Prime, Choice, Good, etc.), and finally best ways to cook (broil, braise, stew, etc.) plus the reasons why. That early exposure came in handy in writing of more than 20 cookbooks, none more so I would think than FALLING OFF THE BONE.

Beginning with beef, Anderson explains the various cuts such as brisket, chuck (shoulder), flank, oxtail, plate/short ribs, round, rump, shanks, etc., offering a nutritional profile, the various USDA grades, shopping, storage and freezer tips, as well as ideas for recycling leftovers.  Each section is described with recommendations for cooking, i.e., pot roast for chuck; stew or soups for oxtails.  She then follows with a tantalizing assortment of beef recipes from all over the world.  Jugged Beef is an appealing stew of boneless beef chuck, mushrooms, bacon, carrots, red wine and Madeira.  Once browned and assembled, it slips into your oven to tenderize in two and a half hours, leaving you free for other things.  Mindful of busy schedules, Anderson isn't above some sensible shortcuts, dispensing a few well-thought-out recommendations such as pre-packaged sliced mushrooms and baby carrots.  There are several goulashes, a Spanish Beef Catalan, Country-Fried Steak, Best-Ever Borsch, Texas Beef 'N' Beans and Biscuit, Beef and Vegetable Pie.

Veal is often considered expensive, but it needn't be. Veal shoulder and breast are economical choices that yield tender and tasty results. Stufatino is an easy Florentine classic that contains boneless veal shoulder, smoked bacon, Pinot Grigio and rosemary.  Russian Crumb-Crusted Veal and Beef Loaf with Sour Cream Gravy is a deceptively rich combination of ground meats, crunchy bread crumb, onions, and half and half.  "What also distinguish this meatloaf are its seasonings (dill pickles and nutmeg)," writes Anderson. And there's the final glory of that gravy!

The special flavor and versatility of lamb permeates a Baltic Lamb and Kale Soup, a sumptuous Hassle-Free Oven Stew of Lamb with Peppers and Prosciutto, a homey Crofter's Lamb and Potato Pie, an aromatic Curried Lamb Shanks with Almond Pilaf, and Lebanese Lamb Burgers.  

In the final chapter on pork, Anderson provides seven recipes for ribs alone, my favorite being Gingery Lacquered Spareibs. Affordable pork shoulder, tart green apples, mustard and a small amount of heavy cream distinguish a Pork Hot Pot with Parslied Apple and Carrot Gravy.  Consider a Braised Shoulder of Pork with Herb Stuffing and Pan Gravy for your next important dinner party.

The slow cooker is one of the best vessels for tenderizing old favorites while imparting maximum flavors. Anderson has smartly adapted such classics as Carbonnade Flamande, Blanquette de Veau, Russian Goulash, Lamb with Raisins and Toasted Almonds, Brunswick Stew with Pork, and Pork Ossobuco to this popular kitchen appliance.

Savoring flavor while saving money is a good mantra for today's thoughtful cooks.  FALLING OFF THE BONE dusts off the old school concept of Grandma's long-simmering soups and stews, re-engaging our interests in the whole range of meats and their delicious possibilities and all available at your nearest market. The knowledge Jean Anderson imparts here will make you a better cook as well as a better manager of the family finances.

Jean Anderson (photo: Rudy Miller)

Jean Anderson has long been one of my favorite cookbook authors.  The lady has won six best cookbook awards (James Beard, IACP and Tastemaker), and in the 70s co-authored (with Elaine Hanna) my favorite all-purpose kitchen reference, The Doubleday Cookbook, later published as The New Doubleday Cookbook.  Her special affection for the people and foods of Portugal resulted in The Food of Portugal. I also admired her last cookbook, A Love Affair with Southern Cooking, and praised  it on this blog.

Hassle-Free Oven Stew of Lamb with Peppers and Prosciutto

When I was growing up in the “small-town South,” my Midwestern mother often served lamb to the horror of southern neighbors who wouldn’t touch it. Pork and chicken were their meats of choice with more expensive beef a close third. At long last the South has embraced lamb. Even farmer’s markets sell it, pampered organic lamb grazed on pesticide-and herbicide-free meadows. What I’ve done here is update one of my mother’s hearty lamb stews for today’s tastes. She’d be appalled by the amount of garlic, and to my knowledge, had never heard of prosciutto.

3 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour mixed with
 1 tablespoon paprika, 11/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon each freshly ground black
 pepper, crumbled dried leaf rosemary and thyme (seasoned flour)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 ounces prosciutto, finely diced

2 large yellow onions, halved lengthwise and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

2 large red bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and each half cut in 2-inch wedges

2 large yellow or orange bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored, seeded, and each half cut in
 2-inch wedges

8 large garlic cloves, smashed and skins removed

2 large whole bay leaves (preferably fresh)

2 cups dry red wine such as Valpolicella, Merlot, or Cabernet (about)

1.      Preheat oven to 350°F.

2.      Dredge lamb, a few pieces at a time, by shaking in a large plastic zipper bag with seasoned flour and set aside.

3.      Heat oil in a large heavy nonreactive Dutch oven over moderately high heat until ripples appear on pan bottom--1 1/2  to 2 minutes.

4.      Add prosciutto and stir-fry until lightly browned--2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, scoop to paper toweling to drain.

5.      Brown dredged lamb in several batches in oil, allowing 8 to 10 minutes per batch and lifting each to a bowl as it browns.

