The night that we celebrated the inauguration of President Obama, my life changed. No, not just because of the O's. It changed because I was introduced to a couple it would take me another year to actually connect with, and those people would change my life. Or at least, change the way I cook red meat. I met The Schuttlers of Middlebrook Farms in Three Oaks, MI.
When I knew I was cooking Passover, I decided I wanted to try and do it as local as possible. This is not an easy accomplishment where I live, especially in March. But I wanted to try. I knew I'd be cooking brisket, and my first stop was to call Janet Schuttler and see what she would have for me. Turns out, they had four pieces of brisket for me, totaling the 10lbs I needed. Grass-fed, locally grown, super well taken care of flat brisket. I had never had Middlebrook's meat before, but I went with my gut. The farm is approximately 10 miles from my house, and only 2 from the shop--does meat get more local than that?
J and I went to pick up the brisket a few days before Passover, and were blown away by the farm. Gorgeous I had expected. But breathtakingly, incredibly, awe-inspiring...I had not. I only wish I had been smart enough to have my phone on me--I would have taken pictures for you. There are huge red barns and an adorable yellow farm house. Large cows outside, grazing on the same grass that grows right in front of my shop. (Ok, not exactly.) Janet met us, and after we settled up, she took us on a tour. Calves had just been born that week, so we went inside the barn and met them. We met them mothers, we met the llama that takes care of the cattle. Apparently, the llama knows instinctively how to keep coyotes away from the cows. Incredible. We met the chickens that would be giving us farm fresh eggs this summer, and saw the cool upstairs barn space where I'm ITCHING to throw a beer dinner--more on that soon. It made me want to give up life and be a farmer--a feeling that passed soon after, when we stopped on the drive home to scrape the chicken poop out of our sneakers. I'm not exactly cut out for the farming lifestyle. But I'm happier than anything to reap the benefits of people, like the Schuttlers, who ARE!
I'd be lying if I said the experience of meeting a cow I might someday eat wasn't weird for me. It was. But, I'm not a vegetarian, and I openly eat meat. I turned the weirdness into this incredible feeling of cool...knowing that the meat I would be cooking and eating had a wonderful existence, cared for by this amazing couple. I knew the meat had a good life, and wasn't tortured or treated badly.
And honestly, that has to be good enough for me. I can tell you the brisket was insane. Delicious, lean, flavorful. If you have the opportunity to buy from a local farm like this, I really encourage you to do so. If you can't, just allow yourself to try grass-fed beef, just once. I'm almost positive you won't switch back if you have the option.
It's good for you, it's good for the planet. What more can you ask?
Photos: Middlebrook Farms
Oh, AND you want the recipe for the brisket? Sure!
Jill's Made Up Passover or Absolutely Any Time Brisket
10 lbs of brisket (obviously adjust for proper size)
2 heads of garlic
1 bottle Cotes du Rhone or other dry red wine (you may not use the whole bottle)
2 C beef stock, more if necessary
salt and pepper
3 large spanish onions, sliced
1/2 C packed dark brown sugar
1/3 C balsamic vinegar (use the cheap stuff here, it will carmelize and thicken in the pan)
2 TBSP dried thyme
2 tsp dried rosemary
2 TBSP dried sage
**cooking times refer to grass-fed beef. If using regular beef, cook 30% longer on the last cooking stage.
Preheat oven to 500
Dry brisket and place in a roasting pan or casserole big enough to hold the meat and a lot of juices.
Peel cloves from garlic (keep in mind this was for 10lbs) and with a paring knife, cut small incisions in the fatty side of the meat, stuffing each clove of garlic into a different incision.
Season liberally with salt and coarse black pepper.
Place brisket fat side up into hot oven for approximately 4-7 minutes, until top browns. Turn brisket and place back in oven to brown other side.
Reduce heat to 350.
Remove brisket from oven and add Cotes du Rhone (or other dry red wine) and beef stock (again, this was for a lot of meat.) You want the liquid to come up to about 1 inch on the side of the pan.
Cover brisket with foil and place in oven for 1 hour.
While brisket is cooking, slice onions and place in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Salt liberally.
Allow onions to cook for 30-45 minutes, until fully carmelized and liquid has evaporated. Set aside.
Remove brisket after one hour, and add onions, sugar, balsamic vinegar and spices to pan. Add more liquid if necessary. Stir brisket around to incorporate all ingredients.
Recover and cook for 1 hour.
Test with instant read thermometer--should be around 135 when you pull the pan out.
Allow to rest for at least 25 minutes (depending on size) and then slice and return meat to pan with all juices.
Allow to cool completely, and refrigerate until next day. (Not necessary, but really? So much better!)
To reheat, bring pan up to room temp and place in 275 oven until warm.
When meat is up to temperature, remove from pan and place all pan drippings in blender/food processor with 1/2-2 C of chicken/beef stock (will depend on amount of liquid meat gave off) and 1/2 C red wine, 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar. Puree until desired consistency (I like mine thick) and warm through before serving.