December 11, 2010
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City Meat and Country Meat

McGee draws a really useful distinction between city meat and country meat.

In the countryside, people lived alongside farm animals that pulled a plough, laid eggs, or cleaned up inedible scraps. Eventually, these animals wound up in the cookpot. They were mostly old and had done lots of hard work, their meat was flavorful but tough, and so they had to be slowly braised or stewed.

When people started to live in towns and cities, their meat had to be brought from the countryside, and had to be raised specifically for market. City meat is young, because it’s raised for meat, not work, and so city meat is more tender. Some cuts, like beef filet, epitomize city meat, emphasizing richness and tenderness, and these are the cuts most people see in the supermarket. We can grill city meat, or sauté, or stir fry.

Modern trends favor city meat, and city meat is what most people know how to cook. City meat works well in restaurant settings, too, because it’s easy to prepare each serving for each individual customer. Country meat is trickier in a restaurant because we need to start cooking hours in advance.

It might seem that country meat is hard for busy people, too. It does require planning a few hours ahead. But where city meat needs your undivided attention while it cooks, country meat is happy to take care of itself, to sit and simmer or smoke or marinate for hours while you are doing more important things. And while today’s city meat dishes are tomorrow’s leftovers, country meat is product that you can use in different dishes over the coming days and weeks. One braised pot roast or one grill-smoked turkey can be the foundation for three or four meals, all fresh and new and each of them unique. Tonight we have pot roast with its tasty vegetables, in a few days we can shred the rest of the meat and make a ragu with lots of tomatoes and mushrooms, and next weekend we use the bones and scraps and leftover juices to make stock for risotto.