The River Cottage Meat Book
What is good meat? Although that’s the actual heart of the matter that author Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall takes on in this great book, he does not start out with it. Rather, he immediately starts Chapter #1 (“Meat And Right”) with an honest and intriguing inquiry into those gnarly issues that surround the domestication of animals for their meat.
I freely admit that this subject was not top of mind when I began looking for a book to help me gain a better working knowledge of the various cuts of beef and pork. And although a penetrating and intelligent discussion of ethics was not what I expected, after reading just a few paragraphs Hugh had completely captured my attention, and I was hooked. And it makes sense. After all, this is a book that is all about the quality of the meat that we eat. What quality meat is, where it comes from, how to think about it and finally, how to prepare and cook it.
All through my cooking life I’ve been gradually gravitating toward higher and higher quality food. And as I became serious about cooking fine food, my quest for quality ingredients only became more magnified. But all of this seemed to happen without my having a specific story or fully-formed understanding of why quality ingredients mattered. In other words, I began to instinctively feel that I should be buying meat that had been grown using less antibiotics and steroids, but I still would occasionally pick up a sandwich or dinner along the way that I knew to be less than “natural”. I guess I also had the information that large, industrial meat farms were not the most pleasant environments, either for the workers or for the animals raised there. But it all had just not yet crystallized in my mind.
What I did know was that the food world had dramatically changed during my 30-odd years of adult life. When I was first starting to cook in high school, “organic” or “natural” produce meant the small fruit or vegetable that didn’t taste very good, and probably had bugs. Today, I’ve found myself buying exclusively all natural produce and meats, while instinctively leaning toward organic whenever it is available. Why? Because today this is the quality produce. It tastes better!
So while my instinct toward natural and organic meat was slowly becoming more clear, The River Cottage Meat Book came along and snapped it into sharp focus for me. Hugh tells you exactly why pork raised in a factory has a spongy texture, is filled with water, and has absolutely no flavor. He lays out the difference between “good and bad farming”, and backs it up with and a sound explanation of the ethics involved in good animal husbandry, and finally, why it is our responsibility as meat consumers to care, and to do something about it.
Home Cured Pancetta, ala Michael Ruhlman’s Recipe
Refreshing is the best word I can use to sum up this book. After setting the stage for understanding what quality meat is and how it is produced, the author finishes Part One with the more standard textbook material illustrating various cuts of meat and how they are used. Pork, beef, veal, lamb, mutton, poultry and game are all covered in good detail. Part Two of the book is essentially a cookbook, broken out into sections by cooking technique: roasting, slow cooking, fast cooking, barbecuing and preserving techniques are all complimented with multiple recipes.
While I would not rate the recipes in The River Cottage Meat Book to be the most intriguing to my personal style of cooking or entertaining, this book is so solid and unique in its approach, that I recommend it to anyone interested in buying and preparing better meat.
Winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Cookbook of the Year, 2008.