There’s no hesitation when it comes to adding beef and chicken to your menu because they are perennial favorites for customers. But what about lamb, pork, and veal?
Whether it’s bad memories from when Grandma would cook the pork roast to 195 degrees or a simple lack of familiarity with preparing them, these underutilized proteins are unfortunately not given prominent placement on menus. Or, if they do appear on menus, the preparations are not very innovative. How many times have you seen a rack of lamb just roasted and whacked in half, rib bones predictably grasping each other, or, conversely, when’s the last time you’ve seen veal on a menu that hasn’t been a cutlet or osso bucco? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking these time-honored cuts. I’m just suggesting it’s time to take a closer look at pork, veal, and lamb and their lesser known, yet equally delicious, alternative cuts.
Alternative pork, veal, and lamb cuts get a huge sales boost when layered with flavors that may be trending upwards on menus or steeped in historical reverence. Thinking outside of the proverbial butcher block sets you apart from your competitors. Methods such as dry rubs, marinades, and brining will help impart maximum flavor and allow you to express your culinary creativity while also playing a critical tenderizing and moisture contributing role. Multiply the amount of alternative cuts by the varying array of flavor profiles and the possibilities for your menu are endless!
Breaking Down Lamb, Pork, and Veal
The pork industry has come a long way after being rebranded as “the other white meat.” In actuality, this meat shouldn’t even be branded as white; depending on the breed of pork, the meat could be a deep red, bronze or coral-pink. Back in the ’70s and ’80s when animal fat was getting a bad rap, pork was bred to be healthier, eliminating much of the intramuscular fat that made pork moist and delicious! Today, we’ve made a 180 degree turn back towards rich, breed-specific programs. Suddenly, Berkshire pork sales are rivaling those of USDA Prime beef in some restaurants!
Another development that helped pork’s cause came in 2011, when the USDA dropped the recommended internal temperature for safe consumption of pork to 145°F, 20 degrees lower than the 165°F deemed necessary to kill Trichinosis, a parasite commonly found due to archaic feeding practices. With modernized and heavily regulated agricultural practices, producers are taking exquisite care to raise the highest quality pork the industry has ever seen.
The rest of the world knows how delicious lamb is – the per capita consumption clocks in at about four pounds annually compared to just .88 pounds per capita in the U.S. According to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center, Australia and New Zealand consume 26 and 25 pounds respectively. The U.S. also raises the best veal in the world, and lately, it’s enjoyed a jump in consumption.
Veal is a byproduct of the dairy industry, and we all know cows don’t give milk just because they feel like it. There is a two-fold economic incentive for farmers to sell male calves that will never give milk, and for us, so long as we enjoy milk on our cereal and Cheddar cheese on our crackers, there is an incentive to embrace the potential of veal.
So, what do we do with all of this beautiful product?
Bring on the Brine
Brining lends itself well to working with pork. Through the power of osmosis, the cells of the meat will take on the moisture of the saline solution, enhancing the moisture in the muscle. When done properly, brining can boost the flavor of meat, inside and out.
Brines need not be just a simple salt and water solution. Maines 2016 Food Show participating chefs Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, the creators of the incredible food blog, “Ideas in Food,” have some great ideas about seasonings and brines. They write about layering flavors by adding bacon ends, apple peels, and even Cheddar cheese rinds into brines. The idea is to multiply flavors while also adding complementary tastes.
You can also use the juices from the olives and capers incorporated in a Spanish inspired pork dish in the brine. By adding garlic and lemon zest and the ingredients used in the finished pork presentation into the brine, the result is a cohesive dish where the flavors unite, compound, and enhance each other. Ultimately, it adds depth and complexity to the overall preparation.
Rub It In
A dry rub doesn’t just have to be relegated to barbecue! Everyone’s dry rub is an expression of their own personality and doesn’t have to be limited to the spice pantry. With its robust flavors, lamb takes an affinity to aggressive seasoning and a dry rub is the perfect vehicle to deliver flavor to a robust protein. Take our recipe Cowboy Lamb with Chimichurri. We whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, rosemary, thyme, lemon zest, and salt and pepper and add the lamb, which soaks up that good flavor between 45 minutes to 8 hours. Bits of lemon, herbs and garlic char and caramelize, adding a wonderful depth of flavor.
This rub delivers fresh flavor on the inside as well as the smoky flavor on the outside, leading to a wonderful contrast. When lemony-acid is combined with bitter-char, bright chimichurri and a good sea salt, the result is an explosion of umami! The interplay of the lamb with these layers of flavor create a deep and soulful presentation without bogging down the dish with heavy or fatty sauces.
Elevation Through Marination
Veal is common on many Italian-American restaurant menus, often served in cutlet form, either from the round, leg, or loin. Typically sautéed and cooked thoroughly in any number of regional and seasonal preparations, veal has been a sturdy pillar of American gastronomy. But what about the other cuts?
Because of mild flavor, low fat content, and tender texture, there’s a lot to love about veal, making it a prime candidate for marinating. Its delicate flavor works well with classic flavorings such as a traditional French approach. For a dish that will not only impress guests but also help command a premium price, take a cut like a chop-ready veal rib roast that’s traditionally parted into individual rib chops. Rather than chopping it out, leave it whole, French the bones, and tie to roast whole with butcher’s twine. Combine Herbs de Provence, a splash of Cotes du Rhone, olive oil, garlic, and juniper, and marinate it overnight. The next day, drain and pat dry, oil and season, and roast low and slow to a beautiful perfect medium-rare. Now you’ve got a dish to serve on the biggest night of the year, or perhaps during the holidays when people are in the mood to celebrate and go big! No matter where you cut a perfectly cooked veal rib roast, it’s going to eat beautifully, and unlike any other veal dish your customers have ever had!
Brines, rubs, and marinades can help elevate pork, lamb, and veal from menu B-players to some of the most memorable dishes you’ll ever serve. Experimenting with these methods provides an opportunity to layer flavors, enhance your customer’s experience, and add depth and complexity to your restaurant’s brand. Brines, marinades, and rubs used to serve a purpose of making the inedible edible, but when they’re combined with lesser known cuts of pork, lamb, and veal, they can take center stage on any menu right next to beef and premium seafood, and enhance your bottom line!