A Vegetarian Butcher

by Sonia Dovedy

I suppose I consider myself a flexitarian. Vegetarian most hours of the day, but always willing to expose my tastebuds to something other than what I know. That is, if it feels right.

Growing up in an Indian household, I was exposed to the smell of fresh mustard seeds toasting in the pan, the soothing hand-feel of smooth chappati dough, and lots of chillies! No one was allowed to leave home without nourishment. Food, as I understood it then, translated into love.

Today, this meaning of food and love is growing even stronger. After living in India for a few years, studying yoga, Ayurveda, and of course, Indian khana food, I have become fascinated in the healing properties that exist within ingredients. The beauty of food expresses itself differently in each person and when harnessed intelligently, brings wellness. It is amazing!

This semester in the culinary arts program, I am gaining exposure to ingredients I have never known before. While I find working with meat challenging – at times sickening, frightening, and uncomfortable – I am also incredibly fascinated with the subject. How will I know what it tastes like? How will I understand why people like it? How will I sense how it expresses itself in my body? Will I despise it? For all I know, perhaps I will love it. Perhaps it will bring wellness.

I invite you to view my perspective of class on one particularly interesting day: Lamb Day.

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Chef Barry Maiden takes us through a world of meat.

He spends the beginning of class doing a butchering pre-game with us, discussing the animal, where it has come from, what it cost, what it’s going to look like, its parts, the types of cuts we will do, and the types of dishes that we can make and serve in a restaurant.

Chef Barry explains that we must make the connection with the fact that this animal was living and breathing just a week ago. I appreciate this. Chef says that many people who eat meat are completely disconnected from the animal itself. Our society configures it so that we don’t have to think about the cow or the veal or the lamb as a living animal. We just see the package or the scrumptious piece on the plate and forget.

Chef says respect the animal for what it is.

Now he puts on his “Restaurant Mind.” Because this animal is anywhere from $500-$700, Chef Barry explains that we must use and sell as much as possible if we actually want to make a profit.

We must cook and serve the offal specials first, as they are the most perishable. The offal consists of the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the brains, and the parts behind the eyes. Chef Barry explains that even if you don’t particularly like eating these parts of the animal, believe it or not, someone does and you better know how to sell it to them. Deviled kidneys anyone? How about rare beef heart?

Chef Barry tells us that at his restaurant, he keeps the lamb tongues in the freezer for when VIP guests visit. “Each animal has only one tongue. Use it well. It’s a good trick to keep in your arsenal. There is no better way to impress someone than serving up lamb tongue as an appetizer.” I scribble a note of that in my book. Good to know.

Hearing about the industry is so fascinating to me, as I have never tasted, craved, nor actually thought much about meat. My ears are hanging on to every word.

Before we butcher, Chef Barry makes us identify the parts of the lamb on our own selves. Our chuck shoulders, our tenderloins, and of course, our top rounds.

Chef asks if anyone is going to be squeamish before we go in. I half-raise my hand. He goes over once more what it’s going to look like; he reminds me that it will have a head and eyes, and that I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. My program directors also wisely advise me to stand to the left, as that side is where the back is, rather than the head.

SO at last, we walk into the kitchen and meet seventy-pound, six month old, Lamb the Man. He is quite stunning. He is quite big. He is quite dead.

I freak out for a moment when Chef flips him over onto his backside as then his head starts lolling right and left.

But not too much later, my curiosity takes over and I move closer to the magnificent thing in front of me.

Me: “How did he die?”

Chef Barry: “A bullet to his brain most likely. You can see from the clearness of his muscles that he did not stress out during the killing. Sometimes there are blood clots in the muscles when animals are killed in a stressful way.”

Well that makes me feel better.

Once Chef beheads the creature, I finally relax my shoulders and even let my finger graze over its greasy tibia. As we discussed, it is amazing and I guess a bit sad how easy it is for me to disconnect from the living animal once the lamb starts to no longer resemble its original form.

Well, after the sentiments and my own little prayer for Lamb the Man, it is time to get to work with our “Restaurant Minds”. Each one of us steps up with our boning knife and bone saw to take on a task.

Some things I learned:

  • Buying good quality meat is key if you choose to serve it or eat it. Many farmers don’t raise their animals properly for the sake of making more money; however, paying extra for a properly cared for animal reflects so much within the dish itself.
  • Fat is flavor. Without the fat, a lamb will not taste like lamb.
  • Fat is an important part of meaty dishes. Make sure guests know what they are in for if they order something like a porchetta.
  • A porchetta is a stuffed fatty round of roasted pork.
  • Lambs for eating typically weigh 50-70 pounds.
  • Pigs for eating typically weigh 180-220 pounds.
  • Lambs have a strong flavor. They pair well with roasted garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon.
  • Don’t waste any part of the animal. Bones can be used for bone stock. Fat for rendering. All parts can be used for serving as dishes or making into sausage, and more.
  • Lambs are super super fatty. My hands are nicely moisturized – who needs Aveeno when you have lamb fat?
  • Lots of great meat is found on the lamb’s neck.
  • You can roast the whole head. Just take the eyes out first so that it looks more presentable.

Chef and I separate the ribs.

I am pretty proud of myself. I was not squeamish. By myself, I took off the left shoulder, I cut off the portion of the rib-cage that turns into baby back ribs and rack of lamb, and, I de-boned the lamb leg, which has the very meatiest top round, and top sirloin.

Fascinating work.

I was also happy when I looked in our garbage pan that very very little of the lamb was in there. Just the eye balls and some unusable fat.

Tomorrow we begin to cook Lamb the Man and learn to work with beef. It will be good eating for those who eat meat.

I invite you to to read the rest of my culinary journal at www.cookwithsonia.wordpress.com. Always feel free to reach out to me if you have questions about the culinary program, yoga, Ayurveda, and more at sdovedy@bu.edu.





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