Thursday, March 26, 2009

:: First timer reports on grass fed beef experience ::

Ever since I embarked on the biggest loser journey last July, I have pretty much avoided meat like the plague. After reading various nutrition books, it just shocked me how doped up commercially available meat was and it saddened me to read reports of how inhumanely cows were being treated. So anyways, I went ahead and declared myself flexitarian, much to my husband's dismay. But being the supportive husband he was, he went along with it.

A few months down the road I did realize there were options available... just at a heftier price tag. I decided that this wasn't going to work in the long run - I did miss meat. So then I declared Saturday to be eat-meat-day. It involved going to the farmer's market or whole foods and picking up one cut of really good meat and enjoying it. The first endeavor was with buying a whole chicken from Hain Ranch at the saratoga's farmer market for about $20 ($5/lb) direct from a farmer and that night when we fired up the grill, it was the best frigging chicken I've ever tasted in my life. Seriously. Tender, juicy, lean and all things nice. That's when I decided, there has got to be a way. Even in this stinkin' economy.

After discovering various blogs like Tracy Reifkind's and Food Renegade's (and reading books by Michael Pollan), I was convicted to try out getting grass-fed beef direct from a ranch. I did my research and actually came across Miller Ranch through craigslist. I contacted Kim Miller and therein started a 20-email thread as I asked her all my silly first-timer questions about grass-fed beef...

What will I get in a cow?
How much of it goes to waste?
How much am I REALLY paying per lb?
Where will all this beef fit?
How do I share it with my friends? etc etc

She answered all my newbie questions, one by one, and with much patience I must add. And finally, she even offered me 1/4 of a steer just as a sample to get me started. That barrier was low enough for us and we jumped on the opportunity. We did also have a few friends that appreciated the chance to try out grass-fed beef direct from a ranch which helped. (Thanks Dyl, Slo, BW and LzFu!)

A week later, her husband arrived at our home and delivered a box of grass-fed meat in various cuts. We held a cow-share party that night and had friends come over to "buy" the beef. It was a challenge figuring out how to price everything fairly but I would say at the end, everyone was happy. (That's a whole other post altogether)

So far, I've made beef stew, sirloin tip steak, top sirloin steak and ground beef stir fry. I would like to share my reviews particularly on the steaks, because that's where I've read the most complaints. I will admit that I spent a considerably amount of time researching cooking tips, including what Kim sent me, because I was so afraid of messin' things up. (Cooking Grass-fed beef: 5 ways to nirvana)

Typical steak preparation:
1. Mini massage the steak with salt, pepper and evoo. Let it rest and come to room temperature.
2. Heat up the skillet on medium flame (I use les creuset) and when it's hot (a drop of water bubbles), cover generously with evoo.
3. Gently lower the steak onto the skillet and leave it
4. Flip over in a few minutes (i really should've timed it but i sorta guessed)
5. In another few minutes, remove from heat and resist the urge to poke, cut or test. (internal temperature was around 135)
6. Immediately tent it and let the beef cook for another 10 minutes.
7. Enjoy this deliciousness...

My analysis:
- When raw, it's extremely soft to the touch. And feels very... limber.
- It doesn't look like beef, it's a much lighter color. Done parts are a lighter brown and rarer parts are pink, not read. Almost like veal.
- It doesn't taste exactly like beef... i think it tastes better. Beefier.
- It's very juicy, but it's not fat juicy - just moisture juicy. I like that I don't need a lot of fat to distract me from its real taste.
- I believe after reading extensively about cooking grass feed beef, I've figured out how to make sure that they remain tender after cooking. Low heat, less time on heat, more time cooking under a tent.
- Buying direct from a ranch is definitely more cost effective in the grand scheme of things. Cheaper than whole foods or safeway and slightly higher than costco.
- It feels great knowing that not only am I not poisoning myself, Bessie was well-taken care of and enjoyed a long and fulfilling life. :)
- At first I considered the "innards" a waste of the money but now that I've been reading up more about organs, I'm tempted to actually try them out and get my money's worth. Just like the chinese do in asia!!! Nothing goes to waste!

