Taking time to really enjoy the farmer’s market this week, I bought two items to indulge myself for my birthday. One dozen duck eggs and a large cut of sirloin from a grass-fed Irish Dexter cow. It may sound like an odd treat to some, but trust me when I say it was worth a little extra money. So that you better understand the nature of these choices, I will use this Mother Earth Monday to explain further.
Duck eggs are a special treat for me. Unless you raise them yourself, they tend to be harder to come by and are often expensive. They aren’t highly commercial, so they all have the same basic benefit as pastured chicken eggs in terms of nutritional value, but have a few unique qualities that make them especially appealing to me. My first encounter with them very nearly didn’t happen.
While on my long hike, I did a work for stay with an organic farm. One of the things they provided was meals of their products. Homemade maple yogurt, organic bacon, fresh picked raspberries, roasted fava beans and hard cooked duck eggs. I don’t care much for hard boiled chicken eggs. The whites are alright, but the yolk is always too chalky for my taste. I very nearly passed on the eggs, but curiosity got the better of me. I had never had a duck egg. Certainly never an organic duck egg. Since everything else had been so good, I gave it a shot.
Wow! The whites had a different quality to them, but it was the yolk that won me over. So smooth and creamy. Entirely enjoyable. As it turns out, that is the norm among duck eggs. Slightly higher fat content as far as I know is at the center of it. That quality also lends itself especially well to baking. Add to this that there is a higher protein level in a duck egg and you have an amazing baking tool. The whites are especially good for stiff meringues. Word of warning on that last one however is that it may need a little extra acid to help get the whites stiffened to begin with. A touch of lemon juice or vinegar will work wonders.
The eggs are a bit tougher shelled, so will last longer than chicken eggs without a loss of quality, generally six weeks or so. They are also often a bit larger, though this varies with the breed. In some cases, one duck egg will be equal to two chicken eggs.
So what about the steak. First is that I am no fan of Angus. I know we keep getting that pushed as a selling point, but honestly it has more to do with the weight of the animal being so high so quickly that led to it’s favor. Flavor was not why it became so popular. In fact, historically many people assumed it would disappear from the market eventually due to other far more flavorful breeds. Funny now flavor has disappeared from our list of primary marketable traits.
Irish Dexters are a good breed. I don’t have a particular love of them, but they are a good quality animal built well for a grass-fed life. I am not going to go through the long list of health benefits of pasture raised beef. You are on the internet. Three seconds on google will pull up everything you need more clearly than I am likely to offer it. Know that the meat itself is different however. The look, feel, texture, taste… It is an entirely different menu item from the box store meat.
Some people say it is tougher. Perhaps if you are treating it like the fatty placid muscles found under plastic. Trying to cook fish like a chicken and it isn’t probably going to turn out right either though. Different character. Lower temperatures both in cooking (by as much as 50 degrees) and in the core temperature (by as much as 10 degrees short of the target temperature before removing from the heat) for a shorter period of time will result in a better product.
Grass fed is best as a medium rare product, but well done is possible if you remember the low temperature and perhaps baste it a bit while it is cooking. Pan cooking is easier to regulate than grilling, but not a requirement. Some people say to marinate the steak or use a rub before cooking, but I suggest simply adding a bit of oil to the surface. This will help it brown, prevent drying or sticking, and compensate a bit for the lower fat content. The only other seasoning should be salt and pepper. Why buy such a good quality cut and then drown it in other flavors?
The meat cooks quickly, so a thermometer might be wise. Aside from that, the only other advice is NEVER use a fork or other sharp object to flip the meat. Punctures allow the moisture to escape. Instead use tongs and once it is off the heat allow it to properly rest. Believe me, it is a steak to die for. My birthday dinner was something truly special thanks to such a steak.
I hope some of you find this information useful. If you are raising your own animals, it is probably old news. If not, check your local farmer’s markets and local farms centered around pasture and grass-fed animals. Grass-fed steak can be found in or near almost every major city and duck eggs, while harder to find a source, do tend to be within a reasonable reach of most peoples homes.