Friday, March 18, 2011

Edible Manhattan Celebrates the Meat Issue

Instead of crowding into some random local pub to raise a pint in honor of being Irish, last night I joined several hundred other people at Openhouse Gallery (also the location of Park Here) at 201 Mulberry Street to celebrate Edible Manhattan’s Good Meat Issue.  What better way to use up my special dispensation for Lent, having given up eating meat this year, to indulge in some quaffable New York State beverages and delicious small plates made with locally-raised meats.  I was not disappointed at all with this decision.

As guests walked into the space, we were greeted by a tray of crostini with pork rillettes topped with pickled vegetables courtesy of Northern Spy Food Co.  The crispy bread with the rich, smooth rillettes was balanced by the crunchy and anise-flavored celery.  A few of these would be the perfect way to start off any cocktail party.

At the next table was a selection of Aged Raw Milk Cheddar Cheese and Grilled Summer Sausage from Organic Valley, representing a cooperative of farmers who bring these products to market.  It was interesting to try these here at this gathering with more sophisticated dishes ahead of me.  The creamy, tang of the cheese and smokiness of the meat, however, would be great additions to a summer barbecue snack tray. 

The 2009 First Crush Red and 2008 Taste Red from Bedell Cellars each had different flavor profiles but would make great pairings with the night’s dishes.  Both of the wines are aged in stainless steel, not oak, giving them a lighter feel than more robust barrel-aged vintages.  While I found the 2009 wine to be very light and what I would call a good all-around table wine, suitable for everything from the shepherd’s pie (below) to the cheese and sausage, my real favorite was the 2008 which had a deep, luscious, ripe berry/cherry/plum fruit aroma and a bigger flavor profile to it.

I decided to skip the drinks selections at this stage to head for some more of the food before the crowds started to arrive.  I headed straight to the back of the room to check out the Shepherd’s Pie from The Cleaver Co & The Green Table, which has a wonderful restaurant at Chelsea Market.  This was probably my favorite plate of the evening.  Using beef from Grazin’ Angus Acres, the base of the pie was deeply flavorful and meaty, studded with carrots and peas, and topped with a perfectly-browned crust of buttery mashed potatoes.  This is definitely not the shepherd's pie that you dowse with HP Sauce or ketchup!  Leave it be and enjoy all the hearty tastes of the meat and veg mixed together (although an English ex-boyfriend of mine would dispute the inclusion of the peas and carrots).

Fortunately, to wash it down, these folks had their table right next to Kelso of Brooklyn.  Their Nut Brown Ale, which I was told came out of the fermenter yesterday, had a clean, crisp finish that was definitely food-friendly.  It would also have gone superbly with the Fresh Roasted Ham Legs served on wheat bread with a dollop of My Friend’s Mustard cut with a little crème fraîche as served up by Jimmy’s No. 43.  The subtle flavor of the ham received a wallop of spice and heat from the mustard.  With a sip of Kelso’s ale, it was a perfect party bite.

Print also served meat from Grazin’ Angus Acres.  The Braised Short Ribs were served in a nest of creamy potato purée topped with cubes of cooked vegetables and sprinkled with gremolata, which provided a citrusy backnote that livened up the dish.  I enjoyed the tender, melting, pull-apart meat, however, I agreed with the remark I overheard that it needed a bit more depth of flavor to it.

Another great match for Kelso’s was the charcuterie and pickle display by Cookshop and Hundred Acres.  I selected a spoonful of the rillettes and a slice of paté to have along with a spoonful of quince paste, the grainy mustard, and the smooth mustard.  Putting some of each of the meats and accompaniments on each of the crispbread and soft olive oil rolls that were also with the display.  The sweet quince paste went equally well with either of the meats, but I could see it being a great match for the cheddar cheese, too.  The mustards were tasty, but I really liked the punch of the mustard that was at the Jimmy’s table.

Off in the side room were the folks from Fatty ‘Cue who brought with them a hearty, rich lamb rib dressed with a lemon-garlic emulsion.  The outside fat was crispy and the meaty interior was so delicious I saw folks licking their fingers and eating clean down to the bone.  This is complete proof that well-done dishes need only the simplest of adornment.

Another of my favorite bites from the evening has to have been the Sweet Italian Pork Sausage from Fleisher's Grass-fed and Organic Meats.  Whatever it is in the spices or the meat for these, they create a juicy, flavorful sausage which would be perfect in many a pasta dish.  It went well with the Sweet Tomato Chutney with Black Mustard from DP Chutney Collective that was served alongside of it.  The Rockin’ Moroccan Lamb Sausage had some heat to it but that was diminished when paired with DP Chutney Collective’s Apple Chutney.  Again, I could have taken some of that chutney and put it quite well with some of the other pork dishes I had last night.

I’m not really a whisky or bourbon drinker.  When I put it to the person serving the selections from Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Whisky, he suggested that I try their vodkas instead.  Made from New York State apples, the triple distilled vodka reminded me quite a bit of a grappa with its powerful, fire-water style finish and its clean taste.  The double-distilled had more of a liqueur feel to it with hints of the fruit still coming through with each sip.

To wrap up my dining, I headed back to the Cookshop table for a cookie.  This was not just any cookie, though.  The Chocolate-Chip-Bacon cookie was perfectly baked with a soft, chewy interior and a crispy outer ring.  Deep, dark chocolate chunks and smoky, salty bacon bits made it all more delicious.  There’s a trend in chocolate chip cookies to sprinkle them with salt to bring out more flavor.  This combination amps that up considerably. 

Aside from all the wonderful food and drink, part of this event was also dedicated to the means of production of quality meats.  The Piggery had a sausage making demonstration.  (The blur in the photo is where he is describing the grinding process.)  They run a Fresh Pork & Charcuterie CSA using the meat from the pigs that they raise themselves.  It looks amazing, but a share is probably more meat than I can handle.  The Fleisher’s folks also deliver meat to Manhattan, so that could be another option for me to check out. 

There was also information on what the “Animal Welfare Approved” label means.  I’ve had a couple of conversations recently where we tossed around all the appropriate responsible eating designations.  All of them are good, but it’s hard to figure out which one is the most correct when it comes to making a choice when you are standing in front of the meat counter.  This is an audit program that gives a USDA-approved label to farms who follow certain humane, environmentally responsible, and safe methods to rear livestock and poultry.  Please see their website for more information and for how you can look for this label. 

This event was a great way to celebrate the wonderful work that the New York State farms that produce good meat for us to eat.  It was nice to be able to try so many varied plates that used different cuts and products.  Paired with wines, spirits, and beer also from the region, this gathering showcased the bounty of this part of the country and just how spoiled we all are for choice by living in it.  I’m hoping Edible Manhattan plans to have many more of these in the future.

Buon appetito!

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