For the Love of Food: Going back to the old European ways

In terms of new trends and what chefs are doing, many are going back to the old way of thinking.

In terms of new trends and what chefs are doing, many are going back to the old way of thinking: what our ancestors and even early explorers did to survive, eating from nose to tail and using up the entire animal.

The majority of the meat we consume are the tenderloins, the racks and the chops. When looking at an animal, this is a small percentage of the animal. These are considered prime cuts; once very expensive and special, they are now very cheap, thanks to industrialized farming. They are also easy to cook and readily available at supermarkets and butcher shops. Today meat is cheaper than it has been at any time in the past. We spend less of our income  on meat than our grandparents, and we spend less time sourcing, cooking and eating it.

Past generations took time to cook different cuts of meat and hardly wasted anything. Nowadays there is a lot more wasted food than in earlier generations, with the idea that offal is a poor man’s food and not very appetizing.

Many chefs are going back to comfort food or food that peasants used to eat, from lamb shanks and bone marrow to pork belly and even veal cheeks and tongue — all considered offal.

I think the beauty of these items is that although they take time to prepare and to cook, when they are finished the result is amazing. The flavour that can develop is worth the wait.

I remember from culinary school how many of the chefs were of the old European ways and consumed everything. One of my chefs mentioned everything was eaten from the brain to organs when he was growing up during the war. Fat meant you were going to survive the winter.

One of my favourite comfort dishes for the winter is lamb shank. Serving it with whipped potatoes and reducing the braising liquid to create the sauce is so satisfying. Waiting and looking forward to that first bite is worth the wait.

Lamb Shank

Ingredients

2  lamb shanks

1 carrot

1 onion

2 sprigs of rosemary

3 cloves of garlic

2 medium tomatoes (vine ripened)

2 cups dry red wine

1 cup of orange juice

Instructions

Sear shanks in hot pan. Brown shanks on all sides for about 10 minutes. Transfer to dutch oven. Add medium-diced carrot, onion. Add rosemary, garlic,1/4 of the tomatoes. Add wine, orange juice and add enough water to barely cover the shanks. Braise for three to four hours at 300 degrees Celcius or until meat is tender. Take shanks out carefully and skim any fat off the surface. Take out rosemary and puree mixture. Reduce liquid until thickened. Serve with whipped potatoes and garnish with chopped parsley and lemon zest.

Marc LeBlanc is the Executive Chef and a co-owner of Birchwood Restaurant in Invermere. He can be reached at birchwoodinv@gmail.com.