Even if the weather’s not up for it tonight, you can plan on a dandy weekend for grilling burgers by fridge-defrosting a few of the neglected hunks of meat from the back of your freezer. In this week’s Food section, Ari LeVaux shares his tips on turning top round, sirloin steaks or whatever meaticles you’ve got on hand into awesome homemade patties.
Now seems like a good time to point out how easy it is to grind your own burger in the food processor. Grill season is starting, pink slime is everywhere and, for once, wouldn't it be nice to have a burger that isn't basically mystery meat? While most households don't have meat grinders, your old La Machine or Cuisinart can get it done like a champ.
Turning chewy, cheap cuts into lusciously flavorful food
By Ari LeVaux
Coffee and red wine are two of my favorite beverages to drink with meat. Given how much braising I do, it was only a matter of time until I tried braising meat in a mixture of coffee and wine. The results are exceptional: a browned, flavorful exterior and spoon-tender, succulent interior.
When I started getting fussy about which meats I’d eat in the line of duty, I knew it might limit the pool of restaurants I could choose from. But I also hoped my quest for clean meat would draw places out of the woodwork that I otherwise would have missed. Ariana Halal Market and Café is one such place.
Pastoral paintings of thoughtful, grass-chomping cows adorn the red walls of Albuquerque’s brand-new designer burger joint, bRgR. The restaurant’s lineup of burger names could double as the course catalog of a tantric yoga ashram, including (in order of the stages of spiritual growth) the Harmonic, Elation, Euphoria, Jubilation, Ecstasy, Nirvana and, finally, Enlightenment. The beef, which is grass-fed and grain-finished, comes from Heritage Ranch, a national beef company that matches local beef producers with consumers, state by state.
Middle Eastern cuisine is one of my favorites, but I only recently learned about eating halal—the Islamic version of kosher. The word “halal” simply means lawful or allowed. The Islamic laws that govern the preparation of food—especially meat—are nearly identical to the requirements for the best organic products. In accordance with Islamic law, the person taking the animal’s life must invoke the name of God at the time of the slaughter. Animals have to be treated humanely from field to table. Companies that sell halal products are certified. Pork is haram—unlawful.
When it comes to flavor, it’s hard to beat a well-marbled rib eye. But when it comes to cost without sacrificing flavor, I go for the flatiron. It comes from the top of the shoulder and is sometimes called a top blade, top boneless chuck or petite steak. It’s used in steak frites in restaurants, and it’s sometimes hard to find at a standard grocer. When trimmed out by a good butcher, a tough, sinewy membrane down its center is removed to leave a perfect steak for the grill.
Meat, of all the ingredients a restaurant serves, is arguably the most deserving of care in how it is sourced. Unless, perhaps, the name of the restaurant in question is Cafe Green. At the three-year-old Downtown breakfast and lunch joint, the greens of both the salad and the chile persuasions are local. And some of the meat on the menu is too, if you consider Pueblo, Colo, to be local. (We do.)
Last week I explained the new direction this review column is taking, including the fact that I’ll no longer be eating or writing about mystery meat. There are many shades of mystery, and this simple-sounding mandate was tested numerous times during my first attempt to follow it at Five Star Burgers—with tasty results.
Early spring means different things in different places. It's called mud season in some regions. Elsewhere it's the fifth month of winter grief. In warmer climes, winter can be so mild and summer so hot that spring is little more than a fleeting end of tolerable weather. But everywhere that winter is significant enough to interrupt the growing season, early spring has a special meaning among locavores. For cooks, gardeners, hunters and mead-makers alike, it's time for swapping.