Customer Reviews: The River Cottage Meat Book
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I've had my eye on this book for a couple of years, but acquiring it meant getting it from the UK. Finally, it's available in an American edition -- complete with American measurements. Most of the text is the same as in the UK (so he's referring to British resources, not the least of which is the availability of grouse and venison) but an afterward adds details for us Yanks.

This is, without a doubt, among the most authoritative cookbooks I have encountered. It's less a collection of recipes than it is the "theory and philosophy of meat," except that description sounds dreadfully dull. And Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is never, never dull. His text is engaging and entertaining as well as educational. He teaches you how to _think_ about cooking meat successfully -- the steps and the scientific reasons behind them -- so that you can cook well without recipes.

Roasting, for example, is a three step process: the half hour sizzle at high heat, the cooking (at 325-350), and the time in which you let the meat rest. This is not a 3-page vague arm wave. It's 19 pages plus pictures, and not a word is pedantic.

The first section of the book -- 200 pages -- is called "Understanding Meat," and it begins with a remarkably thoughtful philosophical examination of the ethics of eating it. Fearnley-Whittingstall is a firm believer in treating animals well, and the health reasons we must do so; as a result, you'll be convinced to buy organic and farm-raised meat rather than mass produced stuff. If you aren't already. Anyway, he has chapters on beef and veal; lamb and mutton; pork and bacon; poultry; game; and offal. Each explains how to shop for the stuff, what the different cuts are, relevant instruction (how to joint a chicken or skin a rabbit -- the latter a necessity if your supplier is the local hunter), and so on. There's more than you'd find in most cookbooks: poultry isn't just chicken, but also turkey, duck, geese, guinea fowl, and quail.

Part Two is about cooking the meat, and chapters are devoted to each method: roasting, slow cooking, fast cooking (such as frying), barbecuing, preserving and processing (curing, sausages, etc.), and "meat thrift," which tells you how to make stock and soup and to use leftovers. Each of those chapters goes into wonderfully exhaustive detail... and then there are the recipes.

I'm sure the recipes are chosen largely to illuminate some part of his instruction, but heck, you could ignore all the rest and just pay attention to the recipes... and the photos, which make me think, "Heck yeah, we need to have a party, so I can serve this 'serves 20 or more' 'Aromatic shoulder of pork Donnie Brasco'!" (a whole shoulder of pork slow-cooked with garlic, five spice powder, chile, and soy sauce). I have my eye on his Oxtail-and-Tongue braise with rich red wine sauce. I'm screwing up my courage to try his deviled kidneys (if anything could convince me, this would be it). And when I'm ready to roast a full roast beef, these are the instructions I'll turn to.

Awesome book. I'm in love. You'll pry it out of my cold, dead hands.
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on January 11, 2007
I have always had a huge respect for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. His cookery programmes have been amazing as they are more than just programmes. They are all about understanding food and its nature. He has effortlessly translated this into a beautiful and highly readable book.

I was engrossed in it from the start. His introduction about meat is amazing. By understanding the nature of meat, its production, slaughter, hanging and packaging, you can go a long way to understanding the nature of meat itself and how best to buy and raise it.

In fact, it is all about really basic details in preparation - from how to make hams to how to buy the best kidneys and why. Hugh seems to be on a mission to make popular old favourites such as tripe and liver - I don't knwo how much success he will have in that area, but his explanation on why it doesn't necessarily taste too good now is definitely indisputable.

I really enjoy his easy readable style, his disucssion on best raising techniques of pigs for instance was fascinating. He has practised what he writes about, he raises his own meat, slaughters it and then prepares it himself. It is a bit disconcerting having a dead pig head starting a chapter, but then Hugh talks about using all thebits of a beast in his chapter entitled 'thrifty'.

Fro those who don't want to raise and slaughter their own beasts, you will gain much from his other chapters - which meats make the best to fast cook (and why) and which are the best to slow cook. Both have why and how. There are chapters on slow cooking, cooking in wood fired ovens, and much more.

The recipes are delicious and the stories about them interesting reading and all provide depth of background to the recipes themselves. This is one book which will be remaining on my shelf for years to come, It is easy to use, interesting, and provides fundamental knowledge. It has my highest recommendation!
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on May 20, 2005
I ordered this as a birthday gift for a carnivorous friend and have spent half a day curled up with it. Far more than a cookbook, The River Cottage Meat Book is an engagingly-written short course in animal husbandry and the butcher's art, accompanied by glorious photographs of British farm life, sizzling kebabs and perfectly marbled beef. We are forced to think long and hard about the meat we eat. What breed of animal did it come from? How/where was the animal raised? What did it eat? Do we respect the sacrifice it has made? We are encouraged to do a bit of soul-searching about our own food practices.

