Autumn potlucks tend to have a carnivorous flavor, which is understandable. The salad days of summer are gone—and even if they weren’t, lettuce alone wouldn’t get you through the winter. Now is the time to pack on some R-value—the construction industry’s unit for insulating capacity.
It just so happens that fat tastes good with meat, which is convenient this time of year because autumn is the time of the slaughter and the hunt. Some animals, like cows and sheep and pigs, have fat built into their flesh. Others, like wild game, are often “larded” before cooking, with butter, oil, or the fat of one of the aforementioned fattier-fleshed beasts. Now is the time to eat that meat, chew the fat, and wash it down with a hearty red wine.
Unless, it turns out, you’re in Hawaii like me, and you’re staying on a lettuce farm.
“We don’t eat a lot of meat out here,” says my friend Ken, co-owner of Kealaola Farm. Kealaola means “path of life” in Hawaiian. When Ken says “out here,” it rolls off his tongue like “out West” would roll off mine if I spoke of home. But of course his “out here” is the middle of the Pacific Ocean, farther from any continent than any island group in the world.
“A lot of the food we eat is raw,” he adds, which makes me think of all that fawn sushi I’ve been slurping down at the butcher block lately. But no, he’s talking about fresh fruit, coconut water, avocado on the half-shell. And, of course, he’s talking salad.
Ken leans in conspiratorially. “Also, we get a lot more of our energy directly from the sun.”
In exchange for living in the middle of a beautiful farm overlooking the middle of the ocean, several interns work at Kealola four hours a day. Thus they exist for months and even years, like so many blissful leaves of grass, working enough to live another day in paradise.
At the end of each week, the farmers, their families and their interns gather together for a Friday night feast. Fresh off the plane and fully jetlagged, I thawed a chunk of elk that I’d brought from the mainland, frozen in its own blood.
I opened the package and poured the blood into a pan of hot oil. I sprinkled salt and pepper and fried the blood until it was puffy, and put the fried blood into a little dish next to some olives, cheese, and sliced baguette that somebody had brought.
Then I rubbed the meat in olive oil, sprinkled salt and pepper, and fried it in the pan, cutting it down to bite-sized chunks as it fried. A simple and delicious way to prepare the meat, it would have served as a fine appetizer for a small gathering in Montana—mere finger food before the real chunks of meat come off the grill. But at Kealola, it takes on the role of main dish.
The sunlightarians and I gathered around the table and did a “food tour,” each cook explaining what he or she had brought. The tour included a sunny paste of sun-dried tomato and sunflower seeds, another paste of sunflower seeds and avocado, some cold noodle dishes, salsa chips and guacamole, a salad of baby romaine, and my fried blood and meat.
For a moment I feared the sight of blood would offend these photon-vores, but no. Although it was more (dead) flesh than they were used to seeing, my hosts intuitively grasped the connection I had to my home ground, via my meat. They were like, “Wow, this guy is really into meat. He’s a hunter. I’m eating a piece of his elk; tasty! Is there any more salad dressing?”
Kealaola Farm grows a dozen varieties of lettuce, including large heads, baby heads, and lettuce mix. Everyone’s favorite seems to be the baby romaine. Elsewhere on the farm there are stands of coffee and banana. Fruit grows everywhere. When it falls from the trees, neighbors sound the alarm; I just gleaned about 50 lbs of extra-creamy avocados. On the advice of the avocado tree’s owner I blended an avocado with orange juice. It had the unlikely balance of a fight between a mongoose and a cobra, two very different flavors chasing each other around my mouth. Later, I made the mistake of adding the leftovers of this smoothie to my fried banana coconut curry. Not so good.
We’ll just have to wait and see if over the course of the next month I can make the nutritional switch from meat to sun-powered waves in the electromagnetic spectrum. But really, it’s all just a matter of degree. Whether I harvest the sun directly, eat a plant that harvested the sun directly, eat an animal that ate the plant, or an animal that ate that animal, it’s all coming from the sun. Given that fundamental reality, it would arguably make sense to shortcut this process and go straight to the source. Especially here, in the middle of the ocean, where there is no winter.
Ask Ari: No need to fuss about thawing meat
Q: Dear Flash,
I’ve heard that it’s best to thaw frozen meat slowly, like overnight. Is this true? And if so, why?
A: Dear Frozen,
I’ve heard that too, and I think it’s a good idea. Unfortunately this would require more foresight than I have on most days. I did do some digging in order to answer your question, wondering if I might learn something that might make me change my ways.
There is a reason, safety-wise, for thawing meat in the refrigerator, as opposed to a warmer environment. When thawed in the fridge, the meat can’t possibly warm up to temperatures at which bacterial growth or other forms of spoilage might occur.
Though interesting, this rationale doesn’t make me reconsider doing what I do, which is drop a packet of frozen meat into a vessel of hot tap water, in which it quickly thaws. Sometimes the surface of the meat gets slightly cooked and discolored, but as soon as you cook the meat that discoloration gets covered by some real browning, so that’s not a problem. And I don’t let it sit around long enough to spoil.
And sometimes I’ll just toss a completely or partially frozen hunk of meat on the pan or grill, and start cooking it. The outside tends to get a bit crispy by the time the inside gets to your desired done-ness, but I’ve never heard anybody complain about meat that was crispy on the outside and, say, medium-rare on the inside. Have you?
Whatever you do, don’t use a microwave. They have a way of cooking the meat you’re trying to defrost from the inside out. And who the heck wants a piece of meat that’s nuked on the inside and raw on the outside?
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