Saturday, June 11, 2011

Grinding Meat

Recently I’ve come down from a steak craving high and once again I can enjoy other forms of meat. I didn’t always like meat very much, which is why my steak cravings were so surprising. As a child I was an animal lover, so much so that at one point I wrote in my elementary school diary entry to “wear more animal shirts.” Since wearing images of animals on your clothing is the best way to support the cause of animals world wide. A little while later I decided to up my animal commitment from shirt wearing to vegetarianism. That lasted until my dad made hot dogs for dinner that night.

For many years I didn’t think much about the meat that I ate. Humans are omnivores and therefore there’s nothing wrong with eating meat, that’s how we evolved and survived. Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about our meaty food system, from a health and food safety point of view. I don’t want to gross anyone out by getting into too many icky details. Though, sometimes difficult to take knowledge helps to make decisions. So I only have 2 bits of info and then we’ll get on with the meat of this post (sorry for the pun!).

Awhile back I read an article from the New York Times that really got me thinking about beef. The gist of the article is that a woman ate a hamburger that was contaminated with E. coli and became paralyzed. Paralyzed! Now if that doesn’t make you think about your food more seriously, I don’t know what will. It’s food! Food is supposed to nourish us, not hurt us. One of the main issues in this woman’s case was that meat from hundreds of cows can go into making a burger, so it becomes difficult to determine where the contamination came from. Jamie Oliver had a piece on his show Food Revolution about ground beef and the addition of something un-tasty called “pink slime.” I’ll let you watch the video if you’re curious about learning more.

So what’s the solution to ground beef that could make you sick? Some think you ought to take ridiculous care with ground beef and not let it touch your hands or anything else in your kitchen. But that doesn’t solve the problem of what’s in the meat itself. Jamie’s solution to guarantee that you know what’s in your ground beef is to go to a butcher and have him grind it right in front of you. Andy and I haven’t found a decent butcher in Nashville, so our solution is to do the meat grinding ourselves!

Who doesn’t like taking a hunk of raw meat and churning it through some contraption to get ground meat? Today’s Antique Modernism takes us more into the “antique” realm of things, but for modern reasons. Meat grinders come in many forms. We have one that attaches to our kitchen aid mixer and a hand crank one that was once owned by my Grandma Summerville. We’ve been using the hand crank one because the one that attaches to our mixer is also a food mill, it seems safer to have one that is dedicated to meat only.

Grinding meat is quite simple and gives you full control of what goes into your food, it can also be cheaper! First you need meat to grind, what kinds is best? We’ve gotten a few kinds of meat and chuck or sirloin seem to be the best. Don’t get taken in by the low cost of a rump roast or something you would cook in a slow-cooker. That kind of meat doesn’t do well in your ground beef as it probably won’t be braised and therefore turns into a gristly burger (trust me, I know from experience).

Ghost hand not necessary for meat chopping.

Once at home make sure your meat grinding area and equipment is clean and sanitary. Also, there is a bit of splatter, so I recommend keeping that in mind when choosing a grinding location, put on an apron for good measure. Next, chop the meat into chunks small enough to fit into your grinder. You can add raw, chopped bacon for tenderness if that’s what you like in a burger (or casserole or pasta sauce). If you want leaner beef, then added bacon probably isn’t for you. Now you grind! Usually we do a bunch at once so we weigh out 1 pound portions and put it zipper bags for freezing.

If you made it this far in the post raw meat probably doesn’t make you too queasy and hopefully you’re interested in grinding your own. I highly recommend it for many reasons. First and foremost is taste! There’s nothing like having control over the leanness or juiciness of your food. Pre-ground beef just doesn’t compare in flavor with what you can do yourself (barring meat ground in front of you at the butcher). Second is food safety, as I’ve already talk about above. You can know what’s in your food and you know the meat in your burger comes from only one cow. Third is cost, the more processed your food is, the more expensive it will be. A large chuck roast will cost less than ground beef and you’ll get more meat from it. It’s especially rewarding if you get it on sale!

Ultimately I don’t think vegetarianism is for me and as much as I like grass-fed meat, it’s not usually in the budget. Grinding meat ourselves is a great way to bridge the gap between these two worlds and stay true to our omnivore roots.

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