I have a long-running list of food shops and restaurants that I want to try, and one restaurant on that list is Prairie Fire, with co-chefs Sarah Stegner and George Bumbaris, who focus on quality and local ingredients in more casual preparations than in their Ritz-Carlton of Chicago days. So when Slow Food Chicago put out an e-mail about a Sunday brunch event there, I decided it was a good occasion to go. What I didn’t realize (because I read the e-mail very fast) was that cookbook author Deborah Krasner would also be speaking about her newest—and beautiful—book, Good Meat.
As you can guess, good meat was the theme of the menu developed by Stegner, who joined our one big communal table of nearly 20 at the beginning of our meal to talk about, what else—meat. As we munched on warm bacon-leek scones (Tom Mueller, Maple Creek Farm) with sides of whipped butter and homemade local apple butter, Stegner explained that getting good meat for Prairie Fire has been a process of learning and experimenting, with the final deciding factor going to taste. In the end, meat must always taste good. And at Prairie Fire, it does.
Fortunately for Stegner, who reached out to Bill Kurtis in the early years of his Tallgrass Beef operation, grass-fed beef is the restaurant’s meat of choice in the Untraditional Shepherd’s Pie, shown above, and now the number-one selling dish. On this gray and icy snowy day in Chicago, the pie, made with chunks of juicy beef, rainbow swiss chard, butternut squash, topped with potato and parsnip purée, was right on.
As we were breaking into the beautifully browned tops of the shepherd’s pies, two other dishes were brought out. One was the Homemade Chorizo (Tom Mueller, Maple Creek Farm) crumbled over an impossibly smooth polenta (Three Sister’s Garden). The polenta is the perfect soothing blanket for the spicy chorizo that Stegner makes with just the right amount of kick.
Lamb from Harry Carr’s Mint Creek Farm was the source for the third and final main dish, homemade sausage served on top of a warm lentil and winter vegetable salad. The sausage was lean and tasty. People at the table raved about it, and I don’t think I saw any leftovers.
Satisfied with just enough meat, thankfully dessert was not more of it (think bacon-flavored ice cream). Instead, we finished with a simple but soul-warming blueberry crumble (Seedling Fruit) with homemade vanilla ice cream.
I was fortunate to have sat next to James Beard award-winning author Deborah Krasner, who I learned spent three years writing Good Meat, The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat. This book—her seventh—was actually 10 years in the making, and packs a wealth of knowledge in this nearly 400-page tome. As Krasner told the entire group, the book came about as a result of buying more and more grass-fed and pastured meat from her farmers’ market, and over time time she economized by buying quarter, halves or whole animals. She found the meats to be tastier and healthier (her husband’s LDL count dropped 40 points in one year), but the cuts required a different way of cooking, and hence, the idea for a cookbook was born.
Having bought four cookbooks in the last month or so, I told myself I didn’t need another one. But I do want to cook more with grass-fed meat and, like a lot of people, need to learn how to cook it. After listening to Krasner and skimming her book, this became one more to buy.
Good Meat is amazingly comprehensive and detailed. The introduction brings straightforward clarity to the maze of different labels given to meat (grass-fed, pastured, conventional, natural, and organic) and numerous sidebars throughout the book provide educational insight. Overall, the book is organized by type meat (covering every part)—by big animal (cow, pig, lamb) and small (chicken, turkey, duck, goose, guinea fowl, and rabbit). Every chapter has an easy-to-find indexing system in the side margins, and starts with the largest meat parts (primals) and goes to the smallest (subprimals).
Krasner makes the topic of meat interesting and prods you to rethink what and how you buy, and of course, how to cook. It’s ironic, though, that before industrial meat production, grass-fed and pastured meat was the norm and something everyone knew how to cook.
215 North Clinton
Good Meat, The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat
By Deborah Krasner
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010