I give this book 9.5 out of 10 acorns.
“The Ethical Meat Handbook” is a huge book, covering a lot of material. In other books there is a lot to read about ethical ways to eat, but not much to show us how, but The Ethical Meat Handbook provides heaps of information, from how to source ethical meat, how to raise your own, how to do your own butchering, and meat recipes too. Meredith Leigh is an ex-vegan turned farmer and butcher who is very passionate about what she writes about, and that passion flows throughout the book, so you’re left with a very positive feeling of being able to eat in a way that makes a difference.
The author has achieved a lot with creating this book. After reading “The Ethical Meat Handbook” the reader is aware of ways to stay away from the industrial food system, whether it be by homesteading, or by supporting local farmers who are raising animals in an ethical way.
This book asks a number of “how” questions, and offers deeply pondered possible answers. How can we work from within a fantastically flawed food system to create real food? How can we work in accessible ways, without alienating any food citizen or farmer? How is it possible to create models that drive an economy, social synergy, and environ- mental restoration that work for the world as we know it now, and the world we want in the future?
The first chapter after the introduction is about buying differently. The existing system won’t supply meat that’s been raised in an ethical way. The author argues that food and essential needs should be generated as part of household economy, and after that it should be generated in the local community - this brings to mind permaculture zoning in some ways. Once this community economy is developed, and more people are supporting it (as seems to be happening more and more these days), this is less reliance on the nasty industrial system to “feed the world”, and if there is no demand for the industrial food system, it can’t exist anymore. By buying differently, we can make a difference.
The reason the current agriculture system is so cheap in the USA is because it is heavily subsidised by the government. Some ideas are given for how to make small-scale farming more affordable.
The next chapter is about cooking differently. This involves cooking with whole plants and whole animals, and losing assumptions about being too busy to cook and needing convenience food. With cooking differently come cost savings that mean people on a budget can afford to support good farms.
Details are given later about the best tools for butchering with. The author has tested all the sausage recipes in this book homestead-scale equipment, which is good to know. She tells us not just what is used for butchering, but what the purpose of each knife is. This is helpful to read for anyone that wants to start butchering at home, as it helps to read what a cleaver is used for, and to work out for yourself whether you need one for the kind of butchering you’re doing or not.
Some discussion is made of packaging materials. I would have liked more options that are free from single-use plastic, but this is definitely a tricky point for people dealing with bulk meat. Some of the recommended things (e.g. digital scale for charcuterie) I have done without, so if you are looking into doing butchering and charcuterie on a budget, you can read between the lines and also do extra research to see if anything is definitely needed or not.
After the butchering chapter we move to one about being a non-farming omnivore. Plenty of suggestions are included for improving the current food system, even for people who don’t have the means to pay more for ethically raised meat. The labels found on meat are demystified, to give the reader an idea of what farming is happening when a label says “no added hormones” or “no antibiotics”, “grass-fed” and so on. Instructions are given about purchasing bulk meat, and what to expect from it.
The next section of the book goes into how to raise animals - breeds that thrive best on natural diets, rotational grazing, fencing and other requirements of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry. This section tells stories about the author’s experiences raising and butchering these animals, and her stories make the joy and intensity of raising animals shine through, balanced out by the practical advice in these chapters. The focus on breeds is very interesting, I had known about this to some degree when I’ve raised pigs (to get ones adapted for outdoors) but The Ethical Meat Handbook
brings up this idea for all animals - that modern breeding standards have favoured animals that can thrive on the current monoculture system, and it can take some careful selection to choose animals that are adapted to natural diets and will thrive without interventions.
I’ve read a lot of books on raising animals, and I still learned new things from this book and appreciated her perspective. Information is provides that benefits both homesteaders and farmers, such as the information about raising black soldier fly for poultry feed on a small and large scale. These chapters about raising animals can also help people who can’t raise their own to better understand and appreciate naturally-raised animals, and the farmers raising them.
