The survival of local butcher shops…

by Warren Bobrow

The snap of a freshly seared hand-made weisswurst brings me to the realization that you just cannot achieve this level of flavor from supermarket sausages.   And so it goes at Hoeffner’s in Morristown, NJ.  Butcher shops of this quality in Manhattan and Brooklyn are mobbed with folks who appreciate the old fashioned way of making sausages and aging prime beef.   Just so you know, Hoeffner’s dry ages their PRIME beef for 28 days.  You cannot find anything in the supermarket as succulent and toothsome.  The other day I bought some pounded Murray’s chicken breast (without the bone) and a few Weisswursts from Hoeffner’s.  I got this fantastic carbon steel pan from Lodge and it’s taken a while to really break in, but now it’s just perfect for searing meat or fish.   Or chicken for that matter really gets crispy.  It’s like a carbon steel chef knife; the very best cooking implements are not pretty, but they certainly perform beautifully over a searing hot gas range. 

When I’m cooking foods with a Germanic heritage I sometimes find myself thirsting for flavors of the country where these recipes came from. In this case I’ve grown very fond of the small producer ciders that spontaneously fizz when you pull the cork.  In Germany they call these ciders Apfelweinkontor This rare and hardly exported product is just fabulous washing down a hearty platter of Weisswurst and seared chicken.  I suppose the only thing that I was missing was a bowl of freshly made sauerkraut.  I know Hoeffner’s makes that as well as fine pickles - quite frankly I forgot with all this talk about lightly sparkling and just a touch sweet apple “wine” from Germany.

Sometimes when I’m very lucky to find a bottle of Apfelweinkontor I’ll take a chicken breast like the one pictured and soak them in a portion of the lightly sparkling apple wine (or a French Dry Cider made like Champagne with a bit of fizz) overnight and then grill the chicken over hard-wood coals or sear in a carbon steel pan.  Whatever way you choose the marinating part is most important.  The chicken will take on the subtle aromatics of the apples and the sauce that you can make in the pan will sweep you off your culinary feet.  Its food that no one is doing anywhere and now you know almost all my secrets! 

Good sturdy German or French mustard is a must.  Don’t take that Grey Poupon from the supermarket.  This mustard isn’t even French!  It’s about as French as a French Fry, so don’t do it!  A good Dijon Mustard or a German Beer mustard (you guessed it, made with German Beer) will need to be on your table…  If you’ve learned anything by reading you’ll know that good food demands that the condiments are the very best that you can afford.  Why skimp when flavor is concerned?  I don’t do it and nor should you. 

There comes a time in your culinary adventure, that the usual burger on the grill just doesn’t cut the mustard (so to speak). You should try buying your meats at a local butcher like Hoeffner’s in Morristown, NJ.  If you live anywhere near Morristown, go to the corner of Bank and Market Streets.  There is no sign, only a pig outside.  It’s that kind of place.  Be kind when you enter.  Go on a Friday or a Saturday when the cases are full with the week’s labors.  This is not like a supermarket where twenty butchers toil at all hours.  This is a two man (brother) operation.  If they don’t get to it by the end of the week, maybe they will the following week.  If you want something special just call, but you’d better hurry because the local butcher’s days are numbered.  Whole Foods and the other supermarket chains make it very difficult for local butcher shops out here in the country to survive.  Why should you care?  Because meat tastes better when it is minimally handled.  Supermarket meat just cannot compare. Ever.

And about that German Apple Wine?  Chill down a couple of bottle and crank up the German music.  Drink a couple liters of ice-cold wheat beer before you break out the apple wine.  Get your grill going.  Use charcoal - that would be a good start!  Drink a couple more liters of beer.  And some more…. Put those sausages and the chicken that has been marinating in Apple Wine on the grill, just off of the heat.  Close the lid and be patient! 

Dinner will be a trip to the Rhine without a passport! 

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