We just had the privilege to escape our Idaho winter for a Caribbean cruise to the Panama Canal. This is about the only way I ever get close to a venue for sampling four- or five-star dining. I don’t know what the rating is, but the dining rooms are a lot fancier than the usual places I go when we eat away from the ranch. And, of course, presentation is everything. Dinner takes two hours.
Besides the fruits and vegetables, pastries, and desserts, and other unknown (to my experience) items, we got to sample all varieties of seafood, poultry, pork, lamb, and beef. It was really interesting and fun to have so much variety. It’s also quite all right to be home now enjoying some standard home cooking that my lovely wife specializes in.
Growing up on the farm, and spending a lifetime eating beef that we grew ourselves, it is interesting to see how professional chefs deal with the various beef possibilities in their menus. My recent article on beef cuts is a good reference if you are a new reader.
On our first night in the dining room, I ordered beef filet, the tenderloin cut. How they get them to be almost perfectly round is beyond me, but it is typical for a restaurant filet. The muscle is fairly round, but ours always have a “tail” on one side, so I suppose that the chef must trim it a little for presentation purposes. Tenderloin is supposed to be the most tender cut of beef and is more lean than some other steaks like the ribeye. When I was presented with my order, there were two round filets about 3/4″ thick and 3 inches in diameter. They were beautifully grilled, and I was anxious to dive in.
The flavor was very good, and typical of what you would expect in a broiled or grilled beef steak from a feedlot beef. We Americans have a certain expectation of this, whether it’s in a restaurant, at a tailgate party, or at home. There is a flavor that is simply beef. Both filets tasted exactly the same.
The texture and tenderness was below average. The first one was a little tough for a filet; I was disappointed. The second one was a little more tender. This indicates that I was sampling two different animals, and yet flavor was the same.
The take-home message from my meal is this: commodity beef in this country is very uniform in flavor. Contrast this with my experience on the farm where each grass-finished beef that we butcher is a little different. There are nuances of flavor that differ depending on time of year, diet, and age of the animal. Our beef is always good, but there is usually some variation that keeps us anticipating the next steak.
Another interesting dish I had on the cruise was beef carpaccio with arugula, an appetizer course of paper-thin slices of chilled raw beef on a bed of greens. The presentation is very appealing to the eye, but I was less satisfied with the flavors. The arugula is pretty much a necessity to flavor this dish, because the beef is just what you might expect from raw meat— bland. Beef needs some form of cooking to bring out the flavor. For my tastes, I won’t have to try this one again.
Veal: another new experience. I don’t think I have ever eaten true veal on the farm. True veal comes from a very young animal that has never been fed hay, grass, or forage of any kind. It is raised in a pen on milk and grain, giving the meat a very light coloring — sort of pinkish when raw, cooking to a more whitish color like pork. Some so-called “veal” is not true veal, but simply a younger animal. Because of the growing and feeding method, true veal is expensive due to scarcity. I was anxious to see what it was like, so I ordered it one evening in combination with lamb and chicken all on the same plate. I was surprised to find that the veal was extremely similar to pork — actually a very good pork. I suppose this is because the rumen (the forage-digesting first stomach) has not developed in the calf. Thus, it is for all practical purposes, a monogastric animal similar to a pig, and fed the same diet as a pig.
Veal is a great example of the adage “You are what you eat.” We should probably pay more attention to this. Cows are designed by the creator to eat grass. We should let them do it. Since we are designed to be omnivores, we should select for the meat portion of our diet a naturally healthy meat such as grass finished beef. If we eat food that was produced in a clean, healthy manner, it should contribute positively to our own health.
This was a great vacation and a fun opportunity to experience fine dining and perhaps a bit of gluttony. However, it’s great to be home to real food of known origin, reasonably portioned, and lovingly prepared.
John Brady is one of a now-rare breed of farmer-ranchers who comes from an unbroken chain of family farmers going back multiple generations. He is the third generation currently farming the same land in Idaho. After earning a degree in Agronomy and a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics, borrowing money, and participating in USDA farm commodity programs during the 1970s, he has finally overcome most of that to be a maverick in doing things the “new old-fashioned” way, working with nature to raise beef the way it was intended: on grass, legumes and forage. Watch John move cows at BradysBeef.com, read the Brady’s Beef blog and keep up to date on all things Brady’s Beef on Twitter.