On Friday, as the butcher helped us load some 800 lbs. of meat from a steer we never formally named – the beast went only by “#1” in reference to an ear tag received at birth – he pulled out a package of the inch-thick ribeyes, vacuum-packed, each the size of a Danielle Steel novel and offered effusive praise about the quality of the marbling in the steaks.
“I been here 8 years and ain’t never seen nothin’ like this before,” he said, holding the package up to the setting sun, arm outstretched, studying it like an archeologist on a dig does the shards of a newly-unearthed clay pot.
It was the first time I remember ever blushing in response to something uttered by a butcher. As a rule they are not the sort of people that deal in gratuitous compliments. This was no timeshare hawk, or life insurance salesman, or game show host. This was a man with fresh blood on his apron, a man that had just wrestled 8 hours’ worth of beef carcass, a man that habitually wields a knife longer than your average selfie stick. Any compliment from any butcher in any circumstance is worthy of framing and prime placement up on the mantel. It’s a trophy to be honored, especially when delivered in dramatic triple-negative syntax.
For supper the following night I rewarded the team for a job well done. I dusted several hunks of the best meat with salt and pepper, pan seared for a few minutes a side to medium rare and then sliced thin. I gave a piece to each of the kids, warning them to chew slowly, that hot off the cookpan the steak would taste more like candy than meat. Whatever I said resonated because they savored the slices of searing-hot protein as if they were truffles from the choicest of Swiss chocolatiers.
We tossed the rest with salad greens, feta, and a light coating of balsamic dressing. The result was something I’d gladly put up against any other 10-minute-prep dinner in the world.
Corporate responsibilities habitually take me to some of Americas’s so-called finest meat emporiums in all the big, faraway cities. I always go with a bit of trepidation: what if the meat really is all it’s cracked up to be? I worry. What if I like it more than ours?
But a bite or two into the meal I’m always pleasantly relieved. I take joy in the disappointment. It just means we are doing something right at home. There is never any comparison. The only shame is that only a relatively small percentage of those 800 lbs. can be ribeye or filet or flat iron steaks.
I ate a lot of salad very slowly that night, even as the kids got started on kitchen cleanup. The air was heavy and fragrant, misty with the first batch of maple syrup finishing on the stovetop and Prairie Home Companion streamed through the speakers. I told the kids I wasn’t sure what sounded sweeter, Garrison Keillor’s distinctive, mellow baritone or the swish-clang sound of them washing the dishes.