Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Being a Careful Consumer and Spring Lamb Stew

The main reason I went to cooking school was to learn how to truss a chicken and butcher stuff. This grosses some people out. It behooves the carnivore to know just what it takes to bring the main course to the dinner table – the whole bloody story. When we are mindful of the animal’s life (not just the life it has yielded, but the animal’s quality of life in terms on confinement and feed) we are more responsible and careful consumers.

Earlier this year my good friend friend Jeff began neighborhood cooperative farm out in Washington. They started with chicks. In a matter of months Jeff’s become something of a slaughter master. Bainbridge Island photographer Stephen Sloan captured the day with a series of photos that begin with a shot of a dozen or so plump, gorgeous chickens, grazing freely, and end with a little boy, age 6 or 7, carrying home the family dinner in a clean Ziploc bag.

Looking at the slaughter day photos made me realize that my animal protein purchases don’t provide much evidence of a completely careful consumer. Because of dietary restrictions I only purchase leaner proteins - flank steak, leg of lamb, boneless/skinless chicken breasts. The eater in me has come to terms with this but the Champion of the Good Farmer in me wants to patronize the beef famers at my local farmers market even though I cannot assess the saturated fat content of their product. Were I a neighbor I surely would’ve purchased and eaten Jeff’s chicken, but felt at odds with the mandates of a lower fat diet.

It’s hard - and costly - to be a careful consumer, especially when balancing footprint and health considerations. For me it means shopping as locally as I can. It means saying no to gorgeous, organic produce that is more well-traveled than I am. It means purchasing leaner cuts from animals that lived a natural animal life and died at the hands of grateful consumers. A natural follow-up and future post will examine how the high-and-rising cost of healthier lean foods prevents the population at large from careful consumerism.

Returning to where this started, a home cook may have no real use for butchering skills, especially when she only buys boneless leg of lamb. But the experience has solidified the this former cooking school student's connection between the animal and the main feature in a spring stew.

Spring Lamb Stew
Print recipe only here

As an adolescent traveling in Ireland I admired the sheep dotting the landscape by day and dined on lamb chops or stew by night. This routine suffered a brief interruption when my sister pointed out the disconnect, only to resume 24 hours hence. My recipe is adapted from one printed in a Williams Sonoma catalog.

In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot heat 2 T olive oil over a medium flame.

Working in batches, brown:
• 2 # boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of all visible fat and cut into 2-inch pieces

When all the lamb is browned return to the pot and add:
• ½ medium yellow onion, chopped
• 2 shallots, chopped

Cook for a few minutes until translucent. Add:
• 1 T flour

Stir and cook flour for 1-2 minutes. Add:
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 1 ¼ cups water
• 1 T beef base or demi glace
• 1 small bay leaf

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes. Add:
• 2 cloves garlic, smashed
• Small bunch baby carrots, peeled (the ones with the greens still attached, but trim the greens down to about 1 cm)
• 6 baby turnips, peeled

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir, cover and allow to simmer another 30-4 minutes. Add:
• Small bunch asparagus, top 4 inches only – trimmed down to 2” pieces

Simmer 5 minutes until asparagus are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper and serve.


Jessica Paul said...

Have you read French Women Don't Get Fat? It's written by Mireille Guiliano the (former?) CEO of Veuve Cliquot US. If not, its about the rich and ancient French gastronomic culture which keeps everyone there eating well - locally grown, seasonal whole foods + a little good wine, chocolate, pastry and cheese often but in moderation. It also discusses your point: how America's history - or lack thereof - has not established a solid culture of food which has led to the myriads of food fads and crash diets, etc, and more importantly how this lack of foundation has led to an imbalanced relationship between healthy eating and cost. This unfortunate reality has in turn, turned us into the fattest nation on earth. Instead of having access to low-cost healthy foods, the poor in this country are restricted to the most unhealthy of foods - processed everything - and childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, athsma, etc are through the roof. Conversely, a pint of raspberries at Whole Foods just cost me $5. Healthy eating, it seems, has become a luxury that only a small percentage of our population can afford. The $5 I spent on 30 raspberries can and does translate to a meal for an entire family when they're eating dehydrated or frozen prepared foods - chemical casseroles my mom calls them. It's SO sad, it's tragic, and makes me despise the "American way" sometimes. What other country in the world employees "food scientists" and rejects food stamps on attempted purchases of low-fat, high protein string cheese? On a lighter note, I'll lend you French Women Don't Get Fat if you want. It's funny and fascinating and is ladened with simple, yummy recipes that are exactly like the food I've eaten there.

Katie Fairbank said...

I will have to read that.

The food-fat connection is - for me - less about becoming fat and more about helping my body to work more efficiently, to run cleaner.

Improving the nation's food literacy and making healthy food available and affordable for all Americans is both essential to reducing obesity and overweight and becoming better eaters as a nation.

Sadly we're a country with cheetle all over our hands.