As an animal, I think a cow is pretty cool in the spectrum of species. We actually had one growing up, a Jersey, that my mom milked- more for the fun of it than anything else I think. And it had two calves that I loved! They would run around the pasture with the stiff-legged gait of an animal not really built for grace or speed. And then they left and returned as little white packages for our freezer.
I haven’t eaten red meat in several years. But I can’t blame my mom for that. At least, not entirely. And I definitely care about the conditions of an animal’s life- and manner of death- but I can’t really claim ethical reasons for my diet lacking in cow either. Health reasons? Honest try, but I can down a whole tube of Girl Scout Thin Mints in no time flat. Hard to make an argument there.
Not loving cows on my plate started as an issue of texture- the ligaments, tendons, fascia, major arteries… I know what those look like under a microscope, and they feel absolutely horrible in my mouth. Initially I would only order cuts of meat in which I could very obviously spot the offender and dissect it away from the rest of my bites. But that eventually turned into just ordering tofu or chicken or fish because it was simpler.
And that’s really not been a problem for me until today. This is week three of Culinary School. To my dread but the utter delight of most of the class, chef instructor included, we have bravely forged into the territory of preparing meats and game. How can I write about food I can’t eat? And how can I properly prepare an item I can’t manage to taste?
Our menu today: beef tenderloin with bordelaise sauce, duchesse potatoes, sautéed broccoli, mixed greens with mayonnaise-based dressing… I don’t need to go on, because my duty started right with the cow. My kitchen team, wise beyond their years (I can say that as I’m a solid decade older than most of them), assigned me to prep the tenderloin. Lovely. But, yes, that’s exactly what I needed.
It looked amazing. Sizzled as it seared in the cast iron skillet. The smell of the bordelaise was borderline intoxicating. It was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. And I ate it. Well, I ate half of it. But I didn’t dissect it, and I didn’t hate it. I could appreciate the fact that- for someone who likes cow- it was indeed just about perfect.
Do I love cows now? Not exactly. And I probably won’t order a piece of one next time I go out for dinner. But it’s one stiff-legged little step in the right direction.