I loved Mark Bittman’s piece about rethinking the meat component in home dishes. He looks at ways to cut back on meat consumption, a step that is inarguably better for everyone (except perhaps for big agribusiness). At one point, he even suggests describing dishes differently to make the scaling back of meat smoother.
“Compare these statements: “We’re grilling a leg of lamb and throwing a few vegetables on there,” and “We’re grilling vegetables and breads, and will throw a few chunks of lamb on there.” Again, if you see the meat as a treasure, things change.”
I believe meat tastes far better when it’s surrounded by other delicious non-meat items. I think that’s why Korean BBQ is so wonderful. Same deal with authentic carbonara, a winter beef stew, and to be honest, most meat dishes from anywhere else in the world. I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to miss the meat any less, but more a matter of loving the other ingredients equally as much and working to give them more prominent roles on the plate.
So as much as I like lamb, I think I might like local asparagus just as much. The farmers in New York just started bringing in the most beautiful, crisp asparagus I’ve seen since, well, last spring. I had one bone-in lamb shoulder steak in the freezer. I was about to grill for the first time since last year and I was certainly tempted to grab a pork shoulder or a rack of lamb chops or some other impressive hunk of meat to kick off BBQ season. But a platter of grilled asparagus with great olive oil would be impressive too. And as rich and flavorful as pastured lamb is on its own, I knew I could heighten its flavors even more with the same great olive oil and few cloves of chopped garlic. This was to be a hearty meal with huge flavors.
I like to showcase great meats with even better vegetables and starches. Perhaps that farmers market duck is calling out to you. Why not go crazy buying the best local greens you can find and serve a Chinese stir fry with crispy cubes of duck over rice? I doubt you or your guests will be unsatisfied. Does the heritage bacon at your farmers market look good? Why not toss a small amount of it with pasta and those delicious ramps which are going to disappear in a couple weeks until next year.
Sometimes we talk about changing our eating habits with such a strong deprivation mentality. It’s not necessary. There are great meals to be had by eating a greater variety of the local foods around us. To me, that’s the opposite of deprivation. That’s fun and will likely lead to more delicious and creative meals than we could have envisioned just a short while ago.
Grilled Asparagus with Garlic Rubbed Lamb Shoulder
Farmers Market Bill ($20/4 servings = $5/serving)
Prepare a charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to high
Break the tough ends off 2 pounds of local asparagus
Drizzle with good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
Chop 4 cloves of garlic
Season a 1 pound bone-in lamb shoulder steak with salt and pepper and rub with chopped garlic
(if shoulder steaks are not available, use around a pound of bone-in loin chops or a leg steak of about the same size)
Grill lamb for 5 minutes per side or until internal temperature comes up to about 135
Throw asparagus on the grill and cook for 2 minutes for thin spears (4 for thick)
Turn the asparagus and cook for another few minutes or until char marks appear
Serve with some warm bread