Monday, April 23, 2012

Grilled Elk to Start the Season

There's no better way to kick off the grilling season than with a nice piece of elk.  

A co-worker of mine regularly gets stocked up with game meat from family in Montana.  Knowing that I'd never eaten elk, he generously gave me a big chunk.

If you are going to eat red meat, elk is better for you than beef.  It is much leaner, has more minerals, and less calories.  Also, the elk meat I got was wild caught and butchered by hand so it did not participate in the industrial food system at all.

Going into it, I had no idea what would come out the other side.  I'd never eaten elk before.  I anticipated something like venison.  The guy at the wine shop said it was something like lamb.  My co-worker warned me to be careful cooking it because it was very very lean.   My wife was fearful that it would be too gamey.  My only consolation was that there's a pizza shop right around the corner from my house.

To prepare the mystery elk I went for very simple, preferring simple true flavors over elaborate layers. I wanted to do as much as possible on the grill as possible.  I focused on using seasonal vegetables from the farmer's market. I went with a mesquite wood fire because it seemed to fit the ingredients.  Elk is a wild animal, it deserves a real wood fire.

Elk meat
Purple and yellow heirloom carrots
New onions
Olive Oil, fresh thyme, sea salt, black pepper.

1.  Coarsely crack the black pepper with a mortar and pestle.
2.  Season the meat with fresh sea salt and the cracked black pepper.
3.  Grill the meat over a mesquite wood fire to medium.
4.  Rub with olive oil,  then grill the onions and asparagus.
5.  Roast the carrots in the oven with some olive oil and fresh thyme.

Maybe it was the combination of salt, pepper and smoke, but the meat had none of the gamey flavor that some people had warned me about.  It also wasn't lamb-y either.  In fact, it wasn't like any type of meat I could think of.  It tasted sort of like what I imagine brined beef would taste like.   In any case, it was delicious and we'll definitely be eating more elk in the future.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is Lab Meat Local?

This is a little bit different than what I normally write about, but I thought I'd stretch out.  

I found this article a while ago and it got me thinking.

In Vitro Meat: Will 'Frankenfood' Save The Planet Or Just Gross Out Consumers?

There are lots of reasons not to eat meat. Some people object to the inhumane treatment of the animals. Some people want to avoid the higher cancer rates associated with red meat intake. Some people don't want to support the environmentally taxing production methods.

But what if all that was taken away? What if no animals were killed, the meat was actually filled with beneficial nutrients, and the environmental impact was basically eliminated? Sounds too good to be true? Well, not if you are willing to buy your meat from a meat lab. 

How many vegetarians would open up to a nice lab-burger? 

In some ways this reminds me of things like veggie-sausage and soy nuggets. All those vegetarian products designed to look and taste like meat products. They never really do taste like the real thing, but people still eat them because they contain almost none of the negative associations that so many people object to. This could be a whole new category of food. Cruelty-free meat. Almost like cubic zirconium--the cruelty free diamond. You could choose from veggie-dogs, lab-dogs, and hot dogs. Restaurants could have a "No Kill" option on their menu, similar to the vegetarian options sometimes given. Or they might call it something more positive like "Heart Healthy Meats"--the marketing departments will find a good name for it. Or it will just slip in as a supporting ingredient and we'll never even realize it. 

Think of all the beer you've drank lately. All the brewer's yeast required for that beer was grown in a lab. And the hops were probably designed in a lab too. Same with yeast and flour that was used to make the bread for the sandwich you might be eating for lunch today. Laboratory created.

What if you had a bowl of lentil soup and the chicken stock used as the broth for the soup was made from laboratory chicken meat? Could you tell the difference? Probably not. Would you care? Would you prefer it?

Either way, it doesn't surprise me that this is coming along. I have no doubt it will make it onto the shelves in the US (with no labels required) sooner or later. We already eat so many things that are dependent on laboratory creations.

Would laboratory meat be the antithesis of local food? What if it was meat cultivated in a local lab from indigenous species? It would certainly be a betrayal of the aesthetics of the local food movement, but possibly it could meet the principals of the local food movement better than most small farms today growing imported breeds of cows.