The Hungry Engineer

Butcher's Box

25 Oct 2011

In the middle of making an effort to write about some of the food and travel things that have been going on in our lives the past few months, we were interrupted by something wonderful that we just have to tell everyone about. It’s called the Butcher’s Box.

Unopened Butcher

Salt & Time, a local, small-batch salumi and butcher operation that sources all their meats and produce locally, recently began offering Butcher’s Box subscriptions. In a manner not unlike Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares, one signs up for a 6- or 12-month Butcher’s Box subscription, and then once a month, a box full of meaty goodness with your name on it is waiting for you at the specified farmers market.

contents of butcher

Not knowing exactly what we were getting into, we opted for the six-month run and then counted the days till we could go pick up our very first Butcher’s Box. The pick-up process was easy. They had our names on a list, and we were handed a neatly-packed box full of cryovac-ed meat and a sheet of paper describing the items in our box and listing the farmers whose goods went into that month’s selections. Ben and Bryan answered our questions about shelf-life and storage and which items we could freeze without sacrificing flavor and promised there would be accompanying recipes on their website if we needed ideas for how to prepare our goodies (and there were).

mortadella and salami

Our October box contained the following items: pork tenderloin medallions wrapped in jamon de paleta (“shoulder prosciutto”), chicken brined in Mexican mint marigold, scallions, lemons, and onions and stuffed a dressing made from apples, beer-garlic sausage, and sourdough bread, freshly butchered, never-frozen Dorper lamb chops, savory breakfast sausage, mortadella, pepe salami, bratwurst, and a huge smoked ham hock.

brined and trussed chicken, raw

We decided to freeze the bratwurst, the breakfast sausage, and the ham hock. Otherwise though, we made a plan for joyful consumption of entirely too much meat over the next few days.

roasted and carved chicken

The chicken, we simply roasted in the oven, no frills. The bird was small, but with the stuffing, it actually made two meals for us. The meat was incredible. If you’re tired of tasteless, salmonella-ridden chicken, you could certainly do worse than one of these chickens. Despite the fact that I probably overcooked the meat a bit in an effort to get the stuffing up to a safe temperature, it was incredibly moist. Even the breast meat, which I’m usually pretty ambivalent about, was tender and flavorful.

raw dorper lamb chops

The Salt & Time guys were very excited about their lamb. Butchered on Thursday, in our hands on Saturday, never frozen, we would likely never have fresher lamb at our disposal. If there was one thing not to freeze, that lamb was it. We treated it simply, coating it lightly in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and grilling it over charcoal. The meat was exceptional; the lamb flavor was clean and distinct. We left it fairly rare, and it was beyond tender.

grilled dorper lamb chops

If I had to guess at Sean’s favorite, I’d say it was the jamon de paleta-wrapped pork tenderloin. Fat medallions of pork came packaged already neatly skewered, so they didn’t lose their precious jamon wrapping. I followed Salt & Time’s suggestion of simply pan-frying to brown the meat and finishing in a 425 degree (F) oven. The pork loin stayed moist and tender, and the salty punch of the jamon was delicious alongside.

paleta-wrapped pork loin medallions

About a week after we received our box, we thawed the breakfast sausage and used it to make sausage gravy to accompany our freshly baked buttermilk biscuits. The sausage, even raw, smelled incredible. In that gravy, it was divine. I’m sure it’s crazy to say, but that breakfast sausage has been one of the stand-outs of this month’s butcher’s box.

For those interested, information on subscribing to the Salt & Time Butcher’s Box can be found here. I’m guessing some of you will be startled by the cost, and here is my comment to that. If you are the sort who is willing to pay local / sustainable / small-batch prices, this box is a good value. If you’re a grocery store meat shopper, this may seem like too little for the cost. If you’re in the latter category and like the idea but aren’t quite willing to commit to a multi-month subscription, I’d advise picking up a few representative items one weekend from Salt & Time’s stand at the farmers markets and deciding for yourself if the quality of the product changes your mind. We love it so far for the variety, the quality, and the exposure to things we might not normally cook.

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