I’ve always been good with a blade.
I don’t mean in the Kill Bill kind of way, but in the way that I used to enjoy carving wax candles and pieces of wood. Despite my slicing skills, I have next to no experience with meat preparation. This is largely due to the fact that I was a vegetarian around the time I moved out and started cooking more.
Most of what I do know about meats I’ve learned from working in the restaurant industry. I’ve learned the names of things, what part of the animal it comes from, and which cut of steak is best. But other than that – I’ve got nothing. I decided it was time to learn more about meat and poultry and reached out to Stanley Janecek, owner of White House Meats on Bayview Ave. (and the one on Bloor St. West), for help. Stanley was a gracious host, allowing me into his Bayview butcher shop for a day of Butchering 101.
The first thing I learned was how it feels to slice a blade through the neck bones of a chicken. We had to bag whole King Capon chickens from Sharron, Ont., which required cutting the bird’s neck off and inserting said neck up the chicken’s rear for future use. It was disturbing, but I was in this to learn, so shoving necks up bottoms was going to happen. Necks safely nestled, it was time to cut and grind the beef from Norwich Packers in Norwich, Ont. It’s refreshing to see locally sourced meats in this modern world where everything seems imported. I did the cutting, grinding, packaging and labeling of the Norwich beef and put these meats in the temperature-controlled display window for sale.
The fun didn’t stop at grinding beef. After some time with the smaller pieces, I was given a bigger challenge. I was shown into the storage fridge, where two giant hunks of what looked like the ribcage of a Brontosaurus sat waiting (it was cattle). Stanley and I hauled a half ribcage each over to the cutting table where I learned that I was holding onto a primal (not prime – that happens later) cut of beef ribs. We had to trim the fat and cut the monstrosity down into manageable pieces called subprimal cuts. Those would be divvied up into pieces of prime rib, short ribs, stew beef and beef trim. I learned about the feather bone, rib bone, chine bone and how to cut the vertebrae. Despite my general unease with handling meat, there was something about breaking down that giant slab that felt natural and almost soothing. It was also impressive to see how Stanley used as much of the animal as possible and let nothing go to waste. He said it’s an honour that these animals gave their lives to feed our families and it would be wrong to take their gift for granted.
After breaking down the primal rib, it was time to wrap things up with a little schnitzel. I knew of Wiener Schnitzel in the form of veal, but I didn’t know that the term schnitzel is commonly used for any kind of breaded meat or poultry. I hammered some chicken breasts to flatten them out, dunked them in egg yolk, dragged them through bread crumbs with herbs and seasonings and laid them out nicely for clientele to see.
Being a butcher was not Stanley’s first calling, but after 23 years in the business (16 of those in Leaside), he seems to have found his niche. He brings a human touch to the dinner table and cares for his clients with fresh, locally sourced product. From pasture-raised to conventionally grown, to hormone- and antibiotic-free product, White House Meats pride themselves on having options for all consumer needs.
On the topic of butchery in this day and age, Stanley said, “If you’re in it to make money, you’re not gonna be rich. If you’re in it to provide quality product and help people, you’ll be okay.”
I have often said, “If I were around during the pioneer days, I’d be happy as candle-maker.” But now? I think I’d trade in my candle card for the life of a butcher.
Until next time…for science!