Food writer Lynne Curry rejected red meat until well into adulthood. Then she moved to Oregon cattle country.
The author of “Pure Beef” emceed the Pure Beef Tasting Tour yesterday at the Wildhorse Resort & Casino as artisan cattle growers and chefs converged to showcase their savory offerings. With a look of bliss, Curry circulated among the rib eyes, flat iron steaks and strip loins simmering over low flame.
This is one former vegetarian who knows her beef.
It wasn’t always this way for the native New Englander. She remembers banishing red meat from her diet as a teen in Boston, telling her parents she just didn’t like the taste.
Still a vegetarian, Curry graduated from a Seattle-area culinary school and worked years ago as a chef at the Willows Inn, a San Juan Islands restaurant that recently received a rave New York Times review. She reveled in Seattle’s foodie culture and the abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. For her, it was all about eating locally and seasonally.
The notion of “local” and “seasonal” changed drastically when she moved to Joseph in 2001 with her husband Benjamin, who had grown up on a Wallowa Valley wheat farm. Suddenly, Curry had no access to the whole food stores and fish markets of Seattle. Instead, people hunted game and raised cattle. They canned tomatoes and had root cellars, larders and vast gardens.
The turning point as far as red meat came during a backcountry skiing trip with friends.
“There was elk chili for dinner,” she said. “I was hungry – I had elk.”
She liked it and things just devolved from there.
“Elk was my gateway to beef,” Curry said, only half in jest.
She gave in to the idea of eating beef. After all, she was surrounded by cattle. Cows in the Wallowa Valley, she said, outnumber people three to one.
Curry began reading recipes and experimenting with beef. She researched assorted cuts, cooking methods, breeds and cattle production methods. Her book, “Pure Beef: An essential Guide to Artisan Meat with Recipes for Every Cut,” came out in May. The cookbook contains 140 recipes from beef bourguignon to Jamaican jerked tri-tip and Joe’s special.
At the taste tour yesterday, Curry conducted a side-by-side tasting of grass-fed versus traditional feedlot beef, did commentary at the various sample stations and networked with chefs, cattle ranchers and attendees. During free moments, the left-hander autographed copies of her book.
Curry said she favors chuck steak or other cuts from the shoulder section, such as flat iron steaks. Cooking style depends on the cut, she said.
She urged cooks to be bold, searing for 10 minutes on each side for a pot roast.
“Some people are afraid of high heat,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to turn that burner up – that’s the best way to get a good sear.”
But, depending on the cut, sometimes it’s better to take your time.
“When in doubt, go low and slow,” she said.
The guest chefs at the taste tour, each paired with a rancher, had their own take on getting the best from beef. They shared their philosophies as they carved samples.
Michael Riley, an executive corporate chef cooking All Natural Bison Products beef, said overcooking and under-seasoning is a common mistake. Letting meat rest for a while before serving makes for more savory beef, he said.
“The juice goes back into the meat,” he said. “It’s kind of like osmosis.”
Curry also shared some of her thoughts on cattle management practices. She knows cattle get a bad rap from some environmentalists as they roam the grasslands, but she believes cattle can be part of a healthy landscape.
“People are starting to talk about, research and practice cattle management methods that actually restore landscapes,” she said. “It turns that whole idea of cattle degrading the landscape and flips it around. The whole idea that eating meat is like driving a Hummer – that is dependent on the production method.”
However it gets to the plate, she said, it’s delicious. The former vegetarian isn’t apologetic about her conversion.
“It was an evolution,” she said.
Contact Kathy Aney at email@example.com or 541-966-0810.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.