To say Matthew Dale has a background in meat would be an understatement. His great-grandfather was a butcher, his dad practiced the trade, and today he carries on the tradition at Marlow & Daughters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one of the city's best shops to find high-quality, perfectly cut chops. We met up recently with Matthew to learn about the craft, and to get some tips in preparation for a full season's worth of tailgates. After all, a football game just isn't the same without something good on the grill. Here's what he told us.
EQ: So, what meats/cuts/sausages do you suggest for a tailgate? Why?
MD: No proper tailgate is complete without the meat. With sausages, I like to keep it classic. A bratwurst or kielbasa with sauerkraut and mustard is about as good as it gets. In terms of steaks, often times feeding a small group of people is the priority, and there are some really fun whole muscle cuts that work perfectly. Steaks like a whole bavette or tri-tip are not as common as some others, but are delicious, unique and easy to cook (not to mention cool looking). A whole butterflied chicken is also a great item for the grill and makes for an impressive presentation.
EQ: In that case, how important is where you get your meat? What should you look for in a butcher, and what should you avoid?
MD: Buying your meat from a butcher that deals exclusively in whole, locally raised animals is of the utmost importance. Not only will this ensure the meat is fresh and handled with care, but that it originated from a good source. A good butcher should be able to tell you the exact farms their animals are raised on, the animal's diet and slaughter location. They should be able to talk to you at length about a particular cut, including where it can be found on the animal, and best preparation of the cut. Avoid butchers that give you a blank stare when you enquire about their meat's origin. These butchers will often have a seemingly endless supplies of particular cuts. If they have stacks and stacks of hanger steaks (in reality there is only one per animal), they are more than likely selling meat that has been vacuum sealed and sourced from a large scale factory farm. Obviously, most meat sold at “super” markets should be avoided at all costs. If you can even find anyone to speak with in the first place, asking them about their meat sources or how best to cook a certain steak is futile at best.
EQ: How much does an animals diet and conditions affect the flavor? What makes for the best meat?
MD: The most important aspects in regards to the flavor of meat are the animal's diet and living conditions. Beef is a prime example. Factory farmed, corn-fed beef you may pick up at your nearest supermarket will be low in flavor, and high in unhealthy, bland fat. It will sit heavy in the stomach and have little going for it in terms of taste or texture. Contrast that with a cut from a pastured raised, 100% grass-fed animal; the steak will have a clean, meaty flavor with a great texture and mouthfeel. The fat will be grassy and rich, but not weigh you down (fat from grass-fed beef is actually rather high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids). To simplify, happy animals equate to flavorful meat. Everybody wins.
EQ: Is there any seasonality to meat? What do you think is best this time of year?
MD: Seasonality plays a huge role in meat quality, especially when your butcher is sourcing from small, local farms. Late summer into autumn is really the best time to be eating meat. Cattle have had a summer's long grazing season, are full-framed and beautifully marbled. Pigs have reached their adult size and have fed snacking on loads of natural forage, giving them a rich and luscious flavor. Spring lambs have reached their ideal size and are full flavored and readily available. As long as you buy from your local butcher, you can't go wrong.
EQ: How do you suggest preparing the meat? Any marinades, grilling techniques, etc?
MD: As boring as it may seem, I am a firm believer than good meat needs little embellishment. A clean, flaky sea salt and coarse black pepper are my favorite seasonings for a quality cut. The farmers work hard to raise these animals to be as delicious as possible, and I believe a simple preparation honors their hard work. That being said, when I’m grilling, I will often whip up a batch of chimichurri, a traditional Argentinian herb sauce, usually consisting of parsley, garlic, some vinegar, lots of good olive oil and a little chili flake. It seems to perfectly accent the charred and smoky flavors of grilled meat. The best part is that it can easily be altered to fit whatever's on the grill. Cooking up some thick lamb loin chops? Add a handful of mint leaves and a good dollop of yogurt. Pork sirloin chops? Rosemary and sage leaves wouldn't hurt. Tarragon and a spoonful of mustard are a great complement to a butterflied whole chicken.
EQ: What goes well with these? Sides, drinks, etc.
MD: Keeping it simple is usually the best bet. Let the meat be the star. When I have a particularly nice steak the most important accompaniments are some simply prepared seasonal produce, good beer or wine and of course good company. Not to over romanticize, but I think great meat should be shared and celebrated with others. I find that the most memorable dinners I’ve cooked are seasonal, easy to prepare, and shared with my closest friends.
EQ: What are some good places to find meat around the city? Where do you shop when you're not using your own meat?
MD: We are lucky enough to live in a city with a relatively large number of whole animal butchers, as well as farmers markets in nearly every area. Many farms are well represented at the markets, and it's a great way to also build a relationship with the farmers themselves. No one knows more about the animals than the individuals that raised them from birth to slaughter. Of course I usually source all my meats from Marlow & Daughters, but if I am unable I will often go to the farmers market, or some of the other great butcher shops in Brooklyn, including Greene Grape Provisions, The Meat Hook ,and Fleisher’s.