The King of Fighters.

For months I have been teasing customers with the start of wild salmon season. In fact, one of the two signs near my counter features a full page layout of salmon-porn. I have been looking forward to offering an alternative to farmed salmon. Salmon has been one of the few hitches in our road toward being a totally sustainable fish counter. This road has been bumpy and has presented both Bryan and I with great opportunities to educate our customers as well as ourselves.

Some decisions were easy to make, like never ordering Atlantic cod or non-organic farmed salmon. However, it has been very hard to pry people away from a few things, regardless of environmental and health concerns. Salmon has been one, shrimp is another. Big, carnivorous fish like salmon are difficult to farm responsibly because they require large amounts of fish meal/oil and constant running water. Among many other concerns with farmed salmon are the antibiotics, hormones and dyes used in the feed that end up returning to the rivers near the farms, polluting them and threatening native populations. Avoiding farmed salmon seems like a no-brainer, right? Not so easy.

People want salmon year-round, but salmon season typically only runs from late-Spring to mid-Fall. We do the best we can by buying only farmed organic salmon which scores higher on every sustainable fish guide than non-organic farmed salmon. While we only buy from companies with upstanding environmental reputations, wild salmon is a still far better choice for the environment. My hope had been to try to wean my customers off of farmed salmon, if only for the wild salmon season.

Today sad reality struck in the form of an email from my fish supplier...

Due to extremely low runs this year, both California and Oregon have completely canceled their King salmon seasons. That means all the U.S. wild King salmon we've been looking forward to has to come out of Washington, and later in the season, Alaska. Obviously, this means a much smaller amount of fish to go around. Low availability translates to higher prices, meaning I would have to sell it for about $32/lb--twice as much as the farmed organic salmon. Not exactly an enticing trade for customers. I am still crossing my fingers for the Sockeye and Coho runs, which are expected to be pretty normal this year. The few Steelhead that make it to the east coast are beautiful, too. If you see some, make sure to grab it!

In my recent post "Fish is Fish", I listed several sites to help you navigate the murky waters of choosing the right fish to eat. I encourage everyone to check with at least one list if you are not absolutely sure of both the environmental and health concerns regarding the specific species you are going to eat. The info is out there, but it is up to you to use it.

You may have also noticed that I specifically said "U.S. wild King salmon". We try to stick with only domestic fisheries, both for reducing our carbon footprint from flying seafood all over the world and because there is more oversight by U.S. environmental organizations and agencies. There is no international governing body dictating practices for the world's fisheries. Some countries encourage responsible techniques, some do not. Beyond that, it is hard to even find the regulations for some countries. As a fish buyer in Brooklyn it is much easier for me to find information on the practices of my striped bass farm in Massachusetts than it is to find out about the imported farmed shrimp that appears in my order from a different country each time. For this reason I have all but stopped selling imported shrimp. I do still keep a few bags on hand for those who just can't get down with paying $2 more for plump, juicy, never-frozen Shrimp from Florida. The same is true for wild species, I may be able to find out exactly where and how my Mahi-Mahi is caught, but Chilean sea bass is quite a risky bet. There's almost no way to be sure it wasn't poached.

I say I don't mean to preach, but I do. When it comes to fish, every single decision really counts. You're either aiding environmental destruction or stopping it, plain and simple.


The Ethical Butcher wants you!

...or your friends.


Enough about me, I want to hear from other ex-veg folks! I have engaged in some exciting and lively conversations with many past and current vegans and vegetarians, and always leave feeling inspired. So inspired that I'm devoting an entire section of my book to entries by other ex-veg people. I may want to follow up with a few people, so please be sure to include your name and contact info. Please forward to anyone you think would like to be a part of this project.

I am interested in getting a wide range of opinions and experiences, so there are only a few guidelines:

* 500-2500 words
* You must have been vegetarian or vegan for at least 3 years. Sorry, pesca-veg doesn't count.
* Send entries to theethicalbutcher@gmail.com, deadline is Sept 1st.


  • When and why did you become vegetarian/vegan? To piss off your parents? Impress a girl? PETA pamphlets?
  • When and why did you start eating meat? How do you now feel about your relationship to the animals you eat?
  • After years of getting stuck with iceberg lettuce "salad" at restaurants while your omnivore friends ate, those times when even the fries weren't safe, and searching ingredient lists for casein, how has this change in diet affected your lifestyle?
  • Where do you live? How has your location affected your meat consumption?
  • Your favorite meat-centered recipe

School on Saturday?

