Friday, November 9, 2012

Home Butchery

Gothic pig turns into...

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, Instagram and my personal Facebook account probably came across an strange, gothic picture of a pig on a table. Laying on a sheet of clear plastic, eerily resembling something from the cable T.V. show Dexter. This was an attempt to de-sensitize people to what their food actually looks like before it goes on a styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic and pasted with labels advertising the company behind the meat, but little information regarding the actual animal, who's flesh is contained in this mass of garbage. Where was this animal raised? Who was the farmer? Where was is slaughtered? What is the food safety record of the abattoir? Was this animal caused undue stress and anxiety before it took it's  place on the food chain? Not a chance. Reason why? Because no one cares. Broad spectrum of consumers really don't care about the actual animal they are eating and would rather not think about it. Usually they the price point is the main factor in which package is peeled from the display(ever notice how the styrofoam and plastic wrap sticks together, making that unnatural sound).  Food with a face and a soul scares people. I am not sure why? This is a completely natural cycle that must take place for humans to thrive. Sure we can be kept alive by eating third world proteins like nuts, seeds, and grains along with fruit and veg. But to really fuel us to perform to our utmost potential we must consume protein and fat of an animal origin. It just is. If you don't agree then you probably shouldn't be reading an essay about home butchery. Thanks anyways.

Wow, not to be a jerk, I just feel this strongly about my belief in the consumption of animal fat, muscle and organs, along with my passion for sourcing local animal products that are raised in a happy environment. I know that through my research and travels, the ability to purchase these well raised, well fed and small batch animals are within my grasp. I like to take this one step further in the security of my food. I prefer to buy these animals whole and fresh from the farm. They have been through the first step in the processing plant, which is slaughtered and cleaned. Taking it from this point isn't for everyone, but it sure is a wonderful way to get a lot of meat, for a reasonable price and take some pride in how you feed your clan.
This, which turns into....

I started learning about butchering when I was about 18, working at the Kingfisher Inn. We often had to trim up whole pork loins, de-bone turkeys and fillet fish. My first exposure on a large scale was in the helping of butchering of two veal that our sous chef brought in for his own personal use. I offered to help in exchange for a few cuts and a pint of beer. It was somewhat intimidating, but he was easy going about the process and gave me instruction on de-boning, trimming and wrapping. Fond memories of the slow cooked ribs that were  our reward of a job well done at the end of our hard work. This is still part of my tradition of the harvest, always cooking some kind of delight for a feast upon the final wrap of paper. I have smoked backstrap, grilled tenderloin and slow roasted dry rubbed ribs for this meal.

Hunting for deer is something that I really enjoy. The ability, with your own hands, to harvest, then process right down to the last morsel of flesh feels ancestral. Not much goes goes to waste. Bones for broth or dog treats. Several organs go in the larder. The fat for rendering for candles or soap. I endeavor to keep the hide for leather, but have not found a use for that much yet. With the purchase of a meat grinder and sausage stuffer has made the process completely in house. I can grind my own burger and make delicious dinner sausages with little more than salt, pepper, garlic, and onions. I have total control of the cleanliness of my kitchen and the ingredients of my product. I can also easily make other preserved meats, like jerky and biltong, bacon and salami.
To this. The rewards of hard work.

Home butchery will probably not in the long run save much money. Professional butchers are, in my opinion, very inexpensive. That is not why I choose to do this. I do it mostly for the skill building aspect and the challenge, along with the pride in telling people "I did that". I am a sponge for information on subjects that appeal to me. Instead of spending money on a hobby that really has no end result, like golfing or golfing, I end up with a freezer and pantry full of food that can be served with no worries about e-coli, salmonella or lysteria.

If home butchery is something that interests you, just try it out. Start small. Purchase some chicken legs with the backs attached, and work at separating those. Learn how the bird goes together on a one that has already been broken down. Soon you will have the knowledge to move up to a whole, fresh bird. Take it down into pieces, toss some rub on it, grill it and have a feast. You will be in love. Please don't be afraid of ruining it. How can you? It is still meat, even if it has a knife mark, or some missing skin. It all ends up looking the same a few hours after eating it anyways. 

So far, in 2012, I have butchered up 10 chickens, 16 salmon, three deer and half a hog. I will continue to be making sausages and jerky on and off for several months. I am pretty confident that I have about six months supply of protein in my freezers. Having that much food on hand is empowering. If something unforeseen happens, like a job loss, accident or sever weather event, we will be fed in this house for quite sometime.

I am always open to helping a novice who is not sure where to start. Feel free to send me a message, or a comment, and I will try my best to help you out. As the old Nike ads used to say "Just do it"!


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