A Thumbs Up Book Review
The Grassfed Gourmet
By Shannon Hayes
Review By John Umlauf
This charming and authoritative book quickly grabbed my attention with its foreword by Bruce Aidells and review by Jo Robinson, and is one that I find myself returning to again and again for both inspiration and recipes. Starting with her own personal journey into grass-fed meats, the author walks us through a number of enchanting encounters with farmers, friends, chefs, scientists and family–a great enhancement to the many recipes, food-facts, nutritional info and culinary advice that pack the book. She also highlights the key elements of finding good sources of these meats and dairy, and gives great encouragement to stay with “the journey.”
Shannon emphasizes the many benefits of grass-fed animal products: health, environmental, social and economic. One item we often overlook: farmers working on grass-based operations “enjoy a healthier work environment than those who work on large-scale factory farms. They are less likely to suffer from respiratory problems resulting from the dust, ammonia and dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide so common in confinement facilities.”
One thing that I really appreciated about the book was its attention to cooking methods, which often receives too little attention in many cookbooks. As a chef, I always address this question first when someone asks for a recipe, and Shannon does it well in these pages. She delineates four basic principles: use a meat thermometer, cook at low tempeartures, learn when to use dry-heat cooking methods and when to use moist-heat methods and to use seasonings and sauces sparingly, letting the wonderful flavor of grass-fed meat come out in the final dish.
Also, for those wanting to learn about how to have their meats cut up when buying whole, halves or quarters, there’s a detailed section on this based on sound principles. The book includes recipes for bison, venison, veal, pork and chicken.
Some of the yummy offerings include: Osso bucco (lamb shanks) served with “gremolata,” a mixture of crushed walnuts, parsley, garlic and lemon zest, sprinkled over the top; teriyaki short ribs; super-slow roasted roast beef; slow-roasted venison in a raisin sauce; Polish stuffed beef roll; garlic-herb steaks in a bourbon pan sauce; and super-slow roasted rosemary-crusted chuck steak.
A few complaints: The author hews to the mistaken belief that grass-fed meat is healthier because it is lean. Yet most of the beneficial nutrients that result in grass feeding show up in the fat. Rather than extol the virtues of lean meat, grass-based ranchers need to develop methods of raising fat grass-fed animals.
The other complaint has to do with the inclusion of bouillion cubes as an option in some of the recipes. There is a fine recipe for beef stock in the book and the author needs to stress the importance of making stock from scratch, not reliance on MSG-laden substitutes.
Still, the educated reader knows better than to use such shortcuts. Both novices and experienced cooks will find much to enjoy in The Grassfed Gourmet.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2004.