Lynne Curry, a Foodday contributor, is a writer and chef living in eastern Oregon cattle country.
Her new book, "Pure Beef: An Essential Guide to Artisan Meat With Recipes for Every Cut," is about the benefits of grass-fed beef and its ranching, processing and cooking.
In addition to 140 recipes, Curry's book addresses the specific ways cooks can maximize grass-fed beef's special qualities, even for the lesser cuts that many people who buy shares of beef have no idea what to do with.
We talked with her at a restaurant in her neighborhood in Joseph to learn more about her groundbreaking book.
You spent nearly 20 years as a vegetarian. How did you convert to being a carnivore?
It was a slow progression. I didn't like red meat, so really I was a pescetarian, meaning I would occasionally eat fish, although vegetables were still my primary diet.
The turning point was my experience of trying game for the first time in Wallowa County on a ski trip before I moved here. I was out in the mountains and elk stew was what was for dinner.
I tried it and it was one of those "aha" experiences. When I moved here, I became intrigued by wild and local foods, which included game.
Then when I got a call offering a share of a lamb, I decided to try it and it was wonderful.
It wasn't the foundation of our diet, but it was a supplementary meat.
Another call came for a quarter share of a steer and we decided to try it.
We've been ordering like that ever since.
How is grass-fed beef different from conventionally raised beef?
It's better for the animals, better for the beef producers and better for the consumer. That's the nutshell version, and it's much more deep and complex in so many dimensions.
What are the benefits for the consumer?
The health benefits for consumers are a result of the cow's abil ity to digest and transfer the nutrients plentiful in grasses, including omega 3s and CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids), antioxidants, notably vitamins A and E.
There is also less overall fat in grass-fed beef, and it contains no traces of antibiotics or growth hormones.
How is grazing better for the cattle?
Simply put, cattle are ruminants with the extraordinary ability to digest fibrous plants. Grazing allows them the relative freedom to live among their herd and select the plant-based diet that keeps them healthy.
How is cooking grass-fed beef different?
There are two principal physical characteristics that make grass-fed beef different from commodity beef: There is less fat, so there is less insulation, and there is less water, so there is less moisture within the meat.
The cooking requires more attention. Where with commodity beef you could cook it a bit longer and yet it still will be moist because the fat insulates the meat from the heat, grass-fed beef is just a little more sensitive, similar to the way game is. You need to time it carefully, keep an eye on it.
You can cook it over high heat to medium-rare. If you want it beyond medium-rare, the key is to finish it over very low heat.
Then you won't have any problem with dryness or toughness because you have great-quality meat to start with.
Grass-fed beef comes at a premium price. How could a budget-minded cook justify buying it?
The market has shifted quite significantly since commodity beef prices have risen, so that differential is less than it was a year ago.
What I always advise is to start with ground beef. It's the first recipe chapter in my book but it's also a great gateway to grass-fed beef -- it's the most affordable, it has enough fat to provide great flavor although it's still very lean and it's the most versatile meat cut there is. My kids love it.
You can make burgers, you can invent dishes for winter -- meatloaf, beef bolognese, anything.
Grass-fed beef is a tiny fraction of the entire industry. What's happening in that niche? Is it growing?
It's hard to know because the USDA isn't tracking grass-fed beef separately from commodity beef.
In the book, I look at my little community (Joseph) and how it's changed over the 11 years since I moved here.
If this place is an indication, we're going to see more people moving into production and direct marketing of their own beef.
We're going to see more grass-fed brands available locally at the retail level.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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