Posted on Tue, June 19, 2012 by Slow Food USA
1 Comments | Categories: Cooking, Meat,
Written by Lynne Curry, co-chair Slow Food Wallowas and author of the new cookbook Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut
In 2001, I moved from Seattle to the remote Wallowa Valley in eastern Oregon. I was drawn to the lifestyle of a small town mixed with artists, self-starters and ranchers and easy access to the wilderness. Cows and their newborn calves populated the landscape that spring, but I didn’t give them a second thought.
At the time, I didn’t even eat meat, and I certainly never expected to devote over two years to researching and writing about beef. Back then, beef was beef was beef. In the supermarket, all of it came from a single, centralized commodity supply chain controlled by four corporations.
In 11 years, beef has diversified into many niche markets—natural, organic and grassfed. Across the country, high-end restaurants now feature grassfed steaks, grocery chains sell a variety of natural and organic brands, and we all have more decisions to make at the meat counter.
My attitudes towards beef have changed as well. Local foods have always been the center point of my diet because they are the most fresh, high quality and delicious When I lived on Lummi Island in the Puget Sound, this meant wild salmon and blackberries and when I moved to Seattle, it meant vegetarian meals from my CSA box. Once I was in eastern Oregon, 400 miles inland from the coast, it was only a matter of time before I tasted wild game and then purchased local meat raised on native grasses by a rangeland ecologist.
This was pure beef—no additives, antibiotics or hormones of any kind. What many people have heard about grassfed beef is the better ratios of omega 3s, antioxidants, and lower fat for their health.
Raising beef solely on good grass is also more healthful to cattle. The animals spend their entire lives foraging a wholesome and complete diet. They engage in natural social interactions within their herd and experience excellent physical and psychological comfort.
Grassfed beef is also the most sustainable meat production alternative. Far less fossil fuel is used in producing it and animal waste is a valuable plant fertilizer, dispersed over the rangeland. Rotational grazing methods, where the cattle are moved frequently onto new pastures, promote soil regeneration and biodiversity and are a promising avenue for increased carbon sequestration—essential for slowing global warming.
For going on 10 years, I have purchased a quarter share of a steer from this same mindful rancher. My husband and I have two children, and I’ve never worried about the food safety of the meat because I can trace all our beef back to the ranch where it was raised. This is pure beef.
I value knowing the people who raise my food with the highest level of care and commitment to the animals, the environment, the community and food quality. I also love the meat, which is lean and firm and has depths of flavor that wow me. The tastes are more concentrated and varied, with mineral, mushroom and umami qualities—all dependent on the composition and quality of the pastures where the animals grazed.
More ranchers in my small community are moving toward grassfed production—keeping the cattle on their home ranches instead of selling off the calves each year to the commodity market. They are working harder than ever to process and distribute the meat directly to retailers and consumers through small cooperatives, like Country Natural Beef, and on their own. With a new USDA slaughtering plant just opened this June, many ranchers are hoping to lower their fuel costs and stress on the cattle from typical long-distance transports.
As a result, local grassfed beef is now for sale for the first time in the Wallowa Valley. You can find it at two independent grocery stores, on the menu at two microbreweries and as an alternative option at a locally owned fast-food stand. From my vantage point, I can attest that every dollar spent today supporting a grassfed beef producer is building a stronger and lasting regional food system that is beneficial for one and all.
Perfect Grassfed Hamburgers
The perfect hamburger begins before you put it on the grill. If you pay attention to how you handle the meat, how you shape it, and when you salt it, you’ll get burgers with just the right loose, tender texture and the right size for the bun.
My ideal is a one-third pound burger, evenly shaped about one inch thick and four inches across. Handling the ground beef just enough, but not too much, I pat it into a neat disk, round the edges, and make a depression in the center so that it doesn’t inflate into a hamburger ball while cooking. I cook my burgers to medium rare over high heat. If you like medium or medium well, just be sure to finish cooking the burger away from the flame.