6.      Add onions, red and yellow bell peppers, garlic, and bay leaves to pot and sauté, stirring often, until limp--about 5 minutes. Return prosciutto and lamb to pot along with accumulated juices, add wine, and bring to a boil.

7.      Cover, slide onto middle oven shelf, and braise until lamb is fork-tender--about 2 hours. Check pot now and then and if liquid seems skimpy, add a little more wine. Discard bay leaves, taste for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed.

8.      Serve hot with boiled brown or white rice, buttered broad noodles, or boiled or mashed potatoes. I even like this stew ladled over baked sweet potatoes, halved and plumped.
Makes 6 Servings

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


A shoulder of lamb

I recently watched the great Jamie Oliver braise a shoulder of lamb from his TV series and companion cookbook, JAMIE AT HOME (Hyperion) that looked so good, I was dying to make it myself.   Having lived in New York City for many years, I was used to being able to buy meat in any form I liked--whenever I liked, at a variety of places, supermarket, butcher, specialty shop, etc. But it's not so easy to find this economical cut of meat in this very food-trendy city. In fact the meat aisles at supermarkets in Portland these days pretty much stick to the tried and true--lots of beef and pork, with little in the way of lamb and veal.  Turkey parts, excellent for stock are rarely to be seen at Fred Meyer or Safeway.  Chicken wings are also difficult to find fresh, though you see lots of "drumettes", which have become popular for Buffalo Chicken Wings.  

Lamb shoulder chop

A fully cooked lamb shank--heaven on a plate

Lamb seems to exist outside of New York only in cryovac plastic or at expensive grocers. Portland, has few first rate butchers that can order a lamb shoulder or any other specialty cuts not found in local supermarkets by special order. At Gardner's one of the city's most popular butchers, they sell top quality steaks, roasts, and other tender, in-demand cuts such as veal shanks, but if you want a lamb shoulder you must buy it in a box of six (the average lamb shoulder can be five to seven pounds)--not very practical. Trader Joe's here sells New Zealand racks of lamb frozen. What little fresh lamb they have is processed much like supermarket meat and is also expensive.  You'll see boneless leg of lamb in supermarkets and sometimes in shank form--again, in plastic. It's difficult to find flavorful shoulder lamb chops in supermarkets, and ground lamb is difficult to find as well.  New Seasons, Zupan's and Whole Foods do stock these items, but you'll pay dearly for them. Costco offers only boneless leg of lamb shrink-wrapped and fancy lamb loin chops. 

Breast of veal

Ground lamb, shoulder lamb chops, and shanks were a fixture of my childhood meals.  My mother braised lamb shoulder for stew, and Sheperd's Pie.  A leg of lamb was reserved for Christmas or Easter dinner. In my teens flank steak, knockwurst, oven-fried chicken, rabbit (why do we resist this delicious meat?), meatloaf, spaghetti and meat sauce (as well as a baked American version), beef stew, roast chicken, chili, and the like, was our daily fare.  My mother had the only kids who would cheerfully eat calves liver and relished it. We rarely ate grilled steak and never chicken parts. She cut up whole chickens for her meals including chicken and dumplings.  Boiled beef with homemade noodles, was comprised of inexpensive cuts of beef long simmered.  In California, butchers cut the chuck blade in thick slabs on the bone and we at it braised in one piece with onions, carrots, potatoes and peas (I was shocked to find thin bony versions of this cut when I moved to New York in my early 20s).  My mother raised four boys with no father and only her income to keep a roof over our heads.  There wasn't any spare money to lavish on the kinds of boring tender and boneless cuts of meat that you see in today's markets. 

A chuck blade steak

Maybe we're too far removed from the farm.  Americans bland diets will adventurously try every hot and spicy sauce that comes on the market, but get very squeamish about about anything meat that smacks of offal.  And now that chefs have co-opted all those delicious cheap cuts--veal and lamb shanks, flank steak, hangar steak, skirt steak, beef, veal, pork and lamb shoulder (and thus ramping up the price at the supermarket checkout), it's as if we've retreated even further towards the really expensive steaks, filet mignon, rib eye and Porterhouse steaks, veal rib and loin chops, lamb loin chops and and pork tenderloin.  It's good for a restaurant's bottom line, but is it good for ours?  A pork loin roast, with crispy fat on it's surface was a well-loved Sunday supper entree.  But the fat police interfered, pigs lost much of the fat that made them taste so good, and so today's supermarket roast pork lacks fat marbling and isn't as tender as it once was. 

But back to butchering.  I've been hearing that butchering is the hot new career in food.  I've yet to see it really take hold.  Maybe there's not enough money in it.  When I was a kid, there were butcher shops in every neighborhood.  I have vivid memories of covered farmer's markets in the center of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the vendors stalls overflowed with locally produced meat and dairy products, vegetables, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. Later when we moved to San Francisco, it was a big deal to go downtown where there were these specialty markets packed with fresh, local, delicious food.  The meat for sale looked amazing, and the variety was overwhelming.  About the only butchering development that has captured my imagination is sausage.  In Portland, the city is awash in fabulous sausage. Otto's, Sheridan Meat and Fruit, and Edelweiss are just three local markets that make their own sausage and elevated the art in the process.  Of course, we're surrounded by chicken sausage, but it's a small price to pay. 

Let's hope there's a return to great butchering soon.  We certainly have a lot of cookbooks with recipes for these nearly forgotten but recovered recipes. We long overdue to start cooking them again.