Ever purchased a high-quality piece of grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, or pasture-raised chicken to cook for dinner, only to have it come out less delicious than you hoped? When you’re working with high-quality meats and seafood, a few extra minutes or a couple of degrees can make all the difference; they require some additional expertise to get them just right.
Still, we think choosing high-quality proteins like the ones available at Thrive Market is 100% worth it; they’re better for the environment, your health, and animal welfare. So we called up Mike Hacaga, Thrive Market’s Lead Product Innovator in the Meat & Seafood category, to get some expert cooking tips for grass-fed beef, wild salmon, and pasture-raised chicken.
Salmon is a superfood that provides anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids—that’s true of both farmed salmon and wild salmon. Farmed salmon, however, also contains a lot of omega-6 fatty acids; these are often found in processed foods and can increase your risk of heart problems.
Hacaga explains that in the wild, salmon are harvested when they’ve just made the arduous journey upstream to lay their eggs. A wild salmon “is out there fighting its way upstream and expending its energy,” causing it to be leaner than its farmed counterpart.
Some people notice a difference in flavor between farmed salmon and wild-caught salmon. Hacaga says that is related to the controlled environment in which farmed salmon are raised. “With a farmed salmon, you always get that same flavor profile,” he explains, because farmed fish are fed the same feed day after day. He adds that the diets of farmed salmon often include supplements to help with their growth. “With a wild sockeye, you’re almost dealing with a different fish every time you’re eating it. You get more of that natural flavor that most consumers aren’t truly used to.”
Unless your salmon recipe expressly calls for wild salmon, the instructions are most likely based on farmed salmon, which means you will probably need to shave off some cooking time if you’re using wild-caught fish. Here are a few more tips for how to cook wild salmon:
According to Hacaga, the main reason for the difference between grass-fed beef and conventional beef is a lack of internal fat running through the muscle. That results in a piece of meat that is slightly less forgiving (so be mindful when cooking), as well as a slightly different flavor.
“What the everyday consumer is used to is a grain-influenced taste,” Hacaga says. “A grain and corn diet softens that robust beef flavor.” He explains that grass-fed beef has earned a reputation for tasting gamey. “But if you get the right breed of animal on the right grass you have that perfect marriage of a really high-performing animal that eats tremendously.”
Thrive Market’s grass-fed beef comes from Patagonia, Chile, a verdant region with copious tall, nutrient-rich grass for the cows to enjoy. Hacaga credits these favorable conditions for helping the cattle grow remarkably quickly without the use of any filler feed (as opposed to grass fed beef that’s feedlot-finished, meaning the cows spend their final weeks fattening up on corn and grains).
“The thing that happens most often with grass-fed beef is that it gets overcooked,” Hacaga warns. “Once the juices stop running internally it’s basically like eating a piece of shoe leather.” To prevent a dry, overcooked result, here are a few tips for how to cook grass-fed beef:
So how does an expert in high quality meat cook his steak? A simple sear in a cast-iron skillet with no frills, aside from a bit of Thrive Market Organic Ghee “to give it that Ruth’s Chris sizzle.” And if you’ve splurged on a grass-fed filet, take a tip from Hacaga and skip the marinade. “I’ve learned over time that marinades are usually used to hide something. I let the quality of the beef stand on its own.”
Pastured chicken is leaner than conventional chicken because it lives a more active lifestyle (noticing a pattern?). It also contains a healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, similar to salmon.
In the case of Thrive Market’s pasture-raised chicken, breed is also a factor. Hacaga explains that the pasture-raised chicken available at Thrive Market is a heritage breed with “a little bit of an elongated frame.” He adds that it’s a unique bird not often found in the poultry industry. “You’re not going to see that plump, butterball chicken,” he says. “You’re going to see more of an athlete.”
Hacaga notes that there is an important distinction between free-range chicken and pastured chicken. In order to be labeled “free range,” the USDA stipulates that chicken must have outdoor access. In practice, Hacaga explains, free-range chickens at many farms have the option to go outside, but few actually do. “Just because a chicken is marked free-range doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to actually get itself outside to enjoy the sun,” he notes.
At the farm Thrive Market sources its pastured chicken from, the birds are encouraged to venture out, explore, and forage. Instead of just one or two small doors, their barns have huge panels that swing open to the pastures beyond. “It’s not one or two that come poking out, looking around,” Hacaga recalls from a recent visit. “The birds come pouring out into the pasture. I was amazed…they just came running out and started playing and exhibiting other natural behaviors.”
By day, Case Bradford is an Ecommerce Operations Associate at Thrive Market, but he’s also a Primal Health Coach—which means he has a lot of experience cooking high-quality meats. In his view, pasture-raised chicken is a premium protein that’s worth the slightly higher price tag.
Bradford explains that pastured chicken is naturally extra juicy and flavorful compared to conventional birds. For that reason, he prefers “simple preparations with salt, pepper, and lemon” to make the flavors pop (though he loves his pastured chicken with buffalo sauce too). Read on for more tips on how to cook pastured chicken:
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