Ten years ago, butchery wasn't cool. I mean, it was always cool in a deeper sense—the way self-sufficiency, physical strength, craftsmanship, and deft knife-wielding is always going to be cool. But it wasn't the cultish scene to which young, trained chefs aspire as they do now. Butchers were mainly born into butchering families, grandfathered into the craft and schooled from boyhood (yes, mostly dudes). So who can we, in large part, thank for the paradigm shift?
In pretty much every article on the rise of the rock-star butcher since 2009, one name is referenced time and again: Tom Mylan, co-owner of The Meat Hook, a sustainable butcher shop located in the center of the artisan-food universe, Brooklyn (of course). In fact, if you Google "hipster butcher," The Meat Hook is the first site you'll see. Which is funny, because Mylan's new cookbook, The Meat Hook Meat Book, is so not about being hip, in the who-has-a-bigger-mustache, Portlandia-esque way that the nouveau-DIY food scene can be. Rather, it's about making butchery approachable and accessible and about cooking down-and-dirty delicious meat.
Mylan's ultimate goal, with that of his two partners in Meat Hook, Brent Young and Ben Turley, is too earnest to be faddish. They want to see a lasting change to the food system in favor of small farmers and humanely-raised meat, which means making production of that meat profitable for the farms. By purchasing whole animals (as opposed to steaks and chops) from farmers committed to doing right by their animals and customers, the consumer—be it individual, restaurant, or market—pays less for properly raised, tastier meat, while maximizing profit for the farms. Win, win. But somewhere in between those wins, someone's got have the know-how to manage all that meat.
This book—part butchery handbook, part meat-centric cookbook—is, firstly, a terrific read. Even in the body of the recipes, the writing is loose and conversational, if that conversation is happening in a testosterone-and-cheap-beer-fueled kitchen. I'm not sure I've laughed out loud at many cookbooks, but this one tickled me. (The serving instructions for the raunchy, Funyun-laden Fat Kid Burger, conclude, "You disgust me.") However, Mylan is serious about his message and his mission, and he packs in the information, on everything from improvising a smoker, to the fundamentals of pasture-based farming, to the best way to kill a chicken. He makes basic butchery seem like something anyone could learn to do, given the inclination, a couple decent knives, and maybe a pair of cut-proof gloves. The chapters are divided by types of meat, including ones on bones and fat, and one that breaks down different cooking methods that I will refer to forever after. In a show of how unpretentious the book truly is, there's a whole chapter dedicated to the Thanksgiving turkey: how to get the perfect roast, how to make stock, stuffing and other sides, and what to do with the leftovers (Turkey Tamale Pie? Yes, please). Decidedly unsexy, unhip, and so very helpful.
Despite the lack of pretension, the book does end up being undeniably cool. There are photos from parties, anecdotes from the Brooklyn food scene, and pictures of animal parts in space. With the help of Michael Harlan Turkell's unflinching photography (not all cookbooks can get away with a slab of raw meat on the cover), it feels youthful, ambitious, edgy—much like the next-gen butchers that it portrays and will undoubtedly inspire.
That said, I did not tackle any butchering projects this week. But I did do some top-notch ordering from a butcher I trusted, and spent my time in the kitchen instead. This week, we'll make you wish for cooler weather with a fittingly meaty, monster pot of Meat Hook Chili. Then we'll give you a double hit of pork with The Inevitable Pork Chop with Cheddar Grits and the delightfully fatty Chinese Barbecue Pork. And on Friday, we'll share the luxurious Twenty-Minute Chicken Liver Mousse, perfect if you need to impress the cool kids this weekend.
Win a Copy!
As always, we have 5 copies of The Meat Hook Meat Book to give away this week, thanks to our friends at Artisan. Just tell us what kind or cut of meat intimidates and/or intrigues you the most in the comments below.