Fortunately my custom-butchered demi-cow had been carved up into smaller pieces, and then wrapped in white freezer paper packages and labeled. When I first heard about this steer-sharing opportunity I was excited -- pasture-raised beef for $3/lb! -- but also hesitant. I wasn't sure I had the freezer space to house such a quantity of cow but decided I could handle it when a quarter beef was described to me as filling two regular coolers or four paper grocery bags.
Well, maybe really big ones -- when it arrived, my cow took up four really really large cardboard boxes, and it was quite a job to fit it into an already fairly full standup freezer. I had to triage existing freezer contents and eat, compost or give away some of the things I found in there (some quite embarrassingly elderly -- 5 year old Boca Burgers, anyone?) to create space for Big Beef. But at last space was created and I was able to actually fit all the beef inside the freezer and close the door securely -- although the stuff in my freezer now fits together, interlocked closely and precisely like an intricate 3-D puzzle that I have to partially dismantle every time I want to take something out.
Now that I've lived with my own personal quarter cow for two weeks I have come to the conclusion, too late alas, that I was crazy to buy this damned much beef when our family doesn't actually eat that much meat. I was vegetarian and vegan during my 20s, and even though I'm an enthusiastic carnivore now it's like beef just isn't a significant part of my culinary vocabulary. It seems the shopping and dining habits developed in my veggie 20s -- which was when I also learned how to really cook -- are so ingrained that even now, when I go to the grocery store, it's like the butcher shop is invisible. I just don't think about it or buy it -- and this is a proclivity that predates my now 3.5 year old vow to only eat humanely pasture-raised animal foods.
So these days I'm trying to Think Beef when it comes to dinner, but I've only cooked it twice in these past two weeks. The first time was successful: I marinated something called an English arm roast -- which turned out to be a lot like a flank steak only with a big bone in it -- to make Korean bulgogi. I was relieved to find that this grass-fed beef was relatively tender, even though it had been harvested (PC foodie speak for slaughtered) in February.
(In general, you want to harvest your meat-on-the-hoof in the fall, after the animals have had a nice long season of dining on lush, abundant pasture. So this steer got to eat some organic grain, plus lots of silage and whatever plants it could find in January pasture -- maybe not the strict pasture-fed ideal, but ultimately producing tasty and tender meat. I don't mind a little grain finishing, so long as it's not in some nightmare hock-deep-in-shit CAFO feed lot).
The bulgogi -- meat sliced thinly across the grain, marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce with lots of garlic, chopped scallions and a pinch each of sugar and red chile flakes -- was fantastic. We ate it rolled up with rice inside of red lettuce leaves, I wish I'd had doenjang, the fermented soy bean paste condiment that traditionally accompanies bulgogi, but Sriacha had to suffice.
My next beef dish was red beef curry, and I hoped to make it a little more locavore by cooking it with some pumpkin from last year's garden. The results, despite a luscious cup of coconut cream and several more of coconut milk, were pretty lackluster -- the recipe definitely needs some reworking. The bulgogi, though, that was a keeper.
(marinade per one pound of beef)
4 T soy sauce
1 T canola oil
1 T sesame oil
1-2 T granulated sugar
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 scallions, finely chopped greens and all
1 t sesame seeds
Slice beef thinly, across the grain. This is easier to do if the beef is still slightly frozen.
Whisk together soy sauce and sugar until sugar dissolves, then add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over meat, toss until meat is well coated, and let marinate for at least an hour -- the longer, the better.
Traditionally you grill bulgogi on a hibachi, but I cooked it by tossing slices into a very hot cast iron skillet for about 30 seconds on each side, just searing the beef so it remains tender.