Serve this burger on the best bun you can find. If you’re lucky enough to have a bakery making its own hamburger buns, stock up. Or, bake and freeze a batch of homemade Whole-Wheat Hamburger Buns (recipe follows) to pull out whenever that burger craving hits you.
Makes 6 servings
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill for high heat (425°F to 475°F), scrape the grate clean, and oil it lightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spoon some salt into a small bowl. Divide the ground beef into 6 mounds on the baking sheet. Scoop up a mound in each hand and judge their weight as best you can. If they seem about the same, put one of the mounds down and pick up another one, again judging its weight against the first. Continue in this fashion with each of the mounds, and add or subtract some of the ground beef to make them as equal as you can. (For complete accuracy, use a scale with a piece of plastic wrap over the plate).
Use both hands to gently press one mound into a 1-inch-thick disk about 4 inches wide. Then, rotate it between your palms to even up the edges without smashing it. Put the disk back on the parchment paper and use your thumb to make a quarter-sized impression about 1/4-inch deep in the center. Repeat with the 5 remaining mounds of ground beef and season both sides of the patties with the kosher salt. (If you will not be grilling the hamburgers within the next 15 to 20 minutes, cover and refrigerate.)
When the grill is so hot that you can only hold your hand 4 inches above it for 5 seconds or less, place the patties on the hottest part of the grill. Cook them for 3 to 31/2 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 to 31/2 minutes more for medium rare. (For medium, slide the burgers to the coolest part of the grill—or turn it off. Close the lid, and cook for 1 to 3 minutes longer.) Discard the parchment paper from the baking sheet and arrange the cooked hamburgers on it. If desired, grill the buns, cut side down, for 1 to 2 minutes, and serve with ketchup and your favorite toppings.
Whole-Wheat Hamburger Buns
The perfect grassfed burger needs a worthy bun—and good ones are hard to find. To make this whole-wheat bun, I called on my bread baking training in France and Mel Darbyshire, head baker of the Grand Central Baking Company in Portland. It is tender to the bite and moist but stands up to a substantial burger. The user-friendly dough can be mixed by machine or hand. It rises once before you pat it flat and stamp out rounds—just like making biscuits. The second rise occurs in short order before baking, cooling, and splitting them to eat within a day, or to freeze for up to one month.
Makes 8 (4-inch) buns
To mix the dough, whisk the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, a food processor, or a large mixing bowl. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, oil, and egg. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir together with a few strokes of a rubber spatula to form a rough dough.
If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 8 minutes. The dough will clean the sides of the bowl, but may stick to the bottom. Using the spatula, scrape the dough hook and the bottom of the bowl to collect the dough into a ball.
If using a food processor, use the dough blade and pulse the machine until the dough comes together in a ball. Run the machine for 1 minute to knead it.
If kneading by hand, work the spatula firmly through the dough to collect as much of the flour as you can. Scrape the dough onto an unfloured countertop. Set a kitchen timer for 12 minutes and knead rhythmically but not hurriedly. The dough will become very elastic and will be tacky. Using the spatula, collect the dough, including any scraps from the counter and your hands, into a ball. Flour your hands and place the dough back into the bowl.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for 11/2 to 2 hours until the dough doubles in volume.
To shape and bake the buns, line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Dust the counter with flour and tip out the dough, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula to release it in one large clump. Flour your hands and press the dough 3/4 inch thick. Dust a biscuit cutter about 31/2 inches in diameter to cut out 8 circles, collecting the dough and patting it down again 1 to 2 times until all the dough gets used. Space them onto the baking sheet and press them with your palm so that they are 4 to 41/2 inches wide. Let them rise uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes until they are about 11/2 inches high.
Preheat the oven to 350°F with the racks centered in the oven. Brush the tops of the buns with water and sprinkle with the flax seeds. Bake until they are golden brown, 16 to 18 minutes. Cool to room temperature before splitting with a bread knife and store at room temperature or in the freezer in a resealable plastic bag.
Recipes reprinted with permission from PURE BEEF © 2012 by Lynne Curry, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Book Group.