‘Smart ways with meat’ includes several strategies

The Whole Dish podcast: Repurposed animal fat enhances plant-based dishes

In the pursuit of kitchen wisdom, devising smarter strategies for preparing and consuming meat is a valuable lesson.

So I planned a class to teach as a volunteer for ACCESS, in partnership with Rogue Valley Family YMCA. The test run of “Smart Ways With Meat” taught me a few things, namely that I needed more than an hour to cook cubes of sweet potatoes in a Crock Pot full of roast lamb that had cooled considerably between my house and the class site.

Before I got the chance to refine the class, it was cut from the “Kitchen Wisdom” series for reasons of cost. It’s ironic because economy is the whole point, namely fitting high-quality meats into any grocery budget if cooks simply go about it the right way.

None of my treatise was new information, of course. From time immemorial, humans have been tasked with stretching a little bit of calorie-dense food — often meat — to fill many mouths.

But Americans’ food surplus and penchant for beginning meal planning with meat has robbed us of this hard-earned knowledge. I’ve been reclaiming it since purchasing whole animals, including locally raised lambs and pork, with the intent to use every part. I’ve taken it to another level in a bid to feed my family all organic meat without increasing our total expenditure at the supermarket.

Here’s how I explain it:

Strategy 1.

Whole poultry and smaller animals: Pound for pound, a whole animal is the most economical way to purchase meat. Roasting a whole chicken, turkey, other type of bird or even a rabbit is a simple way to minimize the time required for meal preparation, as well as fat, sodium and/or carbs used in other types of recipes. If you’ve never roasted a bird, try this basic recipe, which includes brining, for Simply Seasoned Roast Chicken. During the roasting time, cook a pot of whole grain, potatoes or other vegetables to use, along with the leftover meat, throughout the week in tacos, pasta dishes, stir-fry, fried rice, quiche …

Strategy 2.

Large cuts of larger animals: Another economical alternative to steaks and chops (beef, pork, lamb, bison or game). Cuts with less connective tissue (loin and round) can be cut into chunks for grilling or strips for stir-fry. Cuts with more connective tissue and, perhaps, bones are best for longer, lower-temperature cooking. Start with this method I posted several years ago for repurposing one pork-shoulder roast in four meals.

Strategy 3.

Maximizing morsels of meat: Small bits of meat can lend big flavor to vegetable-based dishes. Even more expensive, “artisan” products, like cured sausages, can fit into anyone’s grocery budget when used just a few ounces at a time. Often, the key is rendering fat from the meat, reserving the caramelized protein and cooking vegetables, grains or legumes in the rendered fat before adding back the crispy bits of meat previously cooked. This concept works with pasta dishes, fried rice, soups, even salads (make the dressing in the drippings).

My personal favorite, the last strategy in that list is most conducive to a plant-based diet, limited only by the cook’s creativity and resourcefulness. Epitomizing that spirit is this soup, which accommodates any bit of leftover roast meat or maybe just a single sausage. Have a few strips of bacon on hand? Slice them crosswise, add them to the Dutch oven, cook until crisp, remove and proceed with the recipe, garnishing the finished soup with the crispy bacon bits.

Don’t have any of the above proteins? That’s when I reach for the jar of bacon fat in my fridge and start the recipe with that, instead of oil. The soup will taste like meat without actually having any. Fill the visual void by choosing a red chili pepper that contrasts with the greens, which also could take the form of collards, chard or spinach.

Tribune News Service photo

Kale and White Bean Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 cups cooked white beans, or 2 (14-ounce) cans, drained and rinsed

1 quart chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium if canned

3 to 4 cups roughly chopped kale leaves, or baby kale

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 cup leftover turkey or chicken, or cooked sausage (optional)

1 small fresh chili pepper, such a fresno or habanero, thinly sliced crosswise

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the olive oil to medium; add the garlic. Cook until aromatic, for 1 minute. Stir in the beans to coat with oil.

Add the broth and kale; season to taste. Cover pot; cook at a simmer until kale is wilted to your liking.

Stir in the turkey, chicken or sausage, if using. (If you choose sausage, cut it in thin slices crosswise.) Add the chili-pepper slices. Cook just until heated through.

Makes 4 servings.

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