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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Good Man is Hard to Find

I've been married for 22 years and for the last eight there's been another man in my life.  That man is my butcher, Mark.   You know what they say, that behind every great man is a woman. Well, behind every great cook is a great butcher.  In fact, Mark can take most of the credit for almost everything that comes out of my kitchen.  He's an artist with a knife. Anything I want -- stew meat, chicken cutlets, a leg of lamb -- is perfectly trimmed to my specifications. Mark makes me look good.

Here's the thing.  You're only going to be as good as your ingredients.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Poorly trimmed meat can do you in.  Perfectly butchered meat can make you shine.  Ask any good cook, and they'll tell you that they have a favorite green grocer, a favorite cheese shop, and a host of favorite purveyors of all things food.  A favorite butcher is usually at the top of the list.

It's funny, because when I lived in Los Angeles, the land of plenty, I bought all my meat at Gelson's Market.  Now, Gelson's is the Rolls Royce of grocery stores, but it's a grocery store nonetheless. Aside from a kosher butcher shop where I occasionally bought a chicken, I don't think I ever even gave a thought to actually seeking out a butcher shop.  When I moved to Pittsburgh and surveyed the selection of meat at my local "gourmet" grocery store (and I use that term loosely,) I knew that I had to look further.  That search led me to the Shadyside Market and ultimately to Mark.

A good butcher will make cooking easy.  If a recipe calls for one-inch cubes of beef for a stew, your butcher can do that for you better than you could ever do yourself.  Need a leg of lamb tied, your butcher can do that for you much faster than it would be for you to struggle with the "e how" instructions you download.  (Does anyone besides a butcher actually know how to tie a leg of lamb anyway?)  I even have Mark pound chicken breasts for me.  He can get them to an even thickness much easier than I can.

So, my suggestion to you is that you search for a butcher.  It might not be easy to find a good one, but a good man is hard to find.

And, here's a recipe that will make you shine, with the help of your secret weapon!

Filet of Beef au Poivre
(Barefoot in Paris, 2004)


6 filets mignon, cut 1 1/4 inches thick
kosher salt
2 tbl. coarsely ground black pepper
3 1/2 tbl unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 tbl. olive oil
3/4 cup chopped shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
1 cup canned beef broth
1/2 cup good Cognac or brandy

Place filets on a board and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the filets with salt and then press the black pepper evenly on both sides.  Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat until the butter almost smokes.  Place the steaks in the pan and lower the heat to medium.  Saute the steaks for 4 minutes on one side and for 3 minutes on the other side, for medium rare.  Remove the steaks to a serving platter and cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Meanwhile, pour all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the saute pan. Add the shallots and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add the beef broth and cook over high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, until reduced by half, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the Cognac and cook for 2 more minutes.  Off the heat, swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Serve the steaks hot with the sauce poured on top.

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