Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bulk Meat

Last time, I wrote about our Home Butchering journey.  Today I will share what happened the second time the butcher came, a week later, to cut up the hanging quarters of beef.

Whether you are buying a quarter or half or whole slaughtered animal, or have a homegrown one, the result is that you will end up with a LOT of meat, and some of it may be unfamiliar to you.  It sure was to me, and I'm really glad I asked a lot of questions throughout this process.

We'd purchased our freezer a couple of weeks earlier, switched it on and tested it.  I gathered about a dozen shallow cardboard boxes - the type mushrooms and stonefruit travel to the supermarket in.  This was a tip from a friend to separate different types of meat and allow airflow in the freezer, so the meat would freeze quicker.  It also prevents bags from sticking together.  The boxes did mean that the meat didn't pack as tightly, but we had enough space, so that was okay.

I asked around other farming friends I knew about bags, labels, cuts of meat and any other advice they had to share.  I purchased plenty of bags (and ties for some), a new marker pen and some labels.  We bagged a lot of the meat into sandwich size snaplock bags - these don't stick together in the freezer and can hold about 500g of mince packed flat, or a couple of steaks.  Obviously roasts, steak with bones, 1kg lots of mince etc did not fit in sandwich bags!  For these we used a strong type of freezer bag a neighbour picked up at a catering supply shop in town.  Twisty-ties, standard white sticky labels from the newsagents and a thick bullet-point permanent marker pen completed the packing kit...  We had hoped to vacuum seal some of the meat, but found that we just didn't have time.  If we had an extra person or two (and the space available), we could have delegated that task while other meat was packed into ordinary bags.

Source: Ausmeat Ltd.

The butcher arrived early and work started right away.  He asked lots of questions to find out what cuts of meat I was used to cooking and what would be of most use to us.  At a friend's suggestion, I had looked briefly at cuts of meat online, so I (as a non-beef-eater) was familiar with at least some of the options.  As the butcher cut each quarter and loaded the meat into a plastic tub, he told me the names of the cuts.  He was patient with me because I didn't know much about the cuts, and he even told me ways to cook some.  Occasionally I had to poke my head out of the shed, waving a steak in the air and call out, "Hey, what was this again?"  The whole butchering set-up was contained on the side of a truck which was parked beside the cold room.  There was a crane/hook device, a saw, tubs for meat and waste, and a mincer.  We decided not to make sausages this time, but he can do that on the spot too!

In the shed, next to the freezer, I had set up a large, strong, clean trestle table, somewhere to wash our hands, and the packing items all within easy reach.

My apprentice chef daughter (17) laboured away for over 2 hours with me, packing meat into labelled bags and stacking it into boxes while I wrote on bags, ran back and forth, helped her pack and asked questions.  She also shared some ideas for ways to cook various cuts and marvelled at some she'd not seen before, curious as to which part of the carcass they'd come from.  Even though we were rushing and hot she really enjoyed the process.

We were amazed at how fast the freezer was filling!  Our steer was young, and not a pure beef breed, so we didn't get as much meat as some people do when they do a home kill (or buy a 'whole beast' through their local butcher).


We now have a lot of roasts, heaps of mince, and various stewing cuts to experiment with.  There is more steak in the freezer than we've consumed in a decade!  So far we've only cooked some mince (chili con carne and meatballs in tomato sauce - both in the Thermomix) and some pan-fried steak. I tried some of the steak and it was tender and very mild in flavour.  I'm not sure I'm ready to begin eating beef again, but I did decide to at least taste some.

Because it's summer here, a lot of the cuts I'm not used to will have a bit of time in the freezer before they become casseroles and roasts.   I wonder which steak is best to cut into strips for stir-fries, and which is best to cube for curries?  I also have liver, kidneys and heart in the freezer!  I think the butcher told me a lot more about preparing various cuts than I remember...  In hindsight, a pen and paper (and clean hands) would have been handy for taking notes.

Apart from buying the freezer, and keeping it running throughout the year, this beef cost us a couple of dollars a kilo, butchered and packed.  That's cheap, quality protein, and I believe it's ethical too.  At this stage, I'd be willing to raise more large animals for the freezer.

There was very little waste from this butchering process - the skin is being tanned, the fat rendered, the bones are for dog food...  Reusable containers would omit the use of plastic bags, but we went with the easier way of packing this time.

I'd love any beef recipe suggestions you have! Meanwhile, I think this is one of the most inspiring collection of beef recipes I've come across so far...