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Good Meat, Great Recipes-Cookbook Review and Fantastic Dinner Recipe

braised chickenWhen we made the switch to grass-fed and pastured meats at Brooklyn Supper, a lot of our old recipes didn’t work anymore. Naturally-raised cooks a lot differently. It’s  firmer and less fatty, it needs different cooking times and temperatures. Eventually, I learned to make those kinds of adjustments in my head, but it would be nice to have a cookbook that just addresses the kind of meat I’m working with. It’s what I imagine it must be like if you live in Denver- you probably just want a high-altitude cookbook. Luckily, Deborah Krasner has written a cookbook for sustainable meats that’s lucidly written and easy to use.

In a way, Good Meat is really like three books. First it’s a book arguing the culinary, ethical, and environmental benefits of sustainable, naturally-raised meats. It’s also a book with advice on economically sourcing naturally-raised meats. The bulk of the book, though, is an outstanding collection of recipes, because good meat deserves to be made into a good meal. Those three themes are really tightly intertwined and Krasner does an excellent job of integrating them.

If you’ve read Michael Pollan or Nina Planck or any of the other big names in sustainable cooking, a lot of the arguments that Krasner makes for sustainable meat should be familiar- the meat is more flavorful and the industrial methods used to raise commercial meat are cruel to the animals and toxic to the environment. Where Krasner really excels here is in making these arguments succinctly and with a minimum of judgment. Talking about food can be really polarizing, but this book values dispassionate facts over stridency. For example, she touches on the health benefits of sustainable meats, but shies away from some of the more extravagant claims I’ve seen elsewhere.

Krasner’s advice on sourcing and buying sustainable meats is really valuable. When we stopped eating conventional meat at Brooklyn Supper, the biggest obstacle was the cost. Sustainable meat costs more and steaks and chops- the easiest cuts to cook- are especially pricey. Krasner recommends learning to cook the whole animal and buying meat by the whole, half, or quarter animal as a way to keep costs down. While buying in large quantities doesn’t work for us because we don’t have room for a freezer, we know from experience that learning to slow-cook and using a wide variety of cuts can significantly reduce your costs. On top of that, we’ve had some wonderful dishes like braised lamb necks with tomato and oxtail soup that we’d have never made before.

In the end though, a cookbook’s only worth the money if the recipes are good and Krasner’s really come through. Because of the focus on local eating, the ingredients in Krasner’s recipes are mainly pretty simple with a nice balance between rusticity and sophistication. The ones we tried worked beautifully and the techniques are explained clearly. I think a moderately experienced home cook (which is what I consider myself) would have no problem with most of the recipes and a beginner would find plenty of things to make and a lot of inspiration.

My biggest criticism would be that I’d like it if the book had more photographs of the finished recipes. I know it’s not possible in a book with more than 200 recipes to have a picture for each one, but I like as many as I can get so I know if I’ve gone way off course.

To take the cookbook for a spin, we tried the braised chicken thighs in red wine with porcini. Chicken thighs are one of my favorite things because they’re the most flavorful part of the chicken and they’re incomprehensibly cheap. Braising is a fantastic way for a busy parent to make dinner, because once it’s started,  you can forget about it. There’s no risk of overcooking it while you’re reading Frog and Toad Are Friends for the thousandth time.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Red Wine with Porcini
from Good Meat by Deborah Krasner, used with the publisher’s permission
serves 2 to 4

4 skin-on, bone-in pastured chicken thighs
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
about 1 cup red wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blot the chicken dry with a paper towel on both sides and leave the pieces on a bed of folded paper towels to air-dry a little more at room temperature while you proceed.

Soak the dry mushrooms in a small bowl with enough very hot water to cover by 1 inch.

Melt the butter in a cast iron frying pan and turn the heat to medium, adding the bay leaves and rosemary. Give the herbs a swirl in the butter and let them stew gently for a few minute to perfume the fat.

Put the chicken, skin side down, into the hot butter, and brown it over medium-high heat. When they no longer stick to the pan, turn the pieces to brown on the other side.

Remove the rehydrated mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeezing them to remove extra moisture, and set them aside. Place a paper coffee filter in a holder, and pour the mushroom liquid through to remove any dirt. Pour this clarified liquid into a large measuring cup. Add enough red wine to make the total liquid 1 1/2 cups.

When the chicken is darkly golden, pour in the wine-and-mushroom-liquid mixture and deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to incorporate and browned bits into the sauce. Add the reserved mushrooms, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat (the liquid should simmer slowly) turning the meat occasionally for about 30 minutes, or until the meat is falling off the bones. Remove and discard the bay leaves.

Serve with the pan sauce (which may be poured through a fat separator first).

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