I grew up in Kentucky in a family of farmers, hunters and fisherman, so I’m no stranger to raising or catching my own dinner—or at least being used to the concept. The baby lambs born in the spring often ended up on the table for Easter dinner, and the cattle grazing in the field behind the house filled the freezer every fall. My brother, Clay, and I went fishing for bass, bluegill or catfish with our Pappy, and sometimes we would tag along with Dad to hunt for rabbit or deer.
We always knew where our food came from. It was just a way of life. McKenzie grew up the same way, raising vegetables in her Grandma’s garden.
Perhaps you’ve heard this before, so maybe it’s not ground-breaking news. But in general, meat, eggs and milk from grass-fed or wild animals are lower in fat and calories and higher in antioxidants and omega-3 fats than commercially-raised animals. Plus, they’re more likely to be humanely-raised on sustainable farms without the use of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs. Humanely and sustainably-raised animals support a system that’s better for the animals, the environment and for our health.
If you doubt this, see Dan Barber’s TED Talk, The Foie Gras Parable.
The catch? It’s more expensive.
We have a few ideas to make it more affordable for you to purchase meat and eggs from sustainably-raised animals for you and your family. Here we go:
1. Eat vegetarian some of the time.
Yes, we know, that’s not really fair. But if you eat less meat overall, then you can afford to buy really, really good quality meat for your family on the days you do eat it. And really, Americans eat way to much meat as it is, about eight ounces a day—twice the world average. Plus, there are so many delicious vegetarian recipes out there these days. You can experiment with vegetable- and grain-rich dishes that are hearty and satisfying. Stay tuned for some of our ideas.
2. When you do eat meat, eat a little less.
A serving of meat is actually only three to four ounces, not the mammoth eight to 12 ounces you might be served at many restaurants—or are even used to at home. How do you make three to four ounces of meat feel like a meal? This brings us to #3.
3. Be adventurous, and try different cooking methods
Slow cooking meat in a sauce or with vegetables in a soup, stew, casserole or other dish stretches the meat to feed more. Think beef stew, pasta Bolognese, carnitas tacos or a spicy southwest chili. That doesn’t sound like deprivation, does it? Which brings us to #4…
4. Be adventurous, and try different cuts of meat
Some of the time, try replacing your traditional steak, chop or breast with a larger cut of meat (or whole bird) that can be slow-cooked or braised to tender, succulent deliciousness. Larger, tougher cuts of meat that need to be slowly roasted or braised are always a less expensive option.
5. Be adventurous, and try new types of meat.
While sustainably-raised beef, pork or chicken might be more expensive than their conventionally-raised counterparts, there are many other varieties of meat to try, which can be more affordable. Think about alternatives like lamb, bison, elk, deer, duck, quail and rabbit. To find sources of these meats in your area, try your local natural food store or co-op or the website Eatwild.
To help you get started, here’s a recipe following several of the above tips—a rabbit ragu over creamy polenta. Rabbit meat is extremely lean—low in fat and calories and high in omega-3 fatty acids. It has a texture similar to chicken—but even better—and is quite delicious.
Give it a try. What do you have to lose?
Rabbit Ragu over Creamy Polenta
3 strips bacon, chopped (preferably organic or from sustainably-raised pigs)
One 3- to 4-pound rabbit, quartered or in pieces
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 – 3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup red wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock or water
Place a dutch oven or similar heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add bacon and cook slowly, rendering the fat, until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon. You should have about two tablespoons fat in the pan.
Raise heat to medium-high. Add enough rabbit pieces to cover the bottom of the pan. Do not crowd pan. Brown rabbit on both sides. Repeat with remaining pieces, if necessary. Remove rabbit to a plate.
While rabbit is browning, add onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground.
Reduce heat back to medium. You should still have some fat left in the pan. If it’s too dry, you can add a little olive oil. Add red pepper flakes, onion, carrot, celery and garlic mixture to pan. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Add bay leaves and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and caramelized, about 20 - 25 minutes.
Add tomato paste, cooking and stirring until fragrant, about another 3 – 4 minutes. Add the browned rabbit pieces back to the pan. Add wine and stir, scraping bottom of pan. Cook until wine is reduced to a few tablespoons. Add broth or water. Bring to a boil, stir, and then reduce heat to very low.
Cover (leave the lid slightly ajar to allow some steam to escape) and cook until meat is tender and nearly falling off the bone, about 1 1/2 hours.
Remove rabbit from sauce and set aside to cool slightly. Shred rabbit meat off the bone and add meat back to the pot. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Spoon over creamy polenta and serve hot.
For truly creamy polenta, you need to let it cook for a long time, so be sure to start this several hours in advance. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need a lot of babysitting, but it does take time.
3 tablespoons butter, divided
3 shallots, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta
¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Heat a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter, shallot and red pepper flakes. Cook shallot 2 – 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add water and salt. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil.
Carefully sprinkle the polenta into the water, stirring briskly. Be careful not to let the polenta splash back at you. Lower the heat to a simmer and let cook, stirring often, for about an hour. At this point, the polenta should be thickened, but not too thick.
Cover the polenta and place in the oven, for about 2 hours or so. Every 20 minutes, open the oven and give it a stir. When you’re ready for dinner, remove from oven and stir in last 2 tablespoons butter and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately, as it will begin to harden as it cools.
If you have leftovers, just pour them into a shallow dish and store in the refrigerator. Sauté squares of leftover polenta to serve as a base for eggs, or cut them into cubes and sauté for polenta croutons. Delicious.