After several chapters devoted to each of the common and many of the not-so-common animals eaten by humans, the author begins his treatment of meat preparation. Each method is thoroughly explored, before we get his recipes, which run the gamut from Roast Belly of Pork with Applesauce to Spaghetti Bolognese, from Shepherd's Pie to Terrine of Sweetbreads with a Broad Bean Puree. We also get a chapter on "The Trimmings", for great side-dishes to serve with meat main courses.

For me the only drawbacks are that U.S. cooks need to convert measurements in some instances, and that I had to wait a couple of months for the book to arrive from Amazon.

This book is a must-read for meat eaters who appreciate thoughtful food writing and a straightforward, knowledgeable, unpretentious approach to a food that is a staple for many of us.
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on August 9, 2007
I am a husband and father who has done most of the family cooking for three decades. I have always roasted meats extremely simply, with very little salt and spices, because that is the quickest and easiest. It also tastes just fine. When I wanted to go to the next level of complexity and sophistication, I bought The River Cottage Meat Book. What a wonderful choice. This cookbook gives clear instructions on basic techniques as de-glazing, and it is exceptionally easy to follow. It also offers clear explanations on WHY to cook in a certain way, and its advice is solidly based on the results of experimentation. Best of all, this book has a number of recipes which are individually worth the price of the book. As an Asian-American immigrant, I can vouch for the authenticity and quality of the few Asian-American recipes. Altogether, this is an exceptional book for the amateur cook who wants to take his cooking of meats to a higher level.
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on June 4, 2011
This is the healthiest, most artistic and effectively educational meat book up to date.

1. Healthy. I am so glad and surprised that the author of this book did not bombard fat. The 'low-fat is healthy' aspect by conventional wisdom is a complete myth. Fat is the most favorable and healthy nutrition that all humans need. Unlike meat books like ''the complete meat cookbook'', which promotes vegetable fat(which is unhealthy FYI), this meat book uses natural, delicious animal fat. The fat that we as humans have been eating since the born of mankind.

2. This book have the most philosophical, deep, artistic and 'sense-making' introduction i have ever seen on a cookbook. It total brings the whole meat eating experience to the next level.

3. This cookbook is not all about recipes(which i hate about most cookbooks) which just tells you blindly what to do. ''The River Cottage Meat Book'' teaches/explains to you the principles of each methods, which you can use it freely and flexibility if you don't feel like relying on any recipes. (This cookbook contains hundreds of great recipes too thou!)

In short, ''The River Cottage Meat Book'' is worth its weight in gold and anyone who are interested to cook meat or even eat meat should buy and read it.
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on April 2, 2008
This book was my first exposure to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and it was long overdue. After having read it, I hope to eventually acquire ALL of the author's other books. I've reviewed more than my fair share of culinary offerings, but this one easily elbowed it's way into my tight list of top favorites.

I felt an immediate connection with the author, who clearly resonates to the reality that FOOD is LIFE. How we raise it, how we harvest it, how we prepare and consume it, and how we respect and revere the ENTIRE process as a whole, is a microcosm for how we revere, and partake of, the entire experience of life itself. Food *IS* Life. Our earliest prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors understood this implicitly, and documented their awe and reverence of that sublime truth in their sacred places (re: cave art), in much the same way that many modern religions still use the apt metaphor of sacramental food and wine as a metaphor, and vehicle, for communing with the divine. In other words, to me, this book is essentially a modern-day cave painting ode to our animal companions, upon whom we rely for our sustenance ... and who have not been getting the respect and reverence they deserve in these fast paced modern times of disposable convenience food. I have little doubt that the author's other books address their respective subject matter in the same reverential spirit.

What I liked:

INTRODUCTION: The author opens this book with a philosophical fusillade on the subject of commercial "intensive farming" practices ... not only from the standpoint of being inhumane, but also because it results in meat of vastly inferior quality, and of poorer nutritional value to the soul. For many idyllic culinary daytrippers who've never before been privy to the sad realities of beakless `battery chickens', turkeys unable to walk because they were bred for overdeveloped breasts, diseased `downer' cattle pushed into slaughter pens with forklifts, and hogs driven insane by chronic overcrowding, this book will come as an eye-opening gut shot. He also goes on to wax poetically, and at erudite length, on both sides of the equally heated vegetarian vs carnivorian debate, and then dives headlong into a personal vision of more compassionate and sustainable animal husbandry practices, more educated consumerism, and of everyone eating less meat, but of much higher quality ... raised compassionately, slaughtered humanely, matured properly, and then prepared with proper reverence, skill, and minimal waste. Personally, I don't think this book stands much chance of putting a serious fiscal dent in the harsh fiscal reality of "intensive farming" and our society's increasing reliance on food that's fast, cheap and convenient ... but despite that, I admire the author, and I adore this book. If I could afford to leave the rat race behind, and live someplace a bit more bucolic, with a garden and a few animals of my own, and close friends with whom to make and share simple old world fare worthy of divine visitation, I would do so in a heartbeat. In any case, the introductory chapters alone are worth the entire cover price of this book.

