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Easter feasts from butcher Peter Sanagan's new book, Cooking Meat

Our cookbook of the week is Cooking Meat by Toronto butcher Peter Sanagan. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Roasted leg of lamb with tzatziki ; pork tenderloin stuffed with radicchio and gorgonzola cheese ; and balsamic-glazed rack of lamb with pistachio mint pesto .

It took going to culinary school for me to learn how to break down a whole chicken. Mastering the skill is, in a word, empowering. And as Toronto butcher Peter Sanagan puts it in his debut book, Cooking Meat (Appetite by Random House, 2020), essential.

Sure, some deft knife work saves you money, which is not to be understated. But you also gain the satisfaction of better understanding a foundational food, not to mention a starting point for plenty of meals.

In Cooking Meat , along with how to truss and spatchcock a bird, tie a roast, debone chicken legs and carve whole poultry, Sanagan details the ever-useful 10-cut — how to break down a whole chicken into 10 equally sized pieces — in a section devoted to basic butchery techniques.

While the mention of butchery may bring to mind beef cut diagrams, pork shoulders or whole pigs, this is not Sanagan’s expectation. He wrote Cooking Meat to educate home cooks, not aspiring butchers. “I think it’s important that people become more comfortable (handling meat),” he says. “(But) I’m not giving you tips on how to break down half a pig.”

In 2009, he founded the Toronto butcher shop Sanagan’s Meat Locker , which now has two locations. As former chef de cuisine at Toronto’s now permanently closed Mistura Restaurant and chef instructor at George Brown College, he is well-suited to not just illuminating the meat-shopping experience but illustrating ways to make the most out of what you buy using classic cooking techniques.

“People are a little bit trepidatious when it comes to cooking meat. It’s also the price point too. Meat is always going to be the most expensive ingredient that you’re cooking, if you’re cooking and eating meat,” he says. “So you don’t want to spend money on something and then not know what you’re doing with it.”

From the beginning, listening to customers has shaped how Sanagan runs his business. As an extension, this ongoing conversation also influenced his approach with Cooking Meat . Having cooked professionally for so long, he initially took people’s knowledge of various techniques — braising, roasting, stewing — for granted. When common customer questions started emerging, such as how to roast a chicken, he was somewhat confused.

Along the same lines, he recalls a conversation he and his mother once had. “My mother loves to tell the story about when she asked me how you know when a chicken is done. And I said, ‘Well, when it’s done,’” Sanagan laughs. “That’s the kind of attitude I had. When I opened the shop, I quickly realized that not only is that a terrible way to approach a customer, but these techniques that come second nature to a professional cook don’t for home cooks.”

Sanagan had long considered writing a cookbook, and has always enjoyed collecting recipes and recording the dishes he worked on in restaurants. One of his primary goals when it came time to write one, was to demystify the meat-shopping experience by sharing advice on how to buy, prepare and cook meat.

To this end, he includes a helpful table pairing meat cuts with cooking techniques, which he fleshes out further in more than 120 recipes featuring chicken, pork, lamb, beef, game, offal, sausages, charcuterie, meat pies and side dishes from his restaurant days as well as family life (e.g., cassoulet, curried goat and prime rib roast).

At Sanagan’s Meat Locker, he sources his products exclusively from Ontario family farms, some of which he profiles in the book. There’s Murray Thunberg, who specializes in heritage breeds of pork and egg-laying poultry outside of Cambridge, and the Forsyths, who raise roughly 400 ewes near Georgian Bay.

Perhaps an unlikely origin story for a butcher, Sanagan was once a vegetarian — an experience he credits for teaching him about the importance of food. “There’s a direct line in terms of respect that I have, not just for the animals that come into my shop but also respect for people’s dietary choices,” he says. “I really, really respect when people, for whatever reason, don’t eat meat or limit the amount of meat they eat, or don’t eat certain types of meat. The reason never matters to me.”

Since he stopped working at restaurants more than a decade ago, Sanagan’s approach to home cooking has changed. Now that he’s no longer in a professional kitchen six nights a week, he has the energy and inclination to actually cook for holidays such as Easter.

For Sanagan, Easter equals feasting on lamb. Much like last year, which was all about flattening the curve, this weekend’s festivities will be pared down. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has advised that Easter “is not the time to have big gatherings” as cases of COVID-19 may be resurging in parts of the country.

“Lamb is still definitely going to be on my table. The only difference is now I’m only cooking for my wife and my five-year-old,” says Sanagan, laughing. “So it will probably be a smaller cut. If not a smaller leg roast , maybe a rack of lamb .”

His recipe for roasted leg of lamb is a family favourite. It can be cooked in the oven or on a charcoal grill, but Sanagan highly recommends the latter.

“Cooking a whole roast leg of lamb on a charcoal barbecue is one of the best things I’ve ever had,” he says. “The charcoal imparts a smokiness to the flavour of the meat. And then with the spices and everything else, it’s a banger recipe.”

Growing up, Sanagan’s family favoured ham over lamb for Easter; baked ham with scalloped potatoes was their ritual. With an eye to fewer servings but the same animal protein, his book also features a pork tenderloin stuffed with radicchio and Gorgonzola cheese, a recipe inspired by Northern Italy.

“Pork tenderloin is such a mild cut,” says Sanagan, “that when you pair it with something assertive, it becomes that much more interesting.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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