July 13, 2011

Let's talk meat

Culinary Institute of America

Behind the Meat Counter is a course at the Culinary Institute of America that I had been eyeing for a year or two. Each time I was about to register I would talk myself out of it: too expensive, too far away, not the right time. Blah, blah, blah. I’ve decided that this is the year I stop thinking and re-thinking all the big things I want to see and do and just DO THEM.

So it was that on a hot June Saturday morning I found myself on the campus of the CIA. The CIA is in a breathtaking location. These are some lucky students who get to look down on the Hudson River and its surrounding lush valley every day. I, however, spent most of the day in the basement in a chilled classroom and it was awesome!

Chef Schneller was a fantastic teacher. Humorous and helpful he made butchering large primal cuts look like a piece of cake. (Which I guess it would be if you had grown up at the side of your butcher father and continued in the profession yourself.) For demonstration he would break down large cuts of beef, talking us through the steps, and describing each of the smaller cuts as he went. Then we got to work with our own set of knives.

First up was learning to French a rack of lamb. With just a few simple cuts and a piece of butcher’s twine we had neatly cleaned our racks. Then the big butchering happened. We each broke down our own primal pork loin; they weighed in at over 40 pounds each. From that huge cut we learned how to remove the ribs, the tenderloin, the shoulder steaks, and the loin. By the time I finished mine I had amassed 4 steaks, a rack of ribs, a tenderloin, two pork roasts, 9 thick center cut shops, and scrap for grinding. And we weren’t done yet. The final butchering was breaking down a chicken. I learned the easy way to take out the backbone and how to leave a piece of the wing attached to the breast for a “fancy" presentation. Phew!

And all that meat came home with me! Samples of the beef Chef Schneller broke down, our lamb, our pork, and our chicken along with ground beef, pork, and lamb they made from our scraps found their way into my cooler. It was a very heavy cooler and my freezer is packed with more meat than I typically buy in six months. I’ve been having a bit here and there and it is crazy how proud I am to be eating meat that I butchered up myself. Very proud indeed.

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