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I’m reflecting on my life as a carnivore.
It’s all I have to do. I’ve squandered hours in front of the TV doing cultural research, watching one after another of my favorites — cooking shows, right-wing political commentators, police chases.
I’ve downed a couple of glasses of a zippy Zinfandel and I’m watching a repeat episode of Iron Chef. I know who wins (that somewhat rakish, but subdued Morimoto). That’s the nice thing about repeats: a lack of ambiguity, no surprises. Much like remarrying the same person years after a divorce.
As a result, I’m in a pensive mood, taking inventory of what is important in this life of mine.
I reduce my options down to a precious few — among them my family, the National Hockey League, aluminum foil and clogging — then focus on one.
I love meat. Not to the exclusion of all else, but …
We are dogsitting Ivy and John’s pooch, Chugach. He wanders over and sits in front of me, giving me his I-want-to-go-for-a-walk look, his clear brown eyes sparkling. He’s a wonderful dog. Choogs is a wonderful animal and entertaining companion: a trustworthy friend.
I realize as I stroke his head, if push comes to shove, I’ll eat him — in a heartbeat.
I’m a carnivore and, in times of great stress, meat is meat. Protein is king, the epicenter of my existence. With my fondness for lifting heavy objects and putting them back down, protein is always on my mind.
Master Kaga introduces the challenger for the week’s show, a stern and stout chef from a major Tokyo hotel. Kaga is dressed in his customary homophile Zorro outfit and he smirks as the week’s ingredient — foie gras — is unveiled. A platform heaped with distorted globs of organ flesh rises in a haze of fake smoke. Meat times ten: the liver of a goose, swollen with fats from an inordinately unhealthy, forced diet.
I’ll eat diseased goose liver. In fact, I’ve eaten foie gras, in many forms, many times, completely absent the pressure of famine, and enjoyed it immensely.
If it’s meat, I’ll consume it.
I tried horse once. A bit dense, somewhat sweet.
I’ve devoured plenty of things that fly, that crawl. I’ve tasted squirrel, chocolate-covered bees and toasted grasshopper. Rabbit (excuse me, hare)? You bet. Leviticus never stopped me. I’ve never had a shot at rock badger or eagle, but … who knows what I’d do if the opportunity arose? Dietary law goes out the window in the face of protein treats.
I love flesh.
I’m bucking a trend.
Kathy subscribes to a raft of we’re-so-healthy-we’re-smug magazines. I read them while occupied in the bathroom. One magazine’s cover features middle-aged women, scrubbed and glowing, radiant with the flush only a daily dose of yogurt and a weekly trip to a colon hydrotherapist can provide.
The articles are rife with fevered, near-hysteric advice about organic produce and whole grains. Every article regarding diet sounds the alarm about meat, and red meat in particular. If the authors don’t come right out and urge complete abstention from meat — reciting a list of hideous somatic disasters that come of carnivorous indulgences — they preach a reduction in intake so severe it reminds me of the diet at a Zen monastery.
Stay away from red meat. Watch out for hormones in fowl. Careful about mercury in fish.
I’m fat. My blood pressure is slightly elevated. There are times my blood has the consistency of pudding. I live in fear of undergoing a complete cardio exam and watching as my physician shakes his head, asks if I have family members with me, and refuses to look me directly in the eyes.
But, I’m not giving up red meat.
Not even with my tussles with gout.
I might not eat Choogie soon, but I do not plan to empty my diet of flesh.
The problem: With our limited options at the market here in Siberia with a View, action in the kitchen and at the table gets tedious. Plus, Kathy refuses to eat lamb. I don’t know why. Lambs are incredibly cute and well suited as a prime food source. You can raise a lamb on a small piece of property, watch it frolic, give it a cute name, then eat it. What’s not to like? A perfectly cooked leg of lamb, a platter of kibbeh, rack of lamb pink and oozing juices — what could be much better?
Bottom line: mindful of the regularly woeful state of seafood in this part of the universe, I’m limited to beef (so, what’s the problem with a touch of mad cow disease?), pork, chicken or turkey, unless a hunter friend has an ischemic event that loosens a brain screw and causes him to give me the backstrap from an elk.
