The Whole Cow

Guest post from Tom today. Fair warning - if butchery isn't your thing, then perhaps I can interest you in one of Elizabeth's posts on tomatoes.

I got a chance on Friday night to continue my butchery studies with the Institute of Urban Homesteading. Last time it was the pig class. This time -- the Whole Cow.

We gathered once again at the home of Seth Peterson in Berkeley. Seth is a chef and fan of all things meat. There were eight of us in class, and Seth had procured a quarter of a cow (and by that I mean two of the major parts of one side of a cow).

Seth got the cow from True Grass Farm, a family farm in Marin County that raises organic grass-fed beef. The land has been in the family since the 1860's, and they're working hard with rotational grazing to be good stewards of the land.

Before we get to the pictures, a quick anatomy lesson. A side of beef is broken out into four major regions:

As I mentioned, we had two of these to work with -- specifically, the round and the loin. We got started with the round, which the folks at True Grass Farm had further broken down into sections, or primals. Here's what we started with:

You can see the shank over on the left (the part of the leg below the kneecap), the femur bone on top, and the meat from the front of the leg (with the kneecap) under that, and the rest of the round on the right.

Most of what we did with the round was seam butchery - cutting along the natural seams between the major muscles so that you wind up disassembling into whole muscles. Once you have a whole muscle, it can be broken down into further parts. We also spent quite a bit of time removing silver skin - thin layers of connective tissue that would be tough to eat. After some hesitation, pretty soon the whole class was in on the act:

Nothing went to waste - the bits we trimmed off went into a bowl of stock parts later. Oh, and that big femur bone? Time for the bone saw!

I got to take one of the big knobs home (for stock), and a section of marrow bone, too.

Through it all, we discussed different ways of cooking up the bits we were taking home. We even cooked up a little tail bit of filet mignon and sampled it - delish! All of us went home with about 10lbs of assorted cuts.

This class reinforced a number of ideas we discussed in the pig class:

  • Butchery is about choices. The same part of the cow can get transformed into a number of different cuts, depending on how you decide to cut it up.
  • Just like there's more to chicken than chicken breasts, and more to pig than pork tenderloin, there's more to a cow than steaks and ground beef. One of the parts I brought home is a section of shank, suitable for osso buco. We're never had osso buco, much less cooked it, but it'll be interesting to try.

All in all, another good class from the Institute.