A couple big shelves inside a walk-in cooler at Eckert’s Country Store in Belleville were empty. For the moment. Lana Shepak said a shipment of beef was due in soon.
It’s a teaching moment, when Lana, a culinary instructor, points out that meat cutter Rick Evans and his staff know exactly where the animals were raised, what they were fed and when they were slaughtered. She can even tell you that the cattle on McCormick Farm in Ellis Grove are fed seven kinds of grass grown there specifically for them.
“Lana was with us last time we went to the farm and I turn around and there she is, grabbing a handful of grass and eating it,” Rick said.
Lana just smiled. She was curious to see what was fed to the beef cattle before their meat is sold at Eckert’s.
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Just as the popularity of farmer’s markets is on the rise as consumers seek out fresher produce and a greater connection to where their food comes from, more people are demanding better quality and locally sourced meats.
Rick points out that the roots of butchery are in using the whole animal as responsibly as possible without wasting anything.
But for many of us, the butcher shop is unfamiliar territory. At big supermarkets, we roll our shopping carts beside rows of shrink-wrapped meat on Styrofoam trays, make our selection and head to the checkout. All without ever checking to see if what we purchased is not only the best we can buy for the money we spend, but the appropriate cut of meat for the recipe we’re preparing.
Being able to ask a butcher’s advice is a wonderful thing if you love to cook, Lana said. All you have to do is ask, whether you’re at a butcher shop or a big supermarket.
Experts like Rick can tell you that using a lean beef filet in a Crock-pot recipe is a giant no-no. You need a tougher cut that can withstand long, slow cooking.
Like your steak well done? Avoid a filet, ribeye or a New York cut. When the cooking method is quick, hot and dry, such as grilling, it’s best to use a cut with generous marbling, such as sirloin, so the meat stays moist and flavorful.
If you’re making soup, he’ll tell you to use all of the bone-in chicken except the breast. You’ll get a richer flavor from the dark and fattier meat. Besides, breast meat dries out in long cooking.
Eckert’s recently offered a meatcutting demonstration class with Rick doing the slicing and Lana doing the cooking. It was a full house.
“I’m the barbecue guy” in the family, said Matt Partington, of Belleville. The class was a Christmas gift from his mom, Maxine Benson, who was there, too.
Students went home with recipes, charts that showed the different cuts of beef and pork and a new understanding about how a butcher can help a consumer.
“I think this chart might help me,” said Matt. “I might save money on picking the right cut of meat.”
Rick told the group that any part of an animal that gets a good workout and uses muscle will be where the tougher meat cuts come from. A beef top sirloin from the upper thigh has more marbling and is not quite as tender as a filet mignon, which comes from the loin, or upper portion between the shoulder and the legs. The shoulder and neck “chuck” areas are more muscled and produce tougher cuts, such as chuck pot roast and metro-east favorite pork steaks.
Unsure what you need? Ask, he said. “If you don’t see what you need, we can cut it for you.”
He got a real ah-ha moment from the group when he demonstrated just why filet mignon costs so much.
He hauled out a piece of beef loin the size of a man’s thigh, surrounded in fat. It was unrecognizable as the beef tenderloin we see in the store. He talked as his knife sliced away huge strips of fat, explaining that underneath it all was the leanest cut of beef.
“It loses better than 40 percent in weight for filet mignon,” he said. “The cost is so high because there is so much loss from fat.”
He also removed what is called “sliver skin,” a thin shiny membrane on the tenderloin (also seen on pork tenderloin).
“You can cook this until the cow’s come and it won’t cook,” he said.
And while cuts of pork have new names that are similar to those of beef, such as porterhouse pork chops and New York pork roast, when you want the leanest pork, look for the word “loin” on the label.
Lana threw in a tip on bacon that also had the class pay attention: “Bacon jumps in the pan because the heat is too high or it’s been injected with water.”
So, buy good-quality bacon, read the label for ingredients and turn that skillet down a bit.
You’ll find four recipes here, one Lana prepared after Rick butterflied a whole chicken. The next two are from the National Pork Board. The last is from beefwhatsfordinner.com.
Butterflied Oven-Roasted Herb Chicken
5 cloves garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons snipped, flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons snipped fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons snipped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive, divided
1 whole chicken, washed and patted dry
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, combine first five ingredients and 1 teaspoon salt.
