Voraciously collecting books may be one of the only healthy obsessions that chefs and butchers usually have - and it certainly is an obsession. If you were to enter the home of the average chef, you’d probably be greeted by piles of cookbooks covering a wide range of topics - me personally, I have three entire shelves dedicated just to meat. It all starts to get a bit crazy, as my wife readily reminds me. The common thread running through all of these collections, though, are a few classic books that just about everyone has. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, and for the really clued in enthusiast Modernist Cuisine, in all it’s 50 pound glory, all seem to show up invariably. And just as invariably you can add to that list Hugh’s excellent treatise on the joy and importance of properly raised, properly butchered meat.
The second section of the book is all about cooking meat. As is the River Cottage way, this is so much more than a mere collection of recipes. Hugh’s philosophy of respecting the animals that are raised for our consumption extends to how he prepares his meat as well. As I’ve said before there is so much more to an animal than just the prime cuts. To truly respect and honor the life of the beast that had to die so that we may eat, we need to utilize every part of it to the fullest. This includes not just eating offal (which no one, with the possible exception of Fergus Henderson, prepares with more love an attention than Hugh), but also elevating less desirable cuts to the highest possible level. Sure, a well aged Porterhouse steak is excellent, but so too is a slow cooked boneless beef neck, or shank - and they’re much more economical to boot.
My copy of the River Cottage Meat book is beat to hell, which really is the highest possible praise you can give to a book like this. The edges are worn from cumulative years spent in a backpack traveling with me, dog-eared pages mark particularly inspiring passages, and grease stains speak to it’s usefulness as a cooking reference. From the moral implications of well-raised meat, to a 20+ page long discourse on the perfect roast, the book covers the breadth of the meat world. I consider this book to be essential reading for anyone who wants to give any serious thought to their meat, the farmers who grow it, and the butchers who process it. I can't promise that this book won't completely change your life, it certainly changed mine.