Portable Chef Blog: Tasty Licks

The 2009 Beef Draft, pt. 1: Predraft Camp

Let’s do this thing

Ever since I found out that my favorite steak place, Les Halles on Park Avenue South, gives its animals the full factory farm treatment (warning: that video is gnarly; furthermore, it’s narrated by Alec Baldwin, whose authoritative, gravitas-laden voice makes it very difficult to turn away), I’ve pretty much limited my beef consumption to that which I prepare at home.

And it was there that I started realizing my beef knowledge limitations.

I’m a burger-and-occasional-filet man.  I make a big batch of boeuf Bourguignon once a year or so (side note: Amy Adams’ mangled pronunciation of said dish in the crappy half of Julie & Julia continues to haunt my dreams).  But really, that’s about it.

And a cow is a large animal.  The average grass-fed cow brought to slaughter, weights about 600 pounds, around 75% of which is edible.  About 200 pounds typically ends up as ground beef; chuck roasts total about 100; the tenderloin, of which there are two (I assume; see what I mean about my ignorance?), weigh about 4 1/2 pounds each.  This leaves nearly 150 pounds of edible cow I know little or nothing about, and this made me very uncomfortable.  Personally, I’ve prepared very few steaks in my life, let alone the shanks, the tongue, the liver, and 150 other pounds of beefy goodness that, at the moment, is a big mystery to me.

I thought the best thing to do would be to get a group of friends together, go in on a humanely-raised, grass-fed cow.  We’d divvy up the animal, waste little, feel closer to our food, and, of course, walk away with a dealing quantity of beef and learn a lot in the process.

What could be finer?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Going in on a humanely-raised, grass-fed cow, then holding an NBA-style beef draft to divvy up the spoils – that’s what.

Why?  Four reasons.  First, a little competition always spices things up.  Second, there’s a lot of opportunity for fantastic trades. Consider the following deal: five pounds of ground beef, a tongue, and an internal organ to be named later for two hanger steaks.  I’m not sure who’d come out ahead there – and therein lies the excitement.

Third, I’ve always been fascinated with the NBA Draft.  As opposed to the football and baseball drafts, which take forever to complete and where the top picks more often than not takes years to make an impact, the NBA draft is short, has a lot of recognizable names, and these guys almost always suit up and play a lot for their new teams at the start of the following season.

And then there are the suits.

Popular opinion holds Jalen Rose’s 1994 suit as the standard-bearer of draft-day suit awesomeness, but I’ve always been partial to Hakeem Olajuwon, who stole the tux I wore to prom the night he was drafted first in ‘84.  Then there’s  Joakim Noah’s sweet get-up from a couple of years ago, Maurice Taylor’s day-glo aquamarine outfit from ’97, Samaki Walker’s pimped-out cream-colored ensemble from ’96, Karl Malone’s K-mart Special from ’85… I could go on.   And, were this not a food column, I almost certainly would.

So Beef Draft 2009 it would be.  But first, we needed to source the cow.  Unfortunately my favorite purveyor of beef, Whippoorwill Farms in Lakeville, CT, is a pretty small operation and would not even sell a side of beef, much less a whole cow.  So we had to look further.  I found a ton of large-scale industrial operations that would have loved to do it, but I only eat meat from livestock that’s been raised the right way: doing things that they’d do in the state of nature – in the case of cows, this means grass-fed and raised outside.  I’d also need to be able to easily buy a small quantity of the stuff, so we could do a taste test to determine the winner.

It came down to two finalists: Arcadian Farms, which was willing to sell us an entire steer and also had a presence at the Union Square market, so it would be easy to get a pound of burger to try; and 8 O’Clock Ranch, from which my friend Jesse had just ordered about ten pounds of beef and called me to offer up a pound for consideration.  Both places were local, had 100% grass-fed cattle that were treated humanely and raised outdoors.

Time for a burger-off.   Two beeves enter, one beef leaves.  Results tomorrow.

NEXT: The Burger-Off

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Thank you to my dear friend Jonathan for the staggeringly terrific beef draft logo at the top.  I’m going to be using it a lot.  Also, this column, which is probably appearing in Times New Roman on your web browser, really sings when you’ve got two gorgeous and versatile fonts he designed,

Sentinel and Gotham, installed.

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