When I'm done with this batch - I am so getting my next order in! I've also joined the Bay Area Meat CSA, where I hope I'll make new friends with the same passion.

========= Some Pics ==========

Raw top sirloin waiting to come to room temperature (Yes, literally zero fat marbling!)

Resisting the urge to poke my meat

10 mins after tenting... perfect medium rareness

Served on a bed of lettuce and drizzled with organic evoo


mikee said...

grass fed beef is wonderful! it is different than typical grain fed, feed lot, antibiotic/drugged out cows but enjoying lean, natural beef from a HUMANELY treated cow can't be wrong. give it a try!

Jo said...

Btw, this is a response direct from Kim at Miller Ranch:

It is a learning curve for everyone since most people who have grown up in cities of the US have never enjoyed real beef. The flavor, look, smell, and texture of grass fed beef differs slightly from grain-fed beef. I have been told by many people that after eating grass fed, if they have a grain fed steak they don't like the aftertaste or feel in their mouth. It's very interesting. So for some they will have to learn to like it and others will enjoy it immediately because it actually tastes like beef is supposed to taste. Others will gladly learn to like it simply because it healthier for them. So it is all a matter of what one is used to and how flexible they are in trying something new.

With grass fed beef, you will notice a difference in look and possibly taste based on the time of year of harvest. This is normal and completely natural - some people prefer a fall harvested steer, some a spring harvest - it all comes down to personal preference again. There are more variables with grass fed beef over grain fed due to the natural fluctuations in grasses.

We have some people who were raised in rural sections of Europe where this is the only type of beef they ate and when they came over to the US (first generation here) they were very disappointed with the flavor of the grain fed beef. They are already on their second order of a whole steer because they ate up their first order so fast. They missed having beef that tasted like they were used to plus the health benefits. Another thing they said they enjoyed was that the cost of our beef was reasonable compared to most others. We don't do a huge mark up just because it is better for you.

Due to the leanness of the beef - people do have to be careful of how they cook it. On the pieces of beef that are on the tougher side to begin with will be slightly tougher with a grass fed steer so cooking methods really matter.
Another tip I have is if I am pan frying, I cover my pan with a lid for the first half of cooking to trap in the moisture then I remove the cover to finish cooking.
Enjoy and if you have any other questions, just ask.

Anonymous said...

What a great entry! And welcome to the world of humanely-raised, nutrient-dense meats.

Your story will be so encouraging to others who are struggling with how to eat well on a strict budget!

Thanks for joining in Fight Back Friday today!

(AKA FoodRenegade)

Carrie Oliver said...

This is a great post and your doing the homework no doubt helped you make a wise choice and provide a short cut to your friends. I have compared a lot of grass-finished and grain-finished beefs from different producers (I'm a bit of a Beef Geek) and want to build on what Kim says in her comment above.

Whether grass-finished or grain-finished (and there are some very good producers out there), beef really is more like wine - it varies by breed, diet, aging technique and, frankly, the relative talents of the grower, slaughterhouse, and butcher. Different flavors and textures - call it styles or varietals of beef - will appeal to different people. Moreover, those tastes, especially with grass-finished beef, will very by season (similar to how wine varies by year).

It sounds like you got lucky your first time and enjoyed the Miller's beef. If you stumble on others that don't care for it as much, encourage them to keep trying as sooner rather than later, I think they'll find a style and producer that appeals to their personal palate, priorities and wallet.

Kimberly Anne said...

Explain to me tenting, please. I would love to try this technique.

Also, I am doing a blog carnival Tuesday on exercise, and one of the submissions I have already is about a "biggest loser contest at work".

Maybe you'd like to participate/comment!


Jo said...

Hey Kimberly!

So about tenting... I dont think its some super sophisticated technique but its what my family calls it. We basically let the meat rest on a plate and cover it with a foil like a tent. So we call it "tenting". Haha, bet you feel jipped huh!