The next section of the book is all about butchery. This is really where this second edition of the book shines - the photos are in colour, and very clear - I can imagine having this book in easy reach when I’m butchering. Even if you don’t intend to butcher your own animals, this section is really useful for understanding the different cuts of meat, where they come from, and how much of each cut there is on an animal.
An important reminder as you read: butchery is both a science and an art. There is a right way to break the animal, but there is not just one way.
All throughout the butchering section are ideas for how to cook each cut of meat, which is really helpful. The pictures are very helpful, and the instructions are thorough. and I learned about new cuts of meat I didn’t know about beforehand.
Next we come to the recipes… Throughout the book are scattered mouthwatering photos of finished meat dishes, a promise of what is to come in this next section. The recipes are very creative, and are often using the less-popular cuts of meat that many people have no idea how to serve. It’s lovely to see this whole-animal approach in recipes.
Recipes include beef and lovage sausage, braised beef shank tacos with herb and caper salsa, beef bacon, tallow, beef jerky, beef stock, bresaola, bone marrow horseradish sauce, earl grey braised lamb shank with herb dumplings, lime curry lamb sausage with dosas and raita, fire-cooked lambchetta with apricot and rosemary, sous vide hogget rib with orange, fennel, and honey marmalade, roast leg of goat with mustard, capers, and marjoram, bourbon- and sorghum-glazed lamb spare ribs, pulled pork with hot vinegar sauce, chow chow, and corn pancakes, pork bahn mi sandwiches with quick pickles, braised pork ribs with rooster sauce and balsamic, chicharron with apple butter and cilantro créme fraîche, lard, pork tourtiere, breakfast scrapple with arugula, eggs, and maple syrup, porchetta with persimmon, chestnut, and pine, spatchcocked roasted chicken with lemon and fresh herbs, chicken ballotine, three ways, chicken cardamon sausage. fried chicken, duck confit and duck rillettes.
Also provided in each recipe section (there’s one for each animal) are sauces and sides to accompany it. These are also very unique and creative recipes.
The next section is on charcuterie, which includes fresh sausages, pâtés, terrines, whole muscle cures, and fermented sausages.
Some discussion is done on nitrates - the author uses them in some recipes. and tells us why celery juice powder isn’t a good choice to replace it. She uses a small amount of commercial nitrate cures, and gives us the formulas that she uses to add it to cured meats.
Fresh sausages are a good place to start with charcuterie - the cook can get used to adding the correct ratios of fat and meat and get used to the equipment that is used for cured sausages later on. What I like a lot about this section is that Meredith doesn’t only give us a bunch of recipes, but also the % formulas to create our own. and an understanding of how each element needed to make a good fresh sausage works.
I like the way this section is taught - each charcuterie skill builds on another previous skill, so that the cook with no experience can follow a course of first making their own fresh sausages, moving on to pâté, and eventually working their way towards cured meats, with a good understanding of all these processes.
Recipes include breakfast sausages, chorizo, herbes de provence sausages, garlic orange bratwurst, liver pâté, headcheese, beef bologna, bacon, panchetta stesa, prosciutto, coppa or capicola, lardo. smoked fiochetto ham, basic salami, fennel salami with nutmeg and wine, and pepperoni.
Some things are made without nitrates, and other things are made with them. It would have been good to see more nitrate-free alternatives for some of the recipes, but for someone getting started who isn’t strongly anti-nitrate this is definitely a good introduction to charcuterie, and will give you a huge amount of recipes to use, and you could happily have this as your only charcuterie book and be satisfied with the recipes.
Information is given about hot smoking, warm smoking, and cold smoking, and the purposes of each method, along with suitable woods to use. Instructions are given for making an electric charcuterie chamber for aging fermented meats.
I would recommend this book to anyone that wants to understand meat better. Anyone looking for creative whole-animal recipes and instructions on butchery and charcuterie will also appreciate this book.