Rich Swanson has been a butcher for Safeway for over 25 years, in addition to being an avid fisherman and hunter; he is a master of the barbecue and smoker.
By Laura Swanson
We have been lucky to always have a good – okay, a really good – selection of meat, fish and seafood, since my husband is a butcher (and we are all into fishing and hunting). My years as Manzanita Farmers Market manager also provided access to great local beef, chicken, pork and lamb. We also know when there are meat bargains – and yes, there is a seasonality to meat, fish and seafood, and we are also experienced with preparing it in a variety of ways. Besides all the money we save by cooking our own meals, it’s also one of the highlights for our family to host friends for gatherings on a regular basis.
Nowadays, it’s a documented fact that cooking is something that not everyone is good at, enjoys or even knows how to do. And investing in a roast or seafood and being unsure how to cook it … can be downright intimidating. We are always finding new cuts of meat, ways of cooking, spices, rubs and marinades that we experiment with, too. At the Swanson house, we approach each meal with no fear, and we are always planning the next meal. Like I said – we are lucky – and here we’ll share some “secrets” about selecting and cooking meat and seafood.
1. Ask the butcher – if you aren’t sure about the cut, what you need or even what to do with particular meats – ask.
“We have recipes, rubs, spices and can help you pick out the best option for the meal you want to cook,” Rich said. “And, we do know how to cook.”
2. Most of our go-to recipes are easy. Really.
“The biggest mistake people make is overcooking,” Rich said, “And that goes for meat and seafood.”
We mentioned that we do a little fishing (a lot of fishing), so we are blessed with a bounty of salmon, bottom fish and more. A foolproof recipe for cooking any fish fillet (salmon, cod, halibut): Preheat oven to 350 degrees 1-2 tablespoons olive oil (or butter) on bottom of pan, drizzle 1-2 tablespoons over top of fish and season with your favorite seafood/fish spice. We use lemon pepper on most fish or other “seafood” spice mixtures, such as Old Bay. Bake for 20 minutes, it will be done to perfection.
3. Spices – be bold, be brave and try some different spices and blends. We are a garlic loving family, and I make our own flavored olive oil with dried peppers. Again, ask the meat department about spices. You might not want to buy a big container, but they will give you samples to try. Our latest favorite is a cilantro lime – yum! Another staple spice mix in our house is “Sea Sprinkles” which comes from local herbalist Vivi Tallman of Tallwoman Tonics. We purchase it in bulk, and use it on literally everything (accept beef), including vegetables, too. As it says on the bottle, “A Nehalem Valley adaption of gomasio, a traditional Japanese condiment … toasted sesame seeds, nori, dulse, kelp, nettles, oregano and rosemary.”
4. Cooking methods – we use them all – baking, broiling, slow cooker, barbecue, open fire and frying! Our latest favorite is our 10-inch cast iron skillet. Here is one of those secrets – pan-searing. Hot and fast is the key. For steaks and even small roasts, on medium high, a couple tablespoons of olive oil about five minutes per side, then finish in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes for steak (longer 30 to 45 minutes for a small roast.) So easy, and with a well-seasoned cast iron pan (well worth the investment) clean up is easy, too. We mentioned overcooking, and over the years there’s been a lot of controversy about internal temperature of the meat. And yes, we do use a meat thermometer. The USDA recommends that doneness is gauged by temperature for poultry: 165; beef, pork, lamb: 145; fish/shellfish: 145; ground meats: 160. For those of us who really like good rare prime rib or tuna steaks, 145 is high. This is where the experience part comes in and a trick or two. When in doubt, rely on the thermometer, but know that this is for medium to medium well done meat.
5. The “wiggle test” and the juices – for red meat, poke with a fork does it still wiggle? Are the meat juices running clear? We prefer our meat medium rare, so a little wiggle and clear juices – it’s done at our house. Same test for pork as well. For poultry, it’s pull-a-leg. When cooking a whole chicken, when the leg pulls away and the meat falls off the bone. Then, an important tip here – let the meat rest. Cover it and give it at least five minutes.
6. Back to pan-searing – this is another great way to cook fish and seafood, especially scallops. Watch for specials when the large sea scallops are on sale, stock up (which is actually what we do when various cuts of meat are on sale – buy extra and freeze). Back to cooking the scallops … Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (I use our flavored hot oil or garlic oil) on medium high. Be sure scallops are thawed and dried. This is important for the caramelization. Season with sea sprinkles or lemon pepper. Cook about 8 to 10 minutes per side until the scallops develop a deep caramel color.
There are a lot more helpful tips that we can provide, which leads us back to No. 1 – ask. Just ask about specials, recipes and unfamiliar cuts of meat and seafood.
“Cooking and family meal times are highlights of the day at our house,” Rich said.
It isn’t a chore (most of the time) and with a little preparation – having the right tools and ingredients – breakfast, lunch and dinner, can include healthy, affordable, delicious meats and seafood.