I did not grow up eating a lot of beef. Burgers in our house were always of the Turkey variety growing up, and a childhood attachment to chicken tenders, nuggets, and all things poultry, breaded, and fried, left me digesting very little of the bovine persuasion as a kid. Aside from a short-lived, pretensions declaration of enjoying steak between ages of 8-10, I actually can’t remember a single instance where beef was among the regular eats of my childhood.
Eventually that changed. Gradually my family and I learned that honest-to-God hamburgers were tastier — and in some cases healthier – than Turkey burgers, and that the two cities our family held ties to — Buffalo and Baltimore — provided two of the very best beef sandwiches known to cellular existence (Beef on Weck, and Pit Beef, respectively).
For as much as I like meat and specifically beef, I don’t eat much of it. It is, for the most part, a cost and convenience issue. I like to cook my own food, and a creative flair for seasonal ingredients and ever-thrifty eyes have left me more inclined to purchase vegetables and grains. Plus, I just like to snack a lot on stuff like cottage cheese and saltines, which leaves precious little time for meat.
Lately, however, I’ve been feeling like a carnivore. Credit football season. Blame the changing weather. Chalk it up to a need to just assert a Tim Allen manly grunt not seen since the likes of Home Improvement, but for whatever reason, it manifested in several recent kitchen experiments and food excursions.
I was at Safeway one day a few weeks ago when I spotted these “previously frozen” beef bones. I bought them for no good reason except that I was feeling creative, and was determined to find something to put them to use for when I got home. I ended up finding a recipe that called for grilling them and extracting the marrow. I’ve never had marrow before, and judging by the way I cooked these bones, I still don’t think I’ve had it at its best. But even underdone, the rich, sumptuously grassy fat of the marrow makes an incredible spread for a nice slice of old world, crusty bread. A little salt and rosemary enhance the flavor with a romantic, french countryside ethos, giving a sense of satiety in a slow, savory chew. Next time I buy beef bones, I’ll make sure to cook the marrow completely, perhaps even splitting the bone to develop a caramelized crust.
We all know ground beef has gotten expensive. We all also know many grocery stores make you buy it in “value packs.” I hate that, because I really don’t need four pounds of ground meat for a quick dinner midweek. That’s why I like places like Target. They sell beef at competitive prices in manageable sizes — in this case, a pound of 85/15 for exactly three bucks. I bought it to add to a butternut squash chili for my parents one night, but saved half of it for later in the week to make hamburgers for myself.
There’s really something fulfilling and altogether cathartic about waking up at 4:30 in the morning, going to work all day, running errands, and then coming home to fire up the grill and make something for yourself, and only yourself. There’s also something rewarding about a minimalist burger. As much as I like a good, salty, gooey cheeseburger, I really like a meaty burger with fresh ingredients on a quality bun.
85/15 is like the middle child of ground beef. Many “burger eaters” swear you need the fat of 80/20 (if not fattier) blends, but I’ve yet to grill or griddle myself a burger from ground round that is anything less than juicy and delicious. I actually think it’s just a juicy as 80/20, and when properly managed, a heck of a lot more flavorful. After years of eating Turkey burgers with more filler than your grandma’s meatloaf, I’ve evolved to just adding salt and fresh cracked pepper to my beef burgers, although I like to finish grilling them on top of thinly sliced sweet onion. I picked up some delicious potato buns from Wegman’s that have the right sweetness and squish to lend support and taste to the meat. Tomatoes,green leaf lettuce, pickles, and low-fat mayonnaise add freshness, sweetness, and relief. Of course, I have to add ketchup and mustard too, just because.
The meat is beefy and sweet, just like it should be. Oh yea, and nothing beats those juices running free. This is the main difference between beef and turkey, if you ask me. All ground meat is going to have some amount of fat, but it’s the flavor of that fat which goes a long way. And when it comes to beef, you just can’t beat those natural flavors. You also can’t beat the price of making a burger at home. The cost of ingredients averaged out, and it’s a quarter pound burger for about a buck. Try getting that from McDonald’s…
I love the Wegman’s in Columbia for too many reasons to get into here and now, but “Buffalo foods” like Sahlen’s hot dogs and Weck Rolls are a huge reason why I drive out of my way to Columbia to visit Wegman’s. Weck, for those of you who don’t know, is a kind of yeasty Kaiser roll with coarse pretzal salt and caraway seeds on top. Served up with warm roast beef and as much horseradish as your snoz can take, it’s the kind of “perfect three” of bread-ingredient-condiment that makes fried chicken and pickles or tomato and mayo just work in all its delicious simplicity.
I picked up a Weck roll at Wegman’s before the Navy game against Indiana on Saturday (helluva comeback, by the way) and had it for lunch with some deli roast beef the next day. Granted, Hillshire Farms is not Charlie the Butcher, but that’s the thing about great bread. It can actually elevate a sandwich’s other ingredients, and for someone hundreds of miles from a real Buffalonian food staple, Wegmans’ rendition of a Weck roll more than does the trick.
Long story short, I really liked beef this week. But after that weck roll and a sourdough baguette from Weis that I lunched on, I think my next two-three week craving is going to be for good bread. And only good bread.