Beef, pork, chicken, turkey. Ground or in the typical cuts. Sautéed, grilled, braised and roasted.
If it wasn’t for the fact a serious percentage of the world’s human population is scrounging for food sufficient to simply maintain life, I would gripe on and on and on.
Since, however, we are riding a wave of unprecedented prosperity and take for granted a style of life directly contrary to a positive future for our planet and species — a lifestyle in which we have unlimited access, for the moment, to endless supplies of beef and pork — I won’t complain.
The problem in my jaded and often misguided existence is how to cook these products in new and inviting ways, how to keep the carnivore lamp lit, as it were.
I’ve coated, spiced and sauced meats in myriad ways. I’ve encased them in pastries and wraps. I’ve used them in conjunction with a wide variety of sides.
I need more options
I go to the Web for answers.
At first, I am trapped at a fascinating site delivered, free (can you believe it?), from Amsterdam. From a Mylar-wrapped sweetie named Helga. Several hours of enlightening entertainment later, I decide to forgo any more Web searches and strike off on my own.
I make a trip to the store, gather supplies and settle in for a weekend of science. I set up Karl’s Food Lab and start to work. Choogie plays Igor to my Food Frankenstein, snapping up any fragment of my work that falls to the floor. I am determined each day to work a variation on a theme, to develop a dish worth serving to company, with as little effort as possible.
Saturday I hit the target dead center. I prepare filet of beef with pancetta, shallots, garlic, mushrooms, and roasted peppers in puff pastry with a sauce composed of veal demi-glace, shallots, garlic, red wine and butter. I serve it with steamed green beans and a mesclun salad with tomato, avocado and a simple citrus and olive oil dressing.
My advice: Don’t be afraid of store-bought puff pastry. It can work well and, with the addition of a sheen of melted butter, it tastes almost like homemade.
Roll the sheet of puff pastry to about half the thickness it exits the package.
Cut several four-inch squares, then cut an equal number of six-inch squares.
Less than a pound of tenderloin will suffice for four people. Cut the meat into half-inch cubes and season. Sauté a mess of mushrooms — whatever looks good at the store — with bits of pancetta, a hefty portion of minced shallot and a mix of roasted red and green pepper, diced small. Throw in a diced, roasted and peeled poblano for an extra kick. When the mushrooms lose their moisture and begin to brown, add minced garlic. Season with salt, pepper, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Add the beef and sauté briefly. Don’t overcook. Set aside in a bowl to cool.
Sauté minced shallots until transparent in the same pan you used for the beef. Deglaze with red wine and slightly diluted demi-glace (use beef base, if you must). Reduce over medium high heat to a jam-like consistency. Add chopped parsley, minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, a touch of rosemary and thyme, dilute a bit with more of the stock. Reduce slightly and strain. Keep warm.
On a small square of puff pastry, mound up some of the meat mixture. Brush egg wash around the perimeter of the pastry and cover with one of the larger pastry squares. Seal edges and trim. Brush the top of the packet with melted butter then with egg wash. You can use the pastry trimmings to decorate the package, gluing and sealing with egg wash. Replicate the royal seal of the Romanoff family; it will stun your guests.
Bake the puff pastry packs on parchment, on a baking sheet, at 400 for 15 minutes or so, or until toasty golden brown.
When the packs are done, turn up the heat under the sauce, bring it to a slight boil, take it off the heat and add a ton of cold butter a bit at a time, whisking constantly until the butter melts and the sauce takes on sheen.
My, this is good. Especially in the company of a lot of fine, red wine.
Sunday I make large chicken and spinach ravioli using pancetta left from the night before, touched with tarragon, garlic, and shallot. I whip up a bernaise sauce to go with them. A dusting of fresh-grated Parmesan, and the dish is more than OK. The next time, I’ll forget the bernaise and make a roasted red pepper cream sauce and dribble on some chive oil. The dish will be deadly.
The weekend reaffirms my status as a committed carnivore. I am energized, secure in who and what I am.
Now, I am excited, anxious to try other recipes using meats. Perhaps something off the beaten track.
Though you rarely see it in a cookbook, the French have a recipe for civet that sounds intriguing. I intend to hit the Web and see where this leads.
Do you know where your pets are?