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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Embracing the Ugly Meat

For most of my life I've preferred to eat meat that looked as little like meat as possible: nothing resembling a body part or organ, no visible blood or fat, and no large blood vessels, hanging skin, or connective tissue. To me, meat with any of these elements was ugly and undesirable meat.
Moreover, I didn’t like meat to have much of a taste, or flavor. Any that did I called, “too rich” or gamy. When given a choice, I consistently and insistently requested the “breast” or “white” meat.
Moreover, from an early age I looked down on those who chose the ugly meat. I remember being silent and disgusted as my mother ate chicken hearts, livers, and butts (which we called “the parson’s nose”), or gnawed on and split small bones between her teeth, then sucked out the marrow. I would swear to myself that I would never eat such things when I grew up. And I didn’t.
For decades, I preferred not to handle, or even smell, raw meat I was a vegetarian for many years, telling others and myself that eating formerly living, sentient beings was abhorrent. I now know I didn’t eat meat for years because of my dislike of meat in the raw. 

The Now
Today I eat lots of meat, often three or more times a day. I would prefer not to eat meat. I've tried plant-based protein (including tofu and other soy products; nuts; and grains such as quinoa), and they don’t "work" for me nearly as well as meat. That is the fact: I would prefer that it not be.
After making my food changes in July, I eat mostly meat and leafy vegetables, and spend a lot of time thinking about, handling, and cooking raw meat. As I've written about before, I give thanks at each meal to all the beings that contribute to my health, especially the animals killed so I could eat parts of them.
For months, eating meat has meant reducing mounds of generic “ground beef" into stacks of patties. In addition to being easily measurable, ground beef frees me from contemplating what part of a cow provided a particular mass of raw flesh.
That’s all changed in the last few months. I’ve adopted a couple of elements of the gut and psychology syndrome (GAPS) food plan, especially the use of sauerkraut as a probiotic, and eating meat I’d formerly rejected.
The GAPers believe that “[t]he gelatinous soft tissues around the bones and the bone marrow provide some of the best healing remedies for the gut lining.” That means marrow, connective tissue, and rings of fat. Hamburger patties just don't cut it—cue the ugly meat.
The other day I bought two chunks of cow leg, known in the trade as center-cut shanks). When I opened the brown-paper wrapped package, I saw what a three-inch section of my own leg would look like (without the skin). There was no way of avoiding my kinship with that cow.
A slice of your leg would look like this, too.
Cooking ugly meat is different from cooking its cuter cousins. With ground beef, fish fillets, or chicken breasts, the cook just warms up the toaster oven, pops ‘em in, and waits about 10 or 12 minutes for them to cook.
Ugly meat takes time, and several steps. Take the shanks. Because leg muscles are well used, the meat will be tough unless cooked for a long time in liquid at a low heat (known as braising).
I first browned the shanks (in bacon grease), took them out of the pan, and put them on a plate. Then I browned sliced shallots, garlic, and shitake mushrooms in the same pan, along with some beef broth, apple cider vinegar, and spices. I then transferred everything to a covered Dutch oven, and cooked the contents in the over for 2 hours at 325 degrees.
After years of avoiding ugly meat, I was in for quite the taste shock when I ate the shanks. After not eating “dark” meat for decades, the full-bodied, over-rich, and gamy taste of the first bites of center-cut shank gagged me. I’m used to it now, but it was definitely an acquired taste.
Just now, I ate one shank with some steamed bok choy and snow peas. I’m taking this excursion into the World of Ugly Meats quite slowly. I’ve made shanks a few times, and baked barbecued pork ribs. Don’t expect posts about braised trotters, brains, or cow tongue anytime soon.

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