In recent years, growing numbers of restaurant chefs and home cooks have experienced the culinary joys of boutique meats, a satisfying alternative to meats from animals raised in the biggest numbers for the fattest profits.
One reason the "sustainable meat" movement hasn't grown faster is a lack of craft butchers. Before farmers risk raising small groups of animals in time-intensive ways, they want to know there will be a market. Local slaughterhouses that would break down animals to order for customers have dwindled in number.
Into the breach stepped butcher-activists like Joshua and Jessica Applestone. In 2004, the couple -- a vegan and a part-time vegetarian -- opened Fleisher's Grass-Fed and Organic Meats in Kingston, on the Hudson River. They wanted a place to buy the kind of meat they wanted to eat themselves, where they could buy a grass-fed rib-eye from a butcher who could tell them exactly where it came from, and the best way to cook it.
Their mission, in the largest sense, is the end of mystery meat. "From birth to when they become meat in our cases, these animals have been touched by only a few sets of hands: the farmer's, the slaughterer's, and ours," they write. "We know where they have been every step of the way."
If you don't know where to find such a butcher, the Applestones have written a clear, comprehensive manual on how to become one. If you have the right gear and an adequate space, you can turn a whole, slaughtered lamb, pig or steer into the meat most people see for the first time on white foam trays.
After chapters on their journey to butcherdom and the modern meat marketplace, the Applestones start with the basics, like what you call the meaty parts of an animal, how to hold a knife and why they use wooden cutting blocks. "If you know how to tie your shoes," it says, "I can teach you how to tie a roast."
Food safety rules and techniques are stressed throughout, but the Applestones will delineate what health codes dictate in their shop, and their sometimes less chemical-reliant cleanup routines for the home kitchen.
The rewards for such a hands-on approach are manifold, the authors write. One is fat, an advantage of "nose-to-tail" butchering. Fat makes up about 15 percent of an animal, and they find ways to use it, whether by making it edible or just in candlemaking. The book also covers the best ways to cook organs, without them tasting like they earned their label: offal.
Recipes are not the main reason to make this book yours, but the cooking style it recommends is hearty and straightforward. From seared steaks finished in the oven to quick sausage and Japanese fried chicken, their preparations are relatively easy to execute.
The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat
by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra ZissuClarkson Potter; 240 pages, $27.50