Brooklyn Food Conference Park Slope Food Co-op, John Jay H.S., PS 321

Just want to let those here in Brooklyn know about an exciting event happening this weekend. The Brooklyn Food Conference is two days of films, workshops, a parade, kids activities and more.
Best if all, it is free for everyone!

It kicks off with a screening of Fresh! at the Park Slope Food Co-op Friday night. All day Saturday we're going old school, really. The classrooms of John Jay High School and PS 321 in Park Slope will be filled with Brooklynites of all kinds, united by an interest in understanding our food system. If you have the day off, maybe take a look at the workshop schedule and see if anything grabs you.
Let me know if you plan on attending, I'd love to meet up!


Breakfast: Pizza and Waffles

Ortine 622 Washington Ave.

Like many groups of urban twenty-somethings, my friends and I make it a point to meet up for brunch almost every weekend. Having 6-10 hungry, hungover eaters from different Brooklyn nabes agree on a location is never an easy feat. Ortine was a frontrunner for a few Sundays in a row, and I think I'll be pushing for it this weekend.

Run by Sarah Peck and husband Steve Guidi, Ortine is a small and intimate restaurant that describes it's cuisine as "eclectic". Indeed, one could order shakshuka and fluffy waffles with homemade granola, if that's what gets you going. The Brunch menu is simple, but everything on it full of homey deliciousness. Many of the herbs come from Sarah Peck's garden, everything else (including the meat and eggs) is delivered by Farm to Chef. Farm to Chef is an invaluable organization, bringing quality produce, meat and eggs from upstate farms to New York restaurants. The little breakfast sausage links from Argyle Farms are scrumptious and any dish featuring the velvety-rich, NY farm-fresh eggs is definitely worth trying. The breakfast pizza with its buttery crust, goat cheese, eggs and pancetta is quickly gaining a reputation. It's no wonder we all end up fighting for the last piece every time.

Ortine is open during the week for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they do an old-fashioned Sunday dinner, too.



I have had some requests for photos of me working. These are from a few months ago when I cut down my first Round (leg) of beef. The Round usually weighs between 80-115 lbs and often requires holding up a good 30 lbs of meat with one hand while cutting with the other, making this one of the most physically demanding cuts to work with.

The Round is where you get Top Round (also known as London Broil or Roast beef), Bottom Round, Eye Round, Sirloin Tip (also known as Beef Knuckle) and a couple of Round roasts. Supporting the frame of a 1200 pound steer is hard work, and as a result these leg muscles have more connective tissue between them and are tougher cuts of meat. Most of the cuts in the Round are delicious as stews and roasts. As the weather warms and those cuts are less in demand, they are usually used for ground meat. The Top Round, Eye Round and Sirloin however, remain marketable cuts year-round. The leg also gives some really nice stock/marrow/dog bones...mmm.

More photos to come soon!

Cutting down his first leg

photos by Alison Picard 2009


Bacon and Bourbon.

Making bacon is one of the easiest, most rewarding things you can do in your kitchen. I adapted a recipe from Saveur magazine. All it takes is your fridge, oven, lots of salt, a little sugar and GOOD pork belly (this is no time for skimping--many toxins are stored in fat cells, so don't use a belly from crap pork). In a week you will have absolutely delicious nitrate/nitrite-free, all-natural, home-cured bacon.

The last step in curing bacon involves either roasting or smoking. I have been curing my own Berkshire bacon by roasting for a few months now. I use it to barter for everything from massages to fresh baked bread. Smoked bacon is what you commonly find now, but roasting bacon results in a more meaty, flavorful bacon. This is because the smoke imparts so much flavor that it becomes the defining characteristic. When roasted, bacon has a taste that is both stronger and more delicate than when smoked. Roasted bacon tastes like pork, not smoke, and lends itself to experimentation quite well. Although a smoked bacon is wonderful, it is important to keep in mind that we can be exposed to the carcinogens in smoke when we eat smoked foods.

