Pork and Plants Pork Chop

It’s no accident that I work in a butcher shop. I grew up in a family that loved to cook and eat delicious food—especially meat. My parents did a good job of playing the hits with the dinnertime favorites, and then mixing in some new dishes. Pork chops were in the rotation, but I have to admit that I never really looked forward to them.

Whether it was what we were buying, or how we were preparing it, or both, I don’t know. We would do the shake-and-bake and into-the-oven thing with them. The breading was never great, the meat was always dry, and frankly—there was always something sort of off-putting about the flavor of the fat.

After graduating college, I worked as a cheesemonger and went to grad school for creative writing. I wasn’t rolling in the dough so much as I was rolling the dough out myself and eating at home. I kept trying with the pork chops. I was highly motivated: pork chops were cheap, they were meat, and you could fry them—that was all stuff I liked. I must have tried dozens of times, and yet I never really fell in love with the results.

The crash course in meat that came with working at a butcher shop was transformative in this regard. I learned that although there are dozens of breeds of pig out there, only 3 are commonly found in most grocery stores. Those breeds are selected and bred based on how quickly they mature, how easy they are to raise, and how much they conform with the industry’s “other white meat” messaging. Flavor is not a primary factor, relative to the other economic incentives.

In many ways, the story of pork in the 20th century reflects many of the other trends that were happening contemporarily, mainly the big one: the relentless consolidation and accumulation of capital, at the expense of every other meaningful factor. For instance: flavor. For instance: the environment. For instance: animal welfare. Human health. The economic viability of small farms.

When I tell you that my first heritage breed pork chop changed my life, I am being as sincere as I know how to be. Everybody in the meat shop has heard me say this millions of times, but the fat tasted like buttered popcorn. The meat tasted more like steak than it did any pork chop I’d eaten before—rich, juicy, and satisfying. This. This was the pork chop that I didn’t know I’d been waiting for.

Eric at Pork and Plants raises his animals and grows his crops with great care. Nothing about what he does is profit-first. Instead, he aims to be as good a steward of his land and animals as he can, and trust that the money will come. The results bear out the process; this is incredible, qualitatively different meat. It’s why we’re so enthusiastic about it, and why we’re so desperate for you to try this pork.

For the chops, you don’t need to brine them or bread them or marinate them overnight. A little salt and pepper is just fine. Sear them off, about four minutes each side on the stove or the grill. Cook them indirect for another 4 minutes, either in the oven or on the cooler side of the grill, until an instant-read thermometer reads 130. Let them rest another 4 minutes before serving. You want that meat to be pink, and the fat to be soft, and you’ll want to at least take a bite of that fat. You might feel like your life has changed, too

The Denver Steak


Every week, our butchers break down 5 animals-- and that's about 95% of the meat that we sell out of our cases any given week, with some supplemental stock added in. That means that we often have greater breadth than depth. One hanger steak per animal means 1 steak a week, at best-- sometimes it hits the cutting room floor. So what do you do if you come into our shop looking for hanger (or flank, or bavette, etc...) and we don't have one? You join us on a voyage of discovery. Introducing: meat cut of the week, brought to you by your friendly neighborhood meat mongers. 


Denver Steak:

Also called the Zabuton or the Underblade, the Denver steak was "discovered" by meat scientists at the University of Denver as a part of an early 2000s study to identify more marketable meat cuts. When we first opened our shop we called the Denver the "Faux Hanger" in a nod to its eating characteristics.

The Denver sits in between the Chuck Eye and the Flat Iron. Move towards the neck of the animal and you have boneless short ribs; move towards the rear of the animal and you run into the Ribeye. It's not going to be the most tender steak you'll ever eat, but neither is Hanger, and this cut is priced accordingly. Maybe don't serve it to your in-laws, but if you cook the Denver to medium rare and cut it against the grain it's good eating. Salt and pepper is great; make a red wine pan sauce and you have a shockingly elegant meal. 

But if you're thinking about firing up the grill, maybe try this:

Marinated Denver Steaks for the Grill

--4 6oz Denver Steaks

--1.5 tsp salt

--3/4 tsp black pepper

--3 cloves garlic, minced

--1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce (might we suggest Col. Pabst?)

--1/4 cup olive oil

--juice of 1 lemon

Marinate the steaks in the above for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight. A ziploc with all the air squeezed out (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrZPLF0ezw8) is great, or tossing the steaks and marinade in a bowl works well too. 