Once combined, drizzle in 3 tablespoons olive oil and process until a coarse paste forms.
Gently slide your fingters between the skin and flesh of the chicken breasts and legs.
Place breast side down on a cutting board, with the large cavity facing you. Using kitchen shears, start at the open cavity and cut down each side of the backbone and remove; save the backbone for chicken stock.
Open the chicken like a book, then flip it over. Press down firmly on the top fleshy part of the breast until you hear the bone crack. Using your fingers, stuff the herb mixture under the skin, spreading it evenly. Rub the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil on the skin and underside of the chicken; season with salt and pepper.
Place breast side down in a roasting pan and cook until the skin is golden and crispy, or until an instant-read thermometer reaches 165 degrees, about 45 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes, cover loosely with foil. Let chicken rest 15 minutes before carving.
Sizzling Chili Pork Chops
6 boneless pork loin chops, (4 ounces) about 1/2-inch thick
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons flour
Stir together chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and cumin in small bowl. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sprinkle chili mixture evenly on both sides of each pork chop, rubbing mixture into pork. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in cast-iron or oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Place pork chops in hot oil to brown, turning once after 3 to 5 minutes.
Add remaining tablespoon of oil if needed. Remove skillet from burner and place skillet in preheated oven. Bake pork chops 15 to 20 minutes, or until internal temperature on a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees. Remove chops to serving platter. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes before slicing.
Add water to orange juice to measure 3/4 cup. Return skillet to range top. Stir flour into pan drippings, scraping any brown bits from bottom of skillet. Gradually stir in combined orange juice and water, cooking over low heat until mixtures thickens.
Remove from heat and serve with pork chops.
Serves 6, each with 237 calories, 23 grams protein, 13 grams fat, 153 mg sodium, 63 mg cholesterol, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber.
Tip: If pork chops release any juices during 3 to 5 minutes standing time, you can stir the pork juices into sauce before serving.
Beef Tri-Tip Roast with Rosemary-Garlic Vegetables
1 beef tri-tip roast (1 1/2 to 2 pounds)*
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 small red-skinned potatoes, halved
2 medium red, yellow or green bell peppers, cut into eighths
2 medium sweet onions, cut into 1-inch wedges
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine seasoning ingredients; press 1/2 onto beef roast. Combine remaining seasoning with oil and vegetables in large bowl; toss.
Place roast on rack in shallow roasting pan. Place vegetables on rack around roast. Do not add water or cover. Roast 30 to 40 minutes for medium rare; 40 to 50 minutes for medium doneness.
Remove roast when instant-read thermometer registers 135 degrees for medium rare; 150 degrees for medium. Transfer to board; tent with foil. Let stand 20-25 minutes. (Temperature will continue to rise about 10 degrees to reach 145 degrees for medium rare; 160 degrees for medium.)
Meanwhile increase oven temperature to 475 degrees. Remove peppers. Continue roasting potatoes and onions 10 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned.
Carve roast across the grain. Serve with vegetables.
Makes 6 to 8 servings of meat and vegetables, each with 330 calories, 10 grams fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 269 mg sodium, 29 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 26 grams protein.
*A tri-tip roast is from the sirloin and is shaped a bit like a half-moon.
Jerk Seasoned Pork Tenderloin
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pound pork tenderloin
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
Stir together pumpkin pie spice, brown sugar and thyme in small bowl. Blend in remaining ingredients, mixing to form a paste.
Place pork tenderloin in resealable plastic bag; pour paste mixture over tenderloin. Press excess air out of bag and seal. Gently roll tenderloin in bag, coating tenderloin with paste mixture. Marinate pork in refrigerator, turning bag over once, 8 to 10 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove pork tenderloin from marinade; discard marinade.
Place pork tenderloin on baking pan and roast uncovered in preheated oven 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, or until internal temperature on a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees. Remove from oven; let rest 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with steamed cabbage, roasted sweet potatoes or sautéed plantains.
Serves 6, each with 152 calories, 18 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 137 mg sodium, 50 mg cholesterol, 4 grans carbohydrates.
Tip: For spicier marinade add a dash or two of red pepper flakes.