I have used different herbs and spices to come up with sweet, savory and spicy slabs of bacon. My mainstay is the Peppercorn bacon. It is cured with coriander, cumin, caraway, anise and rubbed with lots of cracked black pepper before roasting. Around the holidays, my Winter Spice bacon was very popular. In this one, I switched the sugar for molasses and used cinnamon, cloves, mace, allspice and orange zest. This turned out to be the best morning bacon, sweet and light--what you want with pancakes and waffles.

A few weeks ago, my coworker Daniel offered to take one of my slabs to a smoker he has upstate. I was curious, so I sent him off with a slab of Honey Fennel, made with raw Washington state buckwheat honey instead of sugar, fennel and anise seeds and white pepper.

He returned with my Hickory Honey Fennel bacon, part of which I traded for some of his nice Hickory Cocoa Chili bacon. This was a dark and smoky addition to my coffee and toast with jam this morning. The cocoa and coffee paired well.

I was quite pleased with my own first smoked slab of bacon, and was delighted by the way the smoking had effectively roasted the fennel seeds, releasing crazy aromas. I shared some of this with friends the other night. My girlfriend, writer/photographer Ally Picard and Helen Harris of OMG Michelle among them. I cut the bacon into lardons and cooked it up with seared Brussels sprouts, caramelized fennel, cipollini onions and spring garlic and put it over linguine with fennel/black pepper/red chili flake-crusted Berkshire pork scallopini on the side. It was a big hit.

I also did a slab for roasting as I usually do--this time a Chinese 5-spice. Much like the Winter Spice, this one was is a delicious breakfast bacon, and it has a little more kick from the Sichuan peppers. I am going to use the rest of both slabs in an old school baked mac n cheese with bacon.

MMMMMmmm...don't worry, I'll eat a big salad with it.

On to the Bourbon...and more about bacon.

Char No.4 196 Smith St.

Last week Ally and I went down to Smith Street to check out Char No.4. No only does the menu feature all house-cured and smoked meats, but the bar has 300 types of whiskey to choose from. I was a very, very, happy man.

We started out with a clam chowder with bacon and an apple-fennel-blue cheese salad. We were both thankful that the clam chowder was light and the potatoes were not heavy or mushy. Given the gluttony that lay ahead, this was a thoughtful touch by the chef. Ally had a perfectly grilled hanger steak paired with garlic potatoes and homemade BBQ sauce, and on the side kale, cooked in apples and bacon. I went with the beef hot link over mustard potato salad, crispy shallots and lovely, sweet baked beans. The link was almost as big as the plate, which makes this German boy feel good about the world. The whiskey list is enticing, as are the whiskey cocktails. The Horse Drawn Carriage was just my speed that night. With 300 selections ranging from $3-$100 an ounce, there are many choices for every budget. I have been raving about Char No.4 since that night and can't wait to go back! If you are in Carroll Gardens, do yourself a favor and get one of the nice tables out back, a nice bourbon and dig into some serious carnivorous action.


Fish is Fish

A little note on fish...

Rather than go into specific environmental or health concerns for every single species of fish and shellfish we eat, I just want to say that it is important to put a little more effort into researching the seafood you eat. Our oceans, rivers and streams are sensitive and damaged, our sea life threatened by many factors. Much of this harm is caused directly by the fishing industry, and we support them every single time we buy or eat much of the fish widely available. Because each individual species is under different and ever-evolving pressures, it would be pointless for me to try to list what is OK and what is not in this forum. This list changes from season to season and every region has its issues.
Instead, I am including a few links that will help inform your decisions at the restaurant and the grocery store. Its no longer excusable to turn a blind eye, fish is not as safe of an alternative as some think. It is crucial that we are aware of the impact that the fish industry has on the planet and take responsibility for our role.

Here are some really great, comprehensive guides to ocean-friendly seafood.

The Blue Ocean Institute - They offer a service where you can text the name of a fish and get up-to-date sustainability info instantly! Beats those wallet cards that never seem to stay in your wallet anyway.
Environmental Defense Fund -The Seafood Selector is great.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program
The Seafood Choices Alliance - This one is geared toward those in the field, but is very helpful and informative for everyone. There just may be a few unfamiliar fishing terms.
And especially, look for fisheries using the seal of the Marine Stewardship Council.

Brooklyn. Brooklyn.