Grill the steaks over high heat, until seared on all sides and the internal temperature is 120. Rest 5-10 minutes before serving and cut against the grain. MN Tri Tip, Flank, Sirloin, and many other steaks would all work equally well with this kind of treatment. And one of our friendly butchers can help you adapt this recipe to work with another cut. 

Back to School Stir Fry

Stir fries are a great choice for planners and improvisers alike. A couple pro tips:

--Maximize your flavor factor by sauteing the meat first, until it's nicely browned, and then removing it from the heat and reserving it until the end. Deglaze the pan at a medium high temperature with just a splash of water to pull the flavorful browned bits off the pan, then add some fat (peanut oil is delicious in a stir fry! corn oil or olive oil work well too) and reduce the heat to medium by medium low.

--Add your aromatics. Garlic and onion are a great way to start. If you're using ginger, mince it finely and add it just before you toss in the rest of your vegetables.

--Strategically add vegetables in order of how long it'll take to cook them. The thinner the veggies are, the faster they'll cook. Put your halved jalapenos and bell peppers in in before you add the bok choy or other greens. You can always slice your vegetables thinner to make them operate on your timeline.

--Put the reserved meat back into the pan and add any seasonings you desire. Remember to use at least a little salt; a few shakes of sesame oil makes for a transcendent touch and adds a nice satiny texture to the proceedings that somehow makes everything taste more savory. Many folks like adding some kind of hot sauce for spice, and a fish sauce or a soy sauce can up the umami factor. Taste the dish as you go and adjust accordingly. Understand that sometimes 4 or 5 flavors can make for a bolder and more interesting dish than 7 or 8.

--If you're using some kind of noodle you can throw it in around here (after you've cooked it, of course).

--Last touch: acid, brightness, and freshness. A few squeezes of lime juice or lemon, and some chopped cilantro or basil, can elevate the dish to another level. You don't want these elements to cook too much (though basil can benefit from being wilted just a touch). Some chopped green onion at the end is also nice. 

Serve with rice or the aforementioned noodles and you're in business-- all to the tune of about a half an hour of cooking and the cost of meat plus leftover vegetables. If you're not making one night of the week a stir-fry night, you gotta start. 

We can help set you up with meat that's going to work. Chicken wise, we love making our stir-fries with a mix of white and dark meat. The contrast is a winning one and the white meat on our chickens is exceptional-- it holds up orders of magnitude better to cooking like this than your average, industrially produced chicken breast. An enormous variety of beef options await you in our case, and we love using thin slices of pork sirloin in a dish like this. Depending on the direction you want to go in, sausage can be great too-- the Linguica, Andouille, Green Chorizo, and Italian would all shine cooked with some peppers and other vegetables. 

If you feel like attaining some extra credit, you can marinate or season your meat a couple hours (or a day or two) ahead of time. Salt and pepper are the building blocks for pre-seasoning but garlic, ginger, soy sauce, yogurt-- all these things can make an impact. 

And of course, you can always walk in and bounce a couple ideas around with the staff. We look forward to consulting on your next stir fry adventure soon.

Double Chop!

It’s no secret: the pork chops we carry, from Pork and Plants farm in Altura, MN, are ridiculously tasty. Did you know that you can get them double-cut, so that they’re twice as thick, with a maximal amount of juicy pink medium pork in the middle? If you’re feeling adventurous (or very, very hungry) you can even get them triple-cut, quadruple cut, quintuple cut—the possibilities are endless (or at least, they go up to 12 [with a little advance notice]). Think of it as an outstandingly porky alternative to prime rib. And if you were looking for a prime rub to go with it, you might try this brine, courtesy of our lead butcher Scott.

Scott’s Maple Majesty Double-Cut Pork Chop Brine

This brine is perfect for a double-cut, extra thick pork chop. Like most transcendent recipes, the secret is the simplicity—it’s what translates into boldness.

--1 qt water

--1/4 cup maple syrup

--1/8 cup salt

Heat the ingredients gently over the stove until the salt has fully dissolved. Let cool, and place over pork chops for 12-24 hours.

