Over the past couple of months, I’ve written several “Top Five” articles featuring my favorite recipes for vegetarian, chicken, pork and seafood dishes. One notable protein, however, has been omitted from my series: beef. Instead of bringing you “Top Five: Beef Dishes,” I want to take a moment to explain why my wife and I avoid eating America’s favorite red meat.
While I’m not morally opposed to eating beef in general, I find that I can only eat it on rare occasions. Given the myriad sustainability, ethical and even health problems associated with beef, I avoid it as often as possible, and I only consume beef that has been grass-fed, freed from hormones and lived in pasture-grazed cow luxury.
At Whole Foods – which uses an ethical points system to rank meat products from one to five – these beef standards mean that my wife and I opt for cuts ranked at least a four. This ensures that the cow lived a healthy and happy life, eating grass and hay, being spared from injections and enjoying a broad area for roaming. Although all the food products we purchase are organic and sustainable, our standards for beef are higher than anything else.
The main reason for these standards is that beef has such enormous environmental repercussions. Unethical cattle farming is one of the world’s largest drivers of climate change, it depletes valuable arable land around the world due to pen-raising and corn harvesting and it sets an unrealistic and unsustainable eating standard (New Harvest). Cows need space and plenty of food, and with over seven billion people living on planet Earth, it simply cannot be the world’s primary protein source.
Nevertheless, Americans on average consume between fifty and sixty pounds of beef per person annually, which amounts to around 1,475 pounds of feed and 16,390 square feet of land needed for feed crops and grazing (WSJ, NPR). Keep in mind that these numbers are only averages, meaning grass-fed organic cattle need even more land. Thus, beef can only be sustainable when it’s eaten sparely. Like Kobe Japanese beef or lamb, beef throughout the world should be a delicacy, not a weekly staple.
My wife’s grandfather raised black angus cattle, and his farming standards were nothing short of the best. His cows grazed freely on grass and hay, and lived natural, healthy lives. Therefore, he sold his beef at prime prices; even so, it was far from a lucrative business. Paying anything less than market value for the highest quality beef is therefore unsustainable for the farmers, as well as the planet.
As a result, the only caveat to buying beef with such standards is that the prices are steep. To buy a one pound bottom round steak, for instance, costs thirteen dollars – and the prices for prime fillets like ribeye or sirloin are even steeper.
For all these reasons, my wife and I purchase beef only a few times a year, which means that I don’t even have five beef dishes to share. I do, however, have one beef recipe that I enjoy immensely, not least of all because it balances sustainability with thriftiness. I hope you find it delicious as well, and I hope it encourages everyone to skip the burgers, meatloaves and steaks in favor of hearty, slow-cooked beef dishes that promote lesser-used cuts and the eating of the whole cow.
Short Rib Beef Stew
5 Servings – $27 Total – $5.40 Per Serving
I begin by preparing two pounds of beef short ribs by removing the bones and cutting the remaining meat into cubes. Then, I lay the bone and meat pieces on paper towels to dry and season well on both sides with salt and pepper. This trick – which I learned from Julia Child – helps the beef brown better and prevents splattering as well.
Next, I melt four tablespoons of butter in a large pot on medium-low heat. Frying the meat in the butter – beginning with the bone pieces – I make sure to brown the meat well on all sides. While they don’t have to cook all the way through, they should be crispy and chocolate-brown on the outside. Although frying at such a low temperature takes time, the butter splatters less and the meat renders more thoroughly. When the meat finishes cooking, I set it aside in a dish for later.
As the meat cooks, I start preparing the vegetables. I peel and thinly slice a bunch of carrots; wash and finely dice a small bag of fingerling potatoes; and halve and thinly slice a large white onion. Then, I add the vegetables to the residual frying oil and brown them after cooking the beef. It is important to make sure that the vegetables cook down and caramelize, ensuring a depth of flavor in the finished stew.
I season the vegetables generously with black pepper, thyme, sage and paprika, and I add a dash of salt of a pinch of nutmeg as well. This gives the stew a warming, English-inspired richness. As soon as the vegetables brown and soften, I place the meat back to the pot and add one cup of dry red wine, four cups of low-sodium beef stock, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and a small bag of frozen green peas.
First, I turn the heat up to medium-high and bring the stew to a boil for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and let the stew simmer. After about an hour, the beef should be falling off the rib bones, and the flavors in the stew should have all married harmoniously. Finally, I take the clean bones out of the pot, and taste-test the stew. I then add any additional seasonings, let everything stew for a few more minutes and serve.