Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mystery Meat

Here I am in Whitehorse, where's it's been close to -30C for the entire duration of our trip and after the excitement of Solstice & Christmas had waned, I needed a little challenge.

Enter: The Freezer. It sits in my mom's basement, innocent enough on the outside - your standard medium-sized white chest freezer - but on the inside: CHAOS!!! I'd already managed to use an unlabeled container of vaguely fruit-like stuff in the dessert for our Solstice dinner (it turned out to be all the fruit ingredients for Summer Pudding), and a bag of ground meat helpfully labeled "04" was turned into quite delcious mooseburgers by my mom, but the best freezer discovery was a punctured zip-loc bag containing a lump of probably game meat that had been labeled with a pen obviously assumed to be permanent, which equally obviously wasn't. So we had no idea what it was.

Closer inspection revealed the presence of a freezer-burnt but thick layer of fat, and significant amounts of connective tissue, so I figured whatever it was, it would probably fare best in the slow cooker. I stuck it in the coldroom to thaw and forgot about it for a day or so.

When I remembered it, I hauled it out and inspected it carefully. It was definitely a braising roast, not too badly freezer burnt, and a quick sniff rendered a verdict of "moose" - but not the one that Stirling and Anna got a few years ago, so its age was indeterminate. Lacking any further inspiration, I got a new zip-loc baggie, dumped in the mystery meat, a half bottle of red wine, some fortuitous fresh thyme from the fridge, and a few peeled and smushed cloves of garlic. Then I shoved it back into the coldroom for another 24 hours. More, actually, since I completely forgot about it until after 2 pm the next day, at which point it had missed the slow-cooker window for dinner that night. I threw it in anyway, added some onions, bay leaves salt and pepper, and then turned off the slow cooker when I went to bed that night and threw the crock back in the coldroom.

That coldroom is so damned handy. Wherever we move next, I want one.

This afternoon I hauled the alternately abused and neglected hunk of mystery meat out of the crock and cubed it. I diced up some carrots, celery and pepper (having used all the onions previously in the dish) and sauteed them in leftover fat from my sister's homemade bacon. I stirred in some flour and added the resulting mess to the liquid left in the crock. Then I dumped the meat back in, turned it on, and left it for another couple of hours.

And, believe it or not, it was FANTASTIC stew. Tender, juicy bits of meat, flavourful broth, and vegetables cooked perfectly. Stirling pointed out it could have used some mushrooms, and he was right, that would have been awesome - but I wasn't going out to get them. Still, it was really good.

I do have to give some credit to Alton Brown who, at some point in the last 10 years, had a show on making goulash where he mentioned that with really tough bits of meat, it's best to slow-cook them one day and warm and serve them the next. There was some science mumbo-jumbo involved, but I forget that part. Anyway, he was right.

So - next time you find some unidentified mystery meat in your freezer, give it a chance in the slow-cooker. You may be pleasantly surprised. Also, pay no attention when you hear things like "meat will keep nine months in a deep freeze." PAH. Meat keeps forever in a deep freeze - you just need to get more creative with it after a certain point.


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