When it comes time to cook the pork chop, aim to eat it at an internal temperature of 140—so take it off the heat at 130. For an extra thick chop, plan on searing over the stove for about 4 minutes a side, at medium-high heat, and finishing in the oven for 6-8 minutes at 375. For bulletproof results, use an instant-read thermometer.

Eat Like a Meatmonger

Don't get it twisted: shopping at a whole animal butcher can be confusing. What on earth is this thing you're calling a bavette? Why is the nice person behind the counter telling me that a flank steak is interchangeable with a flat iron? If you're used to shopping with us you've probably absorbed some of our mongerly wisdom, but if you haven't, much, then this guide to buying meat like a meatmonger (complete with mongerly metaphors) is for you. 

1). Am I going for shock and awe, or am I inviting friends to participate in a favorite, low-key dish?

Some of the best meals to serve your friends are the ones you like to eat best! Flank steak and chimichurri sauce isn't going to win any blue ribbon awards for how tender it is but if everybody's comfortable chewing in each other's presence then it's an outstanding way to break the metaphorical bread.

Of course, there are times when it's necessary to summon up some wow factor with a bone-in ribeye or a two-bone pork chop.

2). Am I cooking, or am I baking?

This is a metaphor for cooking mindfulness. Baking requires precision, while most cooking benefits immeasurably from a little spontaneity. If I'm making a milestone birthday dinner and there's been a specific request, then I'm going to get the bone in ribeye or the filet mignon that I need, even if it means a second stop; if I'm having friends over then I'll invite the nice person behind the counter into my thought process and see if they have anything that suits my needs.

3). I'll ask: what's delicious right now? 

Our shop has many new products in for summer. And what's in our case always rotates. When I'm shopping for meat around town I'll always ask for a recommendation, but not before I share a little bit about what my tastes are, and the outlines of my plan, if I have one. And I won't always be able to accept a recommendation, but I will always say thanks for the suggestion and the service. 

4). I won't leave the shop unless I'm confident in how I'm going to cook something, and if I'm feeling some hesitation I'll ask the monger for some internet search terms or a written recipe.

The google machine, despite its many wonders, can only go so far if you don't know what you're looking for. If I'm excited about what I'm taking home but it's unfamiliar to me, I'm going to ask for internet search terms, as well as for how the monger likes to prepare this item. Often, at our shop, we'll quickly write out a recipe for our customers. The last thing we want is for somebody's metaphorical ice cream scoop to fall out of their metaphorical cone. It would be a violation of our mongerly duties.

A mongerly mind meld is one of the great advantages of shopping at a whole animal butcher. We know that a guest in our shop is faced with a wide variety of unfamiliar but alluring cuts, and sharing the knowledge (in a non-condescending way) is an occupational joy! There is a time-honored tradition of highly accomplished cooks walking out of butcher shops with new ideas and recipes-- we invite you to join in.

Hot Dish Confessional

We talk about food all the time in our shops - almost every conversation we have is about a special meal we cooked last night, or some killer cafe that opened up in our neighborhood, or how to get the most mileage out of an Instant Pot.  And often in our conversations, we focus on what’s new, what’s cool, and what’s best.  Of course, food is what we do!  And we’ve built an environment that envelopes us with artisan cheese, and Iberian ham, and steaks that weigh more than frying pans.  But when we all sat down last week to talk about great applications for ground beef, it wasn’t about the fancy stuff: the unanimous cry was for tater tot hot dish.


Well, if we’re being honest here, it wasn’t really unanimous.  One among us kept silent.  Alright, it was totally me.  In my defense, my family is not Minnesotan, and even after years in the upper Midwest, there are still some foods that I’ve never been exposed to, and never really felt the need to experiment with at home (much to my colleagues’ bewilderment).  Tater tot hot dish is one of those meals that many Minnesotans grow up with: it’s served at family reunions, in church basements, after football games, and at Grandma’s house.  And so, in an effort of self-betterment and education, and to truly embrace this place I now call home, I decided to tackle it.


As was immediately apparent, tater tot hot dish elicits some strong feelings.  In a very serious and scientific polling of my coworkers and friends, one of the first pieces of advice given to me was to, “be careful!”  Every family has their own version of tater tot hot dish, and since everyone’s mother is the best cook, boundless variations exist and traditions are often held to.  Speaking as an outsider here, I feel I have to tread lightly, but I am also absolutely delighted by this.  I love when people feel strongly about their food!  And tater tot hot dish has some seriously comforting components:

 - tater tots (arguably the best form potatoes can take)

 - cheese (probably not stilton, but who am I to say?)

 - cream of mushroom (or chicken, or celery, or whatever!) soup

 - ground beef

 peas, corn, carrots, and green beans are also recurring supporting stars.  


In my exhaustive research, I’ve found some really neat variations, like a one senator’s bear meat(?!) hot dish, a spicy vegan version from Molly Yeh, and an intellectual’s approach at Serious Eats.  I’ve heard variations from friends that include adding hash browns to the mix, to wild rice, to substituting cream soup with cream cheese (whaaat?) as well as a killer suggestion from a colleague at the St Paul Cheese Shop to add sautéed shredded cabbage to soak up all the good stuff.  I’ve distilled what I believe is a basic formula that can be tinkered with to suit your hot dish needs.


Start with ground beef.  We grind our own beef, from local farms and happy animals, with an 80-20 ratio and full flavor.  (This is where I let you know that it’s on sale this month, for $5/lb, which is a truly excellent deal).  One pound of ground beef is enough to make a casserole hot dish that will feed at least four people, and maybe six, if you’re serving salad on the side?  Is that against the rules?  

Also, you’ll need some tater tots.  For every pound of ground beef, or a two-quart dish’s worth of finished goodness, take another pound of tots.  We make our own, fried in tallow, at the shop, and I am convinced that they are actually the best tater tots you might ever put in your home oven.  Another take?  Sweet potato tots!

For every pound of beef and tots, use about 10 oz of cream of -something- soup.  If you want to avoid the canned soup, many, many recipes abound, like the one above from Serious Eats, where you make your own using béchamel sauce.

And then? It’s totally up to you. I have a deep and abiding fondness for putting peas in just about everything, but add cabbage!  Corn!  Green beans! Mushrooms, taco seasoning, beets, sriracha, it’s your call to nourish whatever craving you’ve got right now.  The world is your oyster - or, hot dish.  Sprinkle some cheese on top for good measure or, don’t?  (If I were to really push some buttons, I think crumbled sour cream-flavored potato chips would fill the gaps between the tater tots very nicely, but I’m no expert!)

The real magic happens in the oven.  Give it at the very least 30 minutes around 400F, but I think for the best alchemy between creamy filling and crunchy tots, be patient, increase the heat, and give it an additional 15 minutes at 450F .


As for my own hot dish, I didn’t make it fancy, and I didn’t even make my own cream sauce.  I used a can, and frozen peas, and very, very basic orange cheese.  And spoiler alert: it was awesome.

On top of Spaghetti, all covered with meatballs.

Is it really just because of the Lady and the Tramp that spaghetti and meatballs has become this iconic romantic dinner? Or is it because there’s something about silky tomato sauce, satisfying beefy meatballs, and perfectly al dente noodles that just puts the Rome in romance? We don’t know. Ladies and Tramps of the court, we’re only a caveman. But there is one thing we do know: whether you need Valentine’s Day programming or counter-programming, there are really very few dishes as timelessly delicious as spaghetti and meatballs. Our ground beef is on special this month, and our humble meat counter has many of the ideal provisions: noodles, tomatoes, tomato sauce, pancetta, and more.

The Best of the Rest (Chicken!)

Probably a zillion dollars have been made off of chicken soup proper—and that’s before we even start talking about the concept of chicken soup or the concept of the concept of chicken soup. Look: you’re tired of hearing us talking about chicken. But we would be remiss in our mongerly duties if we ended cheap chicken month without a discussion of chicken stock, chicken broth, and bone broth. The meat counter has options. Let’s talk about ‘em.

--Our Stock: We make our own chicken stock, just the way you would make it at home (if you had tons and tons of chicken parts and time to spare). It has a legion of regular customers. It is simmered for double-digit hours and has no salt added. Just roasted bones, mirepoix, and love. It qualifies for “bone broth” status and is ready to be the base in the soup of your dreams, or seasoned simply and drunk out of a mug.

--Make Your Own: With a little notice (3-5 days is enough) we are happy to set aside chicken bones for you and send you out the door with detailed, easy instructions to make incredible stock. Alternatively, you can roast a whole chicken, or buy a chicken cut-up, and keep the bones for a later stock-making project.

Bottom line: this is a stock rally that all of us can take credit for.