Here we are in sunny southwest Florida where we have been producing cattle since 1521, when Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon introduced cattle to the rich soils of Florida.
Florida beef producers own more than 1 million cows, heifers and bulls. Florida is also home to four of the United States' 10 largest cow-calf operations and ships these cows to other states to grow into beef cattle. Total breeding herd values can exceed $847 million.
Now the biggest question I have for the readers: How do you as a consumer purchase this beef? How do we get this beef into local restaurants and retail outlets? I don't have those answers for you, but it is a question I have faced in the past.
A few years ago, I challenged a good friend of mine who is in the distribution business to find local beef I could serve in the restaurant. I even told him I would kiss his feet if he came through. After two years of trying, he called and said he found a facility that would be able to do it.
I met with the butcher and the rancher and was told I had to buy the entire cow. I agreed, but when I received the 750 pounds of cow -- which included 300 pounds of hamburger, 150 pounds of bones, 75 pounds of fat and 125 pounds of stew meat -- I had only 100 pounds of usable steaks left. I quickly re
alized how difficult it was going to be for this to be a sustainable process.
After 20 days, I was able to create an incredibly diverse menu that changed daily and was supported by my staff who believed in helping to sell all this wonderful meat. There was no choice in how I received the product, only the style of cuts that I would receive and how much of the beef I wanted ground into burger meat.
I purchased one more cow after the first and since then, because of the difficulty in storage and preparation of 750 pounds of cow meat, I discontinued the program.
As a community we are known for our abundance of local fish, shrimp, oysters, tomatoes, produce, milk, potatoes, clams, hydroponic gardens and organic vegetables. I have never gone to a farmers market and seen local beef for sale. We cannot buy local tenderloins, rib-eyes, strips or sirloins easily, you can just buy the cow. Being one of the largest cattle states, we should be able to figure this out.
The beef I served from a local cow that foraged on Florida's sweet soil was the most delicious I have ever tasted.
Of course, buying local food is absolutely the best thing for our economy and supports the locavore movement. So again I pose the question: Where's the beef?
Whole tenderloin (trimmed)
Cut trimmed tenderloin into 16-18 ounce logs and season with fresh garlic, thyme salt pepper and olive oil. Place on sheet pan and broil for 4-8 minutes until a rare to medium-rare temperature is achieved. As soon as internal temperature reaches 70 degrees, remove and quickly place under refrigeration to cool.
MUSHROOM JUS AND TOPPING
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 cup shallots, chopped
2 cups red wine
2 pounds mushrooms (shiitake and buttons, but any mushroom is fine)
8-10 springs fresh thyme (tied)
Salt and pepper to season
Finely chop mushrooms by hand or in food processor, but be very careful not to puree them. Place butter and garlic into sauce pot and cook until garlic begins to stick to pan. As soon as garlic sticks add shallots, red wine, mushrooms and seasonings. Simmer for about 20 minutes over medium heat. Remove from the stove and strain 80 percent of the liquid (4 cups) and set aside. (This is the mushroom jus). Take the mushroom mixture and lay it on sheet pan, remove thyme and refrigerate.
Proscuitto (6 large sheets sliced thin)
Take the prosciutto and lay it flat on wax paper. You will need approximately 6 sheets of the prosciutto making a large rectangular box on the wax paper. In the center of the prosciutto, spread out chilled mushrooms 1/3 larger than the tenderloin. Place the cooked tenderloin in the center of the arrangement and pile the mushrooms on top and on the sides. Roll the prosciutto around the tenderloin using the wax paper so the entire loin is covered with mushrooms and prosciutto. As soon as the tenderloin is wrapped twist the ends and refrigerate.
1/2 cup beef base
5 cups water
4 cups reserved mushroom jus
1/4 pound butter
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 large white onion
3-4 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
12-14 springs thyme
Salt and pepper as needed
1/4 cup corn starch
1 cup water
Melt butter in saucepan and add garlic. As soon as garlic starts to brown, add onions, cook until slightly tender then add celery and do the same. Add the carrots and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Add beef stock, 4 cups water, thyme, celery and salt and pepper. Reduce the liquid by 1/3 then add the mushroom jus and reduce by another 1/3. Whisk corn starch and 1 cup water together with fork and add a little at a time to the mushroom sauce until you reach the desired thickness of the sauce. DO NOT ADD ALