Tuesday, November 8, 2011


"Mama. You talk a lot about cows."
 - Dash

I woke up at 2:30 a.m. in a sweaty panic, an unfamiliar weight on my chest, a heaviness of death around me. I had never met him, but his soft face was in my dreams. He had these uneven black and white splotches around large mournful eyes. I wrapped my arms around him like I would a sick child.

The next morning, I drove into San Francisco, sleep-deprived, under-caffeinated, stressed that I hadn't gotten everything in caregiver-order for my kids. Then some goddamn beautiful piece by Bach started playing on the radio and I started sobbing. For the cow.
It had already been a week filled with death and bones.

When is our dog dying?
Did Mozart die? 
Mama, I'm drawing a picture of the inside of you — your bones. 
I had a dream I was dying.

I arrived at 4505 Meats for a 9-hour cow butchering class. Five fellow students and I entered the restaurant kitchen and met the amazing Ryan Farr: butcher, teacher, owner of 4505 Meats, and author of the just-released Whole Beast Butchery.

And then we met our cow.

He was not the still-warm, shiny-eyed, pink-tongued cow of my dreams. This Angus-Hereford cross, after living the happy life for 2 years at Magruder Ranch in Potter Valley, California, had already been dead for a week. He was skinned, beheaded, and in four pieces. Not very huggable.

"Just cut." 
 - Butcher Ryan Farr

They hung him up one piece at a time. A hind quarter. A fore quarter. These lovely butchers don't use chainsaws. They use their hands, their intuition, their sharp knives, and multiple bone saws. I was very moved by the delicate balance between their quiet precision and brute strength.

"Eww. Mama! You smell like COW!"
- Dash and Bella

We circled the pieces of dripping carcass like humble vultures, tentatively prodding, smelling, manipulating, questioning. I steadied the swaying rib cage with my hand and dug in deep with my fingers.

I (unevenly) sawed the left front fore quarter, between the 4th and 5th ribs, until it split in half with a crack that  reverberated through my body and down into my heels. I tidied up one of the kidneys.  I struggled to separate some t-bone steaks as sweat poured down my back. I removed the skirt, the flank, and the flap from what looked like a cow suit jacket.
"How can I eat this? Not, how can I cut this?"
- Butcher Ryan Farr

I brought home 86 pounds of Cryovaced beef parts. One sixth of the cow.

If you come over to my house, I will geek out and offer you a tour of my freezer that's packed with beef grind, bones, chuck roast, flank, flap, heart, kidney, leg steaks, liver. marrow, porterhouse, rib eye bone in, round steaks, shanks, short/plate rib, sirloin roasts, skirt, t-bone, tenderloin, and tri tip. 

Round one: SHORT RIBS. 

We tossed our ribs into the slow cooker to bring out all kinds of tastiness. 

One piece of cow down. 

Nineteen more to go. 

And I just ordered a bone saw. Because I'm in training. 

According to Kent Schoberle of 4505 Meats: "The short ribs attach to the prime rib section, specifically the middle to upper section of the ribs closest to the rib eyes. The lower you get down the ribs, the closer you are to the plate meat. They work well slow-cooked because there are plenty of connective tissues and fibers that need long cooking times to coax out the flavor."

Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of canola or olive oil to a skillet and heat until smoking hot. Sear the heck out of all the sides. Remove meat from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat to medium and toss in 6 or so sliced shallots. Cook until translucent and soft. Turn heat down to low and add anywhere from 1-6 anchovy fillets and 4 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Stir for about a minute until garlic smells nutty and anchovies have melted a bit. Turn off heat.
Place meat in a slow cooker (or place meat in a large ovenproof pot with a lid and preheat oven to 225°F). Add anchovy/garlic/shallot mixture to the meat. Throw in a whole lemon. Pour in liquid to cover the meat (any combination of red wine, water, stock). Cover with a lid. Cook until the meat falls apart at the touch of a fork. Be patient. It can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Remove meat from the sauce. Use the back of a soup spoon to press down on the lemon and release the juices. Stir to combine. Let the sauce sit for 10 minutes. Then skim off the fat that has risen to the top of the sauce. Let sit for 10 more minutes and skim fat off again.

If you can track down some fresh cranberry beans, simmer them in some chicken stock with sliced garlic until tender (you could also use any already-cooked white beans from a jar or can). Use some of the short rib sauce as the base for couscous (1/2 chicken stock and 1/2 short rib sauce).  Combine the cooked beans with the remaining sauce. Serve the short ribs on couscous topped with cranberry beans and sauce. Garnish with lots of chopped parsley.
"When do you think we'll finish eating that cow? Because I want you to do a lamb." 
 - Bella 


  1. How awesome! And ever better that your daughter wants you to do a lamb. Isn't she vegitarian?

  2. Oh my god, Phyllis, so beautiful and muscular and elegiac. And writing-wise, I love how you worked in the kids with their quotes in a post about you on your own. And the photos? Seeing the parley fall from Bella's fingers? Stunning.

  3. I'm envious -and not so much because I want to butcher a cow. I'm envious because I want 86 pounds of cow in my freezer - cow that was raised and butchered with so much care. Searching my area for such a thing...very inspiring, thanks!

  4. jill: my bella has fallen for lamb. the vegetarian phase was short lived!

    jen: thank you! i do so love weaving all these stories together. but this one was hard. i could have gone is SO many directions. and yes. something about the parsley. bella loves sprinkling it in such a way that i can capture it. it took a few tries!

    katie: i hope you find a cow! where do you live? maybe i can help track one down for you. it's true that around here it's very easy to get a klick ass cow that's been responsibly raised/butchered.

  5. Annoying. Eat the cow, don't cry about it.

  6. Aw, I'm happy to hear more about that cow. I was the lucky recipient of several large packages of ground beef after the class and just made the best bolognese I've ever made from it. Thank you cow!

  7. Whoops, and thank you Michael Cecconi!

  8. anonymous #1: i'll get back to you later.

    anonymous #2: yes! so glad you got to experience the ground beef. i'm going to do a post about meatloaf meatballs with jalapeños. i've made them twice. the recipe is inspired by the meatballs the 4505 butchers served us the day we butchered the cow. michael cecconi is so awesome! it is a thing of beauty watching him in the kitchen with a knife. what a great day to share with him.

  9. How is this "annoying?" She's not crying about it, she's describing, with great intelligence and poetry, what it's like to butcher and eat a living thing.

    Knowing she was going to physically rip apart a cow, thoughts of death permeated her life from many angles. She celebrated the life cycle while also acknowledging that an animal died so that she could make something awesome and delicious out of it.

    You missed the point entirely.

    And now, I bid you good luck. And goodnight.

  10. I know it's easier to eat animals hidden behind plastic wrap, but that's just not going to cut it. We need to start owning up to the killing and the sweat that is required to get that much meat and food onto the tables of our children. I'm sick of people thinking all this comes for free. We should all spend that much time respecting the life of the cow and the labor of the men (and woman) who learn how to cut it so we can eat it.

    All of us eating $4 hamburgers in our car? That's what we should be crying about.

  11. came here via the link from Daily Candy and I am enthralled with your writing. It makes such a sharp, hard-edged subject a living, breathing thing. Thank you for this. I'll be coming back.

  12. Hello! Nowadays there are a lot of people who become vegetarians becuase they don't want to kill animal and eat them. On the other hands if there are will be so many animals on the Earth how are we going to live with them? One friend of my who works at the compare and contrast two movies essay example is vegetarian and it's very hard to talk with her about animals.

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