Tuesday, January 15, 2013

From Paddock to Plate

When we moved to the country, our one big goal was to feed ourselves. This meant growing our own vegetables and fruit. Having a few acres also allowed us to run a few cattle with the express purpose of 
1. Keeping the grass down and 
2. Providing our own meat. 
So we immediately started digging garden beds and planting seeds. We took advice from our neighbour on the best cattle to buy for our purposes and off we went to the sale yard and bought two cows with two calves. Those calves were the two baby white ones I've shown in older posts. We never named them as we knew the day would come when one of them would end up in our freezer. Well, a year later, that day arrived. 
So last week, early one morning as the sun was just peeking over the trees, we herded our cows into the cattle pen at our front gate. We were only going to slaughter one, but it is less stressful for the animals if you keep them together. 
We were going to slaughter the white male steer. He'd been the rambunctious one of the two calves since we got them. Frans would never turn his back on him when he was in the paddock. And Nala knew never to get too close. On more than one occasion the steer has charged towards her, to either investigate what she is or to just show his superiority! 
The cattle spent the morning in the pen together. Late in the afternoon our butcher arrived with his coolroom and gear.
He dispatched the animal quickly, with no stress to it. We were impressed with the care he took to make the animal calm and distracted before he pulled the trigger. It sounds cruel to some, but we respect our animals and wish to give them a good life, and death. I recently read that if you're going to eat it, you should be prepared to kill it. That may be a bit extreme for most, but it makes me appreciate the effort involved to getting a bit of mince in a pot for a spag bol. Our butcher worked quickly through the hot sticky afternoon. It took him just over two hours to skin, gut and quarter the beast. It was then loaded into his mobile cool room which he left on our property for a week. The meat has to hang for a while. The longer you hang it, the more tender it will be. 
Anyone driving past our gate at 6pm last Monday would have seen the carcass dangling from the ends of Graham's tractor. A tractor with a fork lift is an essential piece of machinery in the process. Without it, there would be the need for lots of ropes and pulleys! The live weight of the steer was around 520kgs. The carcass weight was 260kgs. The skin and intestines accounted for the difference in weight. In a commercial slaughter house, nothing goes to waste. The skins get sent to tanners for shoes and handbags. The bones get ground for gardening applications such as blood and bone. The intestines get cleaned and sent to China where they get processed and sent back to Australia or any other country for that matter for sausage making. Most sausages are made using synthetic skins these days, but there is still a demand for natural skins. Believe it or not, intestines get used to make tennis racket strings too!
Once the butcher had finished with the steer, he then processed 5 lambs. A hot, long afternoon for him. Once again, his gentle and respectful approach to the grizzly task of ending an animals life was evident. 

A week later, it was time to deal with all the meat. Frans hosed out his big shed and we got the freezer space organised. In fact, we'd bought a second freezer about a month ago in preparation for the steer. However, it soon got filled with berries! Our raspberries have been prolific and so they were taking up the space of the meat to come. Fortunately, Stephen's (Sara's fiancee') parents had a spare little freezer they were using to store olive oil in. As you do! Stephen drove down from Melbourne on the morning of the processing with the rescue freezer. 
Once the butcher and his assistant were set up, it was all systems go. For the next 6 and half hours, they cut, chopped, minced, brined and made sausages, while we packed and labelled. 
It was a group effort. All hands on deck. Our friends John and Norma came to help.
 Cutting and mincing...
Osso Bucco! Wonderful!  
Frans meticulously weighing the mince. I wanted 500g in a pack. 

Now 'this' is a sausage machine! It took only a few minutes to make around 12kgs of sausages. I want one!
After the beef, it was on to the lambs. They were our neighbours' animals. So it was their turn to pack and label. I kept the workers fed with scones and jam, followed by ham sandwiches for lunch. The beers came at the end of the day!
We now have a freezer full of home grown, grass fed beef. Nothing can be better.
And just when we thought we were done, we had to make up the boerewors and biltong we'd kept some meat aside for. First up was the wors. Boerewors is a South African sausage. The main ingredient is coriander. It is usually a combination of beef and pork. The sausage is not linked, but left instead as a long curl that fits snugly into a pan or onto a barbeque. I dry roasted the coriander on the stove in a caste iron pan, stirring constantly. The pungent aroma hung in the house for a day at least! 
Then the scorched seeds were pounded. At this point we decided it was easier to use the coffee grinder. So we hunted high and low for it only to remember that I'd given it to Sara some time ago! So it was back to grinding and hammering....
The spices, salt, pepper, coriander and cloves were all massaged into the pork and beef mixture. 
I had a sudden bright idea... There was a LOT of meat. We would soon tire if all this boerewors. So I rolled a few bags of meat balls, hamburger patties and mini meat balls for soup. They are all spiced and ready to cook. Call me a genius!
We will have plenty of sausage for many a barbecue over the coming year! If you come and visit us, the chances are you'll be getting some of this!
After the boerewors, it was time to make biltong. This is beef jerky. South African style. Once again the dominating flavour is coriander. So the same process ensued. Scorching and pounding the coriander seeds. Mixing spices together and then salting the meat slices and spraying with vinegar. Frans loves this job. He really gets into it. It's about the only 'cooking' he does. 
The meat is left to marinade for half a day or so, then it's dipped in hot water and hung to dry. 
We always rush around at this point looking for the 'right' paper clips! Frans in his usual 'make a plan' attitude, has hung the biltong and droe' wors (dried sausage) on the washing rack over the bath. A fan will blow on this meat for a few days until all risk of mould is gone. It will then be left to dry naturally for a few more days. A piece of meat that is turned into biltong will shrink to about 25% of it's original weight. No wonder the stuff is so expensive to buy.
And then there's the time factor. If you think something will take an hour, make it two. We finished eventually, late on Sunday evening. It seemed fitting to try some of our new wors. So I quickly cooked up a traditional South African tomato and onion gravy with some polenta. I didn't have any maize meal or I would have used it. We ate the boerewors with the polenta, gravy and an egg, just like I used to do with my grandparents when I was a kid. Some tastes take you right back to your childhood. And this was one of them. A happy memory.
It may not be the nicest 'plating' you've ever seen, but it was delicious!

Have a happy week!

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