Right away in this cooking adventure – beyond stocking my medicine cabinet with Avengers band-aids – I had a goal to learn more about food in general.
I tend to eat out a lot. When I had two jobs it was mostly fast food while going from one place to the other. I like fruit and vegetables but they weren’t always the fastest thing to cook. They also aren’t a big focus at quick food stops which meant plenty of meat. Understandably, at the time I didn’t really want to reflect on where my chicken came from or how it got to a chain restaurant.
Indigo had a summer film series last year, Tread Lightly, partnering with the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society to screen documentaries on where our food comes from, the benefits of supporting local farmers and organic options. It made me realize how important local resources are to Lincoln.
So I was grateful when Kevin Shinn, owner and operator of Bread & Cup, offered to let me observe when they butchered two hogs. This was a chance to see behind the scenes of what brought my food to the table.
That sounded really intense. This was so far outside my realm of experience that it was a little startling. Even now that I do more of my own food preparation, I normally cook from bags of frozen chicken breasts. I went hoping that I would be tough enough to handle watching it happen. After all, I can’t even swat a fly! But I wanted to come out of it with new knowledge to guide my own cooking adventure.
Let me say, first and foremost, that Kevin, his wife and co-owner Karen and their kitchen manager Amanda were so kind and patient with me that day. I showed up in the afternoon, telling everyone not to worry about me in the kitchen because I had the proper food handler’s permit, and prepared to take some pictures while learning. Which I definitely did, of course, but firsthand and hands on. Amanda and Kevin actually taught me how to make the different cuts.
Actually going through the process gave me a much better understanding and appreciation of meat preparation. I’m not anywhere near the level of looking at a cut and knowing if it’s good, or the best way to prepare it, or anything fancy, but now I know that such ideas even exist.
I also discovered their meat is delivered already sectioned, so I didn’t have to worry quite so much about crying at the sight of a full pig. Going in, I was worried that I liked meat too much to quit but was too softhearted to face the realities of eating it. That might mean I cheated a bit at the experience but learning is learning!
When I arrived, a slab of ribs was laid out, which had several options for making cuts. Ribs themselves, of course and what we ended up doing, chops. The cuts are mutually exclusive, which means we could only do the one. There were four rib quarters to cut, and while Kevin’s experienced hands went through the first three quickly, he walked me through making cuts on the last set.
(He also made good use of the extra set of hands and had me vacuum seal the other chops to await their turn back in the kitchen).
Bread & Cup has a great deal of respect for the fact that this meat comes from a once living animal. As such, they find ways to make sure everything is used in some way. If they trim something to make a cut nicer, the leftover meat can make sausage. Kevin told me that while there isn’t a thriving market for tongue, every now and again they find the right group to appreciate the delicacy. Bones can be used to make stock while fat can be used in a variety of ways. I haven’t had a chance to use the recipes from it, but this reminds me of the book Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient by Jennifer McLagan.
Armed with a little more knowledge and a successful day aiding someone in the kitchen, I am ready to tackle the next step…actually making food with continued adult supervision!
My friends Shae and Adrienne are ready to have me apply what I learned when we make Roasted Rib Steak with accompaniments from Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook.
Thanks in advance for all of the help, Kevin & Co!