For some people, there is no greater pleasure than sinking their teeth into a thick, juicy steak or a sizzling hamburger. In our prevailingly urban society in which less than three percent of the population works in agriculture and effectively feeds the other ninety-seven percent, people seldom reflect on the sources of their food, and might get it wrong if they did think about it. But chances are that the succulent leg of lamb or roast chicken was the product of a modern industrial-like procedure rather than an ancient process of nature. Dr. Shannon Hayes points out in her book "The Farmer and the Grill" that livestock should be free to graze, and if you aren't eating grassfed meat then, to paraphrase an old saying, you ain't tasted nothin' yet."
Shannon Hayes and her family live and work on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Warnerville, Schoharie County, NY. She holds a master's degree in creative writing from Binghamton University and a Ph.D. in sustainable agriculture and community development from Cornell. Her first book was "The Grassfed Gourmet". The full title of her new book is "The Farmer and the Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Spit-Roasting Grassfed Meat... and for saving the planet one bite at a time". It is both a cookbook and an extended essay on the virtues of pasture-based farming.
"Beef nourishes us deeply. It is rich in easily-digestible macro and trace minerals, an excellent source of B-12, and contains fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids. And when the meat comes from grassfed animals, the taste is incomparable. The flavors of the minerals come through in a grassfed steak, the palate feels clean, and the textures are more pronounced. Not flaccid and mushy, as with factory-farmed steaks."
-- from The Farmer and the Grill
Meat from cattle, lambs, pigs and poultry who were allowed to graze freely and humanely slaughtered is becoming increasingly popular, albeit sometimes difficult to find. Websites such as eatwild.com list sources and suggestions, and there is locally-raised meat available now at most farmers' markets. The best choice may be to simply visit the farm if it processes its own meat - Hayes points out that it's a good way to also check on whether the farm is consistent in its grazing policy - although such a visit can be inconvenient for much of the population.
Finding the tenderest tenderloin or the proper porkchop is just the beginning. "The Farmer and the Grill" is filled with recipes and cooking hints, offered with a sense that most backyard chefs are probably doing something wrong. The key to successful (and safe) cooking of any meat by any means is the proper temperature. "Get a thermometer...and then another one, and then another one", Hayes says repeatedly, recognizing the fragility of most meat thermometers. She expresses no preference for gas, wood or charcoal as a heat source (although she does abjure the use of lighter fluid to ignite charcoal) but many of her recipes call for exposure to varying temperatures and slow cooking.
"The Farmer and the Grill" also contains many recipes for marinades, sauces and spice rubs. There is a section on preparing an asado, the result of her researching this form of beef short-ribs in their Argentinean homeland.
Shannon Hayes joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to share her adventures raising grassfed animals and her favorite recipes.