Local meat makes delicious dinners | NevadaAppeal.com

Local meat makes delicious dinners

Marialisa Calta
United Features Syndicate
Caption: Learning to use all cuts of meat and poultry is one step in the process of choosing sustainably farmed products. Here, chicken thighs get a dose of Middle Eastern spices. Photo credit: Photo by Marcus Nilsson for "Good Meat" by Deborah Krasner (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010)
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It’s getting harder these days to ignore the conditions under which much of our meat and poultry is raised, and the resulting impacts on our health and our environment. My response has been to buy as much local meat and poultry as possible, and – because it is often more expensive than supermarket meat – to eat less of it.

This seems like a reasonable approach and has led to several good outcomes: encounters at our local farmers’ market with previously unknown-to-me cuts (pork belly, lamb ribs, goat sausage); less waste; and a diet truly varied with more vegetables, grains, legumes and fruit.

I’ve also met more local farmers, and much of my food, while it is still foraging in the pasture. We call the locally grown, pasture-fed pigs, cattle, lambs and chickens in our freezer “happy meat.” Cookbook author Deborah Krasner calls it “Good Meat” in her new book of the same name (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010).

This is not a book for the faint of heart. Omnivores raised on sanitized, shrink-wrapped cuts of meat displayed in the supermarket may quail at the juxtaposition of a pair of pigs nuzzling together on one page and a side of raw pork on another. Even hardened carnivores might feel squeamish about recipes for pork heart, beef testicles and rabbit kidneys.

When you think about it, this is what the dinner plate looked like in the past, and what it may look like in the future, too.

If we want meat that can be raised sustainably – animals raised on pasture, producing manure that feeds the soil and helps nurture a diverse ecosystem – we should learn to use all of it.

To find sources for “good meat” in your area, try checking out farmers’ markets, specialty stores, CSAs (community-supported agriculture) and other farm-to-plate programs. Think about growing your own. Even in places like Brooklyn, N.Y., the New York Times reports, residents are growing chickens.

As for the affordability, you may have to rethink your food budget. Consider what it is worth to you to feed your family meat that has been raised humanely, and ecologically, without unnecessary antibiotics or growth hormones. Consider eating less meat.

Because nearly everyone, it seems, lives within spitting distance of someone who is raising chickens, and because environmentally friendly chicken-friendly farms are springing up thither and yon, I have chosen a recipe for a simple chicken dish from Krasner’s book. If you can’t get true pasture-raised chickens, buy organic chickens – not the same as pasture-raised but Krasner calls them “reasonable quality birds.”

But if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty, you’ll buy the book and experiment with pig ears and tails, beef suet, goose fat and chicken feet. Remember, it’s all “happy meat.”

ROASTED CARDAMOM, OREGANO AND GARLIC

CHICKEN THIGHS

1⁄4 cup whole green cardamom pods or 1 to 2 tablespoons whole black cardamom seeds out of the pods

2 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1⁄4 cup fresh or dry oregano

1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

4 to 6 large skin-on, bone-in pastured chicken thighs

freshly ground black pepper

Select a shallow pan that will hold the thighs closely in one layer, such as a quarter sheet pan, cast-iron lasagna pan or frying pan, or gratin dish.

Using a mortar and pestle, or a heavy resealable plastic bag and the back of a cast-iron frying pan, pound the cardamom pods until they split. Discard the husks, and bruise the tiny black seeds by pounding them a little to release their oils. Add the garlic, salt and oregano, and bash away a bit more to make a rough paste. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then stir in the olive oil to thin the paste.

Arrange the thighs, flesh side up, in the pan, and massage half the paste onto the flesh; turn them over and do the same on the skin side with the remaining paste.

Allow the meat to marinate, covered and refrigerated, for at least four hours or overnight before bringing it back to room temperature. Grind black pepper over the thighs.

Heat the oven to 450 F, and set a rack at the top of the oven, just under the heating element (although you are not broiling, this exposes the skin to more heat for crispness). When the oven is good and hot, roast the chicken for 45 minutes, turning the meat over halfway through the cooking.

When done, the skin should be beautifully crisp and the flesh completely cooked through. Pour off the fat in the pan, and arrange the pieces on a serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature with rice.

Yield: 4 servings

• Marialisa Calta is the author of “Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family” (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to http://www.marialisacalta.com.