Disclaimer: This book is about my local butcher shop, and the people who run it, and I'm big fans of both. Another disclaimer: It's co-authored by Alexandra Zissu, a friend and occasional colleague.
But even in the absence of those associations, don't think I could find anything bad to say about The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More. (OK, I thought of one: That's an awfully long title.)
The book does two things: It tells the story of Fleisher's Grass-Fed & Organic Meats, the butcher in Kingston, N.Y., founded by Joshua and Jessica Applestone; and it offers practical information and advice about understanding, preparing and cooking meats from animals that have been raised ethically.
The Applestones were not meat-eaters when they started Fleisher's, which takes its name from Joshua's family name (which means butcher), and his grandfather's butcher shop in Brooklyn. Joshua was a vegan, and Jessica a vegetarian with a weakness for bacon and a desire to eat meat; both shared a reversion to the industrialized system that produces meat in the U.S., and a disappointment in the options available for people seeking alternatives. So they opened Fleisher's, which buys only animals (usually organic) raised on pasture without the use hormones or antibiotics from local farms in New York's Hudson Valley.
"It's a love story," Jessica said at a recent book launch party in Brooklyn, which featured not only tastes of fresh roast beef and ham, but the butchering of a pig. "I wanted to eat meat."
The book tells the story of the two of them learning the ropes of running the business, which not only serves locals in the Hudson Valley, but restaurants in New York City; soon, Fleisher's will open a second shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn. (Here's hoping they never abandon Kingston, though.)
Walking into Fleisher's is a bit like walking into Cheers, if Sam Malone was serving homemade spicy free-range chicken wings and handing paper-wrapped organic pork loins to customers across the counter. A spirit of neighborly fun, mixed with integrity and good taste, pervades the place. The same spirit comes through in the book. Plus, if you like the look of Josh, you get about everything but a centerfold spread of the guy, as he cuts meat, sharpens knives and carries ribs in both black-and-white and color glossy photos throughout the book.
But if you don't particularly care about the story of one local butcher, no matter how wonderful that butcher is, The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat is still a volume worth keeping on the shelf next to your cookbooks. Because it's hard to remember that the loin runs down the back of an animal, bacon comes from the belly of a pig, the shank is the lower leg, and that the butt of a cow is called the top round but the shoulder of a pig is called the butt. Because it's hard to remember how to cook each of these cuts well (see chart, pages 64-65). Because you'd like to butterfly your own leg of lamb or quarter your own chickens, but shudder at the challenge. The book is filled with practical advice, drawings, recipes and tips for enjoying meat. After all, if you're going to go through the trouble of sourcing your meat ethically because you're so concerned about the lives the animals live before they're slaughtered, you better enjoy the taste.
The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More ($18.15 at amazon.com)
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