RECIPES: Everything I like is in there ... educational information about meat quality and proper maturation, food philosophy, techniques for slow cooking, nose-to-tail eating, informative headnotes, etc.

What I Disliked: I only have a few nits, all of them fairly minor.

PHOTOS: Some of the photos are wonderful, but part of me wishes that all the rest of the photos within were of higher overall quality, and (in particular) that there were more and better procedural photos (ex: p.308 calls for trimming out the coarse ventricles of a pig's heart and removing sinews from a liver ... something less experienced culinary aspirants who've rarely, if ever, worked with offal before would doubtless appreciate pictures of). I also found myself pining for a few more photos of the pans and/or grills described in the various recipes, and more photos of finished dishes ... esp of the ones that the author clearly mentions are his favorites. In other words, I wish the book were as well marbled with photos as the beautiful beef on the cover is with fat.

RECIPES: This is just a minor nit, but more than a few recipes have not been optimized for the most efficient sequencing of steps, or the number of pans used. They also frequently omit helpful information, like recommended pan sizes. Not a big deal. Some of his seasonings are extremely British in their conservativism ... such has his wonderful braised trotters recipe, which I've found benefits from the addition of a little pineapple juice and star anise. Again, those are just minor nits.

SERVING SIZE: There are some minor inconsistencies with the stated number of servings a given recipe generates. For example, the Pot Au Feau recipe calls for 9-12 lbs of bone-in meat cuts, and serves 8-10, yet the Curried Goat recipe calls only ½ - 1/3 as much meat (4lbs) yet serves the same number. That's the sort of thing a good editor should catch.
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on September 3, 2008
I recently purchased the River Cottage Book of Meat for a friend who is a lover of all things meat, but also a wonderful cook and collector of cookbooks. This is the note I received on his receipt of the book:
"I love my present, the Book of Meat. From its lovingly rendered photographs of internal organs and pigs' feet to its lyrical prose to its encyclopedic musings on the wonders of Meat, it is sheer genius, a work of art, a testament to all that is great and good and noble about Meat.
Thank you for the best b-day present of the entire season."
So, I guess that says it all. I would highly recomend this book to all like minded individuals.
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on May 25, 2015
Are you passionate about meat? Are you passionate about the ethical treatment of animals? Do you want a textbook about meat?

If you answered yes to any of these, get this book. I thought of myself as a skilled steak connoisseur prior to reading this. In the oven, on the rack, in the frying pan, on the grill, exposed briquettes, if there is a way to cook steak I've done it (with plenty of trial and error). I started buying my meat from a new place and couldn't figure out why I kept overcooking. Then I got this book.

It was a revelation! This book educated me on how to identify great meat (there is a whole chapter about going to the butcher). Everything from the color of the meat to what real marbling is, and what it can say about the environment the steer was raised in. Yes, my shopping trips (in Chicago, IL, USA) are 10 mins longer, but the piece of mind it gives me is priceless. Lucky my new butcher was open to my beginner knowledge level and helped me a little at first. He appreciated that we have the same concerns, and we are on a first name basis now. This type of butcher is nearby, you just have to earnestly search for him. If you get this book you will learn what to look for.

The second half of the book is the various cuts of meat from several animals, and what they are used for. This section may make some people uneasy, since he discusses every part of the animal. The last section is recipes, which have been fantastic (English/Irish/Scottish comfort food).

I cannot recommend this book enough for the meat enthusiast, grilling enthusiast, cooking enthusiast, or simply anyone who wants to do their part in the battle against commercial farming. Those animals are raised in fear, indoors, uncomfortably, and are killed in the same manner. Animals provide nutrition to millions of people who depend on it, and they should be respected as such.
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on June 17, 2014
I haven't seen his TV series yet (I assume there is one), but this book is a must-read, as is his earlier book River-Cottage Cook Book:

This book dives into the chemical details of what happens when meat is cooked. Tons of information about dealing with tough cuts of meat, how to purchase meat, and lots of recipes, and a great deal of opinionated advice. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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on March 18, 2014
This book is so much more than just how to cook meat, it talks about how to buy, select and treat meat, and best of all, how to share it with friends. Don't just look up a recipe in the book, but read it cover to cover and be inspired by the ramblings of a brilliant foodie.
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