We fret about meat, relegate it to a limited spot on the Food Guide Pyramid and vow, often halfheartedly, to limit consumption. Paradoxically, though, we continue to enjoy steaks, chops, roasts, ribs and burgers, affording them all the status due something that long has symbolized a prosperous country.
"The Great American Meat Book," a new cookbook by Merle "The Butcher" Ellis (Alfred A. Knopf, $30), comes along at an opportune time, finding legions of avid meat-eaters who are at a loss when it comes to identifying, selecting and preparing the cuts that whet appetites.
Ellis, author of a syndicated newspaper column on meat cookery and the son of an Iowa butcher, knows the trade from consumer and professional angles and is nimble enough to bounce between the two perspectives.
The book has six chapters: beef, pork, lamb, veal, innards and sausage. Having narrowed his field, Ellis packs a fair amount of information into each chapter. Learn, for example, that prepacked trays of beef stew meat are not the best choice for stew. Ellis suggests rump or chuck roast instead. He offers guidelines for preparing both lean and fatty cuts, explains what a country ham is and guides readers to seek pork chops that are lightly marbled with fat, pinkish-gray and with a thin border of creamy white fat.
Although 300 recipes eventually unfold, Ellis offers basic beef stew as the first one. His version is simple, homey and well-designed. So are most of the others.
Basic beef stew
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck or rump, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening or oil
1 1/2 cups strong black coffee
2 tablespoons molasses
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 1/2 cups water
4 carrots, cut in 1/2 -inch slices
2 small onions, peeled, quartered
3 medium potatoes, peeled, cut in 2-inch chunks
1/3 cup cold water mixed with 3 tablespoons flour
On a sheet of wax paper or a plate, mix salt and flour together. Roll beef until lightly coated on all sides.
In a large Dutch oven or heavy stew pot, melt shortening. Over moderately high heat, quickly brown beef cubes, turning frequently, until crusty. Brown a few at a time; do not crowd pan or cubes will steam rather than brown. Remove them as they are finished and set aside. Drain fat from pan and discard.
Return meat to pan and add coffee, molasses, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, oregano and ground red pepper.
Cover pan and bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and let stew simmer until meat is almost tender, 45 minutes to an hour.
Add 1 1/2 cups water, carrots, onions and potatoes. Cover and cook gently until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in flour-water mixture to thicken sauce. Cook until sauce is thick and bubbly. Serve in deep bowls.
Per serving: 320 calories, 9 g fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 440 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrates, 28 g protein
Maytag blue-stuffed Iowa chops
Makes 6 servings
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup very thinly sliced mushrooms
4 to 6 ounces crumbled blue cheese, such as Maytag
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
6 pork chops, 1 1/2 inches thick
salt, pepper to taste
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms and cook 5 minutes. Remove them from heat and stir in blue cheese and bread crumbs.
Cut a pocket in each pork chop. Season pockets of chops with salt and pepper. Divide stuffing evenly and stuff chops. Bake for 45 minutes or grill over moderate coals 20 to 30 minutes.
Per serving: 450 calories, 23 g fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 545 mg sodium, 13 g carbohydrates, 45 g protein
Pub Date: 11/13/96