Grainews: First We Eat -Freezer Archaeology


I was sitting at my neighbour Sharon’s kitchen counter on a Sunday morning, enjoying our weekly coffee. My puppy, Jake, fussed at my feet, his manners strained by my insistence on a “Down-stay,” so I didn’t hear what Sharon had said, just held out my empty mug for a refill and shrugged. Sharon, who has known me for nearly thirty years, poured more coffee and repeated her words.

“We’ve booked in a steer for next month,” she said over Jakie’s whining, and tossed him a cookie. Sharon and her husband Ken raise Angus cattle. One of their steers had a date with destiny; Dave and I would be the grateful recipients of grassfed beef that had spent the past summer grazing on the field south of our yard.

“Eeek,” I said.

Sharon grinned. She knew what the shorthand meant, that my freezer exists in a permanent state of “Full,” as I had known when she’d obliquely mentioned the steer. “You could buy a second freezer,” she said.

“And put it where?”

Sharon’s been in our house, a hundred-year-old crazy-quilt of rooms. It began as two grain bins bolted together back in the day, with a kitchen and wood stove strung alongside, an arrangement which suited my grandparents just fine for decades. My dad had since added more rooms but the house still has only one closet and absolutely no room for a second freezer.

When I got home, hopped up on caffeine, I put on my winter gloves and schussed through the steep slopes of my freezer. Everything came out in layers. First, the wire baskets, where I store what I think I’ll need “soon”: chicken stock, tomato sauce, soups, bacon. Then a big bag filled with pork parts; another, containing homemade breads, buns, a box of filo, Dave’s stash of store-bought sweets, corn tortillas, and wedges of chocolate birthday cake and lemon semifreddo. Another bag revealed duck legs and tubs of duck fat destined for confit; chickens’ feet for the stock pot, where they’d make the stock rich and gelatinous; chard and kale from the garden; a paper-wrapped beef heart; a stash of berries and whole-grain flours; a wild turkey, moose ribs and a venison roast, gifts from a hunter friend; an ice-bound slab of steelhead; tubs of pesto and cooked beans; and at the bottom, two casseroles of cabbage rolls I’d made with Sharon. I hauled out one of the casseroles and set it on the counter to thaw.

By the time I could see freezer floor, I was surrounded by containers. Everything was labelled, but the dates on the labels caught me by surprise. Ooops. How had I missed these homemade and homegrown treasures, some of them, for several years?

I made syrup and infused vinegars with the old berries, simmered the beef heart and diced it for Jake, made croutons from the corn tortillas and breadcrumbs from the buns, soup with the chard and kale, stock with the chickens’ feet, and promised the moose and venison early dates with the braising pot. The old fish went to the barn cats. The stale desserts hit the trash, and we ate the cabbage rolls for supper that night.

When Ken showed up a week later with two boxes of beef, my freezer had space to spare. I’d like to say I’ve learned the fine art of organization, but you should see my office. I do have the urge to eat more beans to counteract the beef, but that’s another story for next time. So first, let’s eat some grassfed beef.

Korean-Style Flank Steak
Flank is almost entirely lean, with a very pronounced grain; if mishandled, it falls into the “tough old boots” category of a ruined piece of meat. Avoid that by long marination, then quickly cook only to medium-rare; after the cooked meat rests, slice against the grain. Makes enough marinade for one or two flank steaks.

½ cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
4 Tbsp. minced green onion
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. minced ginger root
2 Tbsp. melted honey
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 orange, zest and juice
½ tsp. hot chili flakes
1 flank steak

Mix well, then cover beef with the mixture, store in a sealable bag or glass container and cover. Refrigerate overnight, or for up to 3 or 4 days. Remove meat from fridge 20 minutes before grilling or roasting to take the chill off the meat. Drain off and discard the marinade. Grill over high heat or roast at 400 F until medium-rare: the exact time will vary with the size of the flank steak. Let rest a few minutes after cooking, then slice thinly. Serve on greens with Asian vinaigrette, or on crusty baguette with herb aioli.

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