Don’t be surprised if you find yourself laughing out loud when reading Tom Mylan’s gorgeous and wacky tribute to meat, The Meat Hook Meat Book.
One part butchery lesson, one part cookbook, one part sheer hilarity, Mylan admits he wanted his book to be more than your typical recipe-filled cookbook. He wanted it to tell the story of the Brooklyn-based butcher shop he helped open in 2009.
“[The book] ended up being much different than I originally thought it was going to be, but I’m really proud of it. I think it’s a really weird, awesome book. I’m not just saying that because I wrote it — writing it is just 25 per cent of the work. Shooting, designing, and editing it is really [the bulk of it],” Mylan explained to Cityline.ca in a recent phone interview. “I was inspired by great cookbooks like the Au Pied De Cochon cookbook, from the great restaurant in Montreal. They designed it themselves, because they couldn’t get a book deal. Cookbooks that are zany … do they work less like a cookbook? Yeah they do, and that can be good or bad, but I think good, because they’re visually stimulating and they give you a sense of what it’s like to actually be [at the store or restaurant] and what the energy is like. I think it’s important to communicate that enthusiasm.”
Mylan and two other butchers — Brent Young and Ben Turley — opened The Meat Hook after seeing increased consumer interest in where their meat was coming from. The three had previously worked together at Marlow & Daughters, another locally-sourced butcher shop in New York City, and decided there was enough demand to justify striking out on their own. The Meat Hook has quickly become a Brooklyn institution.
When asked to describe the shop, Mylan says, “I think what makes it so exciting is that it’s not like your typical job where you’re doing the same thing every day. You never really know what you’re going to end up doing that day … what thing needs to be handled or what project somebody’s going to give you, like ‘Figure out something to do with all these pig heads!'”
Along with the history of the shop, The Meat Hook Meat Book contains lessons on: butchering your own meat, making sausage, recognizing the various cuts, and how to expand your cooking repertoire to include some of the lesser-known — but often tastier and cheaper — cuts.
“A great place to start is with the beef off cuts. Beef tongue steaks are these delicious, tiny little steaks,” he says. “The thing about tongue is that it’s really well marbled — people pay hundreds of dollars for Wagyu or Kobe beef because it’s well marbled. Tongue is like that, but it only costs you a few dollars a pound, if you can find it. It’s got a lot of fat, it’s great to grill. It just tastes like a delicious steak.”
Not into beef tongue? How about beef heart? Mylan can’t recommend it highly enough: “[The beef heart’s] not quite as easy — you have to trim the sinew off and marinate it for 24 hours. Once you’ve grilled it, it’s one of the best steaks you’ll ever have. It’s like steak, but the flavour is a lot more profound because it’s a much different type of muscle.”
There are recipes for both in the book, along with dozens more, including Dinosaur Ribs, Garlic Sausage (as well as a sausage-making lesson), and something called ‘The Man Steak.’ (A 3-5 pound pinbone sirloin, if you’re curious.)
The butcher notes that his own approach to cooking meat has evolved over the years.
“If you had asked me ten years ago how I wanted my steak done, I’d say totally rare,” he says. “Now, I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation into what actually has better flavour. Certain types of steak are better at different temperatures. A rib-eye is actually better, to me, when it’s cooked medium. Most people who are foodies would be like, ‘Oh my God, you’re murdering it.’ But a rib-eye, especially a grass-fed rib-eye … if you get one of those and it’s rare, it’s really hard to eat because the connective tissue hasn’t had a chance to firm up. It’s a bad eating experience. If the fat doesn’t get a chance to render, you can’t eat it.”
Mylan hopes that the book, and lessons contained within, will help people to challenge their own perceptions of what to cook and how to cook it.
“There are different boneless steaks that are exploding out of everywhere. The blade steak, the flat iron, that stuff is actually better rare. If they’re lean and relatively thin, they’re better rare,” he notes. “That’s part of the point of the book is to get you to think, ‘Steak isn’t just steak.’ Every cut has a different methodology and way that you want to approach it as far as cooking it to its best. That’s part of the revelation of learning to think like a butcher.”
The Meat Hook Meat Book is now available in stores and online.
Photograph by Michael Harlan Turkell
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