The meat I eat

Paul Willis and his piggies

Niman Ranch farmer Paul Willis with happy free-range pigs

If you have been reading Burnt My Fingers for awhile, you know I am a cheap son of a bitch. I rarely pay a premium for some fancy grade or brand name when I am fairly certain a less expensive product will do the job. This post is about spelling out my meat philosophy just a bit.

CHICKEN: I don’t buy the super cheap supermarket chickens because they taste like fish. I go a step above to get a “natural” bird which is fed a better diet free of hormones and antibiotics, and might cost $1.69 a pound when generic chicken is 99 cents. This is not so much because of humane concerns because I think chickens are pretty dumb, but rather pure self interest. I love the barnyard-raised birds from my friend Liza Porter but those go for $4 per pound or so, and are a special splurge.

BEEF: I like the flavor profile of an animal that has been fed mother’s milk, eats grass after weaning, and then is finished with grain to produce a more rounded taste with a good amount of marbling. This happens to be what they produce at my old client Niman Ranch, or did before the company was acquired by Coleman. It also happens to be what I usually get in Certified Angus for a much lower price, though there’s no guarantee because if grass is not available the animals will be fed grain or hay. I’m not tempted by the leanness of Select grade which is depressingly showing up more and more in the markets.

PORK: Here’s where I depart from cheapskate form, as a result of indoctrination by pig farmer Paul Willis who drove me past factory farm after factory farm in Iowa and made me understand the inhumane and unsavory conditions under which these pigs are grown. They’re more intelligent animals than dogs and they spend their entire lives in a narrow cage, standing on wire mesh, breathing in their own farts (the air in these buildings is so toxic that if the ventilation fails the animals can quickly expire). Whenever possible, I’ll pay the substantial premium for free range pork. Not only does it make me feel less guilty, but I think it tastes better due to the absence of fear and stress hormones that water down the meat.

LAMB: According to Bill Niman, most lambs are raised under conditions that are considered humane simply because they’re butchered so young; you will the same product and taste whether you buy from a premium source or get the New Zealand lamb in the supermarket.

FISH: I have drunk the seawater regarding mercury and eat very little of big fish like swordfish or tuna that have absorbed toxics from other fish down the food chain. I also find it more interesting to cook with smaller fish and am a big lover of squid which is brought to market in abundance by Moby Rick down the street from me in Saratoga. I stay away from farm-raised when I can because I don’t know what’s in the stuff with a notable exception being shrimp. Can’t get enough of the stuff and try to humor myself that the various aquaculture standards boards really are doing something.

Anybody hungry?

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