Beef – it’s what should be for dinner

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 6, 2012

Meatloat – the ultimate comfort food.

Last week we attended the fifth annual North American Devon conference and sale, this year in Richfield Springs, N.Y. —a charming Victorian village with hills and rolling pastures nearby. No by-pass diverts the driver from the main street. It was cold on Saturday and we needed our winter coats.

Devon cattle are the oldest breed. They were noted in Britain in 23 BC. The first Devon in America consisted of three cows and a bull brought to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1623 on the ship Charity.

Though they were popular as an all-purpose breed (milk, oxen and meat) for a long time they began to fade out as cattle began to be shipped off to feed lots. They became a rare breed, but are making a comeback as people are learning of the health benefits of grass-fed beef.

I’ve talked about grass-fed beef before, and the Devon folks believe that Devon is best on grass.

Everyone knows “Certified Angus.” There is now “Certified Devon Beef.” You probably can’t find any. I think we are the only owners of Devon cows in Mississippi. I know of one producer in northern Alabama. Most Devon and Devon X beef is sold off farm to the locals. I picked up a flier noting “Certified Devon Beef” is 100 percent grass fed, 100 percent antibiotic free, 100 percent hormone free and 100 percent humane management. One ranch in Virginia noted their “Certified Devon Beef” has half the saturated fat and four times the beta carotene and vitamin E. CDB is rich in omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid.

If you can’t find Devon, at least try to buy grass fed. If you are going to eat beef, eat healthy beef. And grass fed can be just as tender as grain-finished beef if harvested at the right time. Some people claim that grass-fed tastes different as well. Last year I found one study in Australia comparing grain finished and grass finished beef. The younger tasters noted that the grass-fed beef tasted beefier. We have been eating factory raised beef, pork and chicken so long that we don’t know how the real thing tastes.

The best lecturer at the conference was Dr. Gregg Renfrow from the University of Kentucky. He is a professor and a meat scientist – and a butcher. He talked about cooking the tender cuts from the muscles of support versus the less tender cuts from the muscles of locomotion which should be cooked slow and low (225 degrees or less). He also noted some new cuts. The flat iron steak is the most popular new cut and one of the more tender cuts in the entire carcass. This is the rotator cuff and not exercised in the cow. He noted the chuck roast can be cut into chuck eye steak and is much cheaper. Another factor besides the type of muscle or the way the muscle is cut that affects tenderness is aging. Dry aged is better but costs more as the dehydrated muscle must be cut off and therefore there is less meat to sell. Stores usually sell wet aged. The type of grass affects the flavor as well, and handling of the animal before slaughter can harm the meat. Unless we are buying off farm from a producer that we know, we are not likely to know about these factors in the grocery store meat but grass-fed and organic are becoming more available.

Ninety percent of U.S. shoppers buy their meat either at the supermarket or at a warehouse club.

“That means that the vast majority of meat is bought through a veil of cellophane, its origins obscured by a label that withholds far more information than it discloses. And it is bought without any personal contact with an expert who might illuminate us further,” this according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in The River Cottage Meat Book. I noted he also says that Devon “produce the best beef I’ve ever tasted.”

I couldn’t help but think it odd that at this beef conference the first meal was chicken, the next pork.

Not till the last day did we have beef in the form of hamburgers.

Since grass-fed beef is more expensive I often just buy the grass-fed ground beef. We ate at an old restaurant, The Southern Inn, in Lexington, Va., on our way back home. We had the meat loaf made with a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork and when I got home I found a good recipe for just that in the new ‘Food Network Magazine.’


1770 House Meatloaf

From the restaurant of the same name in East Hampton, N.Y.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons good olive oil

2 cups chopped Spanish onion (1 large)

1 pound grass-fed beef

1 pound ground veal

1 pound ground pork (pastured is healthier but hard to find)

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

2/3 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

2 ½ cups panko (Japanese bread flakes)

Garlic Sauce (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for five to seven minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent but not browned. Set aside to cool slightly.

Place the beef, veal, pork, parsley, thyme, chives, eggs, milk, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Put the panko in a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until the panko is finely ground.

Add the onion mixture and the panko to the meat mixture. With clean hands, gently toss the mixture together, making sure it’s combined but not compacted.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan. Pat the meat into a flat rectangle and then press the sides in until it forms a cylinder down the middle of the pan (this will ensure no air pockets). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the middle reads 155 degrees to 160 degrees. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve hot with the Garlic Sauce.


Garlic Sauce

¾ cup good olive oil

10 garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the oil and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Be careful not to burn the garlic or it will be bitter. Remove the garlic from the oil and set aside. (I saved the oil for vinaigrettes.)

Combine the chicken stock, butter and cooked garlic in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook at full boil for 35 to 40 minutes, until slightly thickened. Mash the garlic with a fork, whisk in ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper, and taste for seasonings. Spoon the warm sauce over the meatloaf.