How can I begin a listing of butcher shops and restaurants selling sustainably-raised meats and not include Brooklyn? Our borough is home to one of the biggest food scenes in the country. Chefs are pioneering the farm-to-table idea in a city not quite synonymous with farms. It is not uncommon to find Brooklyn chefs smoking and curing their own meats, butchering whole or half animals in their kitchens, or sourcing all of their animal products from farms upstate. It is truly an exciting time.

For the home kitchen, there are two Brooklyn butcher shops leading the return to the days of the neighborhood butcher. These are the places where your meat will never be plastic-wrapped on styrofoam. Where you can have a conversation with a knowledgeable person who not only cut down your dinner, but can help you figure out how to cook it 5 different ways. These shops are pretty small operations as far as the meat industry goes, so they are able to work directly with small farms and have much more control over where their product comes from.

We all know the guy behind the counter at Whole Foods has no say in where the buyer sources. Many very small farms cannot produce on a level that the big chains require, which is better for the restaurants and shops that are willing to pay a premium for high-quality meats produced locally. This is the system we must return to. Supporting large chains, whether they sell organic, all-natural meats or not, supports large-scale industrial farming. By definition, large-scale animal farming is not sustainable. The carbon footprint that results from raising and transporting animals in this manner is huge, and trucking in "organic" feed doesn't change that.

By supporting smaller stores who specialize in local and sustainably-raised meats, you are supporting the farmers in YOUR area that are working to provide a safe alternative to industrial meat. Some of these farms cannot afford USDA Organic certification, some free-range and pastured animals cannot be certified because their feed is not regulated, i.e. pastured chickens getting nice and plump on bugs and worms. So, while it is imperative to look for all-natural, no hormones and no antibiotics when buying meats, the label "organic" is really not as much of an indicator of quality as Tyson's would like you to believe.

Man, I can really get going on that topic...

This list is by no means exhaustive, as I will be adding new ones periodically.

The Greene Grape Provisions 753 Fulton St

Sister store to The Greene Grape wine stores, this small, high-end store features a coffee bar and small grocery section. The back of the store is where the action is. There's a great cheese counter that features many American farmstead cheeses, run by Jada Brotman and Glenn Hills. These enthusiastic, young cheesemongers even make their own fresh mozzarella by hand! The prepared foods section is headed up by Mark Bittman's blog writer and sandwich genius, Daniel Meyer. His menu often also includes delicious soups made from scratch, often including meat and fish from the first Brooklyn butcher and fishmonger to carry local, sustainable meats and fish.

Run by Bryan Mayer and myself, the meat counter features free-range domestic lamb and goat, free-range chicken, the only Certified Humane veal available on the market, grass-fed all-natural USDA Prime beef, and Berkshire pork. Fresh ground beef, pork, veal and lamb are offered daily, as well as house-made sausages. Every thing is cut down right in front of you and special orders are encouraged!

After some staff changes, Bryan and I are now able to run the fish counter with an eye toward offering only the most ocean-friendly selection of seafood. You won't find any Atlantic groundfish like Cod or Sole here, no swordfish, no shark. We've even cut out nearly all imported fish, focusing only on North American fish. In the case of shellfish, only East coast clams, mussels and oysters are carried, though you can still special order anything you'd like.

I'll be leaving the shop and heading out to Portland in June. If you are ever in the neighborhood, stop by, Bryan will take care of you.

Marlow & Daughters 95 Broadway

Given the amount of press Tom Mylan's empire of meat is getting, I don't think there is much I can say that hasn't been said. Opening in December 2008, Marlow & Daughters is but a gem in this crown of carnivorous meccas. Just like Bonita, Diner and Marlow & Sons, whole animals are the mainstay of Marlow & Daughters offerings. Using whole animals means lots of extra fat, trimmings and organs that are used in a myriad of ways. You can buy everything from trotters to tongue, and that's as sustainable as you can get. Marlow & Daughters gets all their pork from Flying Pigs Farm in upstate NY.

Flying Pigs Farm Union Square Greenmarket

Flying Pigs Farm is a farm in upstate NY that raises heritage breed Tamworth, Gloucestershire Old Spot and Large Black pigs. One driver delivers to many fine restaurants throughout NYC and Westchester. Every Friday at the Greenmarket you can buy your own Tamworth pork belly, bacon, or ham hocks!
Long called the "bacon-pig", I have been coveting a Tamworth belly myself for my home-cured bacon.

(This will be my one and only listing on Manhattan. I make the exception because the farm itself is not in Manhattan.)