As a lover of good food and cooking, I’ve been trying different brands and grinds and formulations over the years, but I’ve never been entirely satisfied with the final products. The texture was always a bit dense and sometimes mushy, no matter how gently I fingered the shards of meat to shape it into burgers or meatballs or folded in the savoury additions for meatloaf. Then there’s the unidentified chewy objects – gristle would be a neutral term. The apocryphal tales of what goes into the giant hopper in those chilly back rooms of the meat factories – knees, lips, tendons, butt-holes, ears. Admit it, meat-eaters – you’ve all chewed on those stringy bits.
After a succession of contamination scandals – XL foods, e-coli, listeriosis, et al – and horror stories about ‘pink slime’ and other additives, I decided to reduce the risk and grind my own meat. After all, last summer, we’d invested in an amazing digital Bradley Smoker (turkey, ham, ribs, chicken and shrimp, oh my). I’ve been curing gravlax and bacon for years. Michael Ruhlman and and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing is my kitchen standby. You can check it out at Amazon.ca or on Ruhlman’s website (I warn you, it can be addictive). We’d hankered after excellent sausages, the contents of which I’d know and recognize if I learned to assemble them myself.
So we bopped down to Cayne’s and bought a food grinder attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer (a workhorse gift from my dear mother, for my 50th birthday). The manufacturer’s coupon for $20 off sealed the deal, although at $60, the price was already eminently reasonable. Vince’s Market had a sale on beef round roasts. Usually, I’d buy a few and cut them up for stew or stir-fry, but this time, I had another purpose in mind. It as time to try hamburgers, made completely from scratch.
Bought a large roast from Vince’s and cut it into long strips, to feed into the grinder. Attached the white plastic thing-y to the mixer. Read the instructions. Did a search of YouTube and stumbled on a channel called The Art of Doing Stuff. A personable, energetic woman appears in a video called – “Grinding Toeless Beef”. Looked easy enough. Once I stopped laughing, I did my mise en place and dropped the first few pieces of beef down the tube. Voila! Bright tubes of ground meet spiralled into the Pyrex bowl. They smelled wonderfully fresh and when I picked up a fistful, the texture was light and fluffy. Yes, fluffy.
The next step was to fashion some burgers for supper. Into a fresh bowl, I stirred together an egg, some cream, minced garlic, chopped shallot, spices and a handful of panko and scooped in a couple of ladles-ful of ground meat. I shaped four big patties and sauteed them gently in a knob of butter mixed with olive oil. The scent was intoxicating. The burgers held their shape. The meat crisped nicely around the margins. Gilded the burgers with some brown gravy lightened with half a cup of table cream. I served them with garlic baked potatoes and a mound of steamed broccoli squirted with lemon.
Hub’s eyes lit up when he took the first mouthful. Winner! Gagnant! I will never buy store-ground meat again. Next up, once it’s warm enough to roll out the smoker – sausages.
**Using breakfast as the metaphor, define the difference between participation and commitment. The chicken participates (the egg), but the hog is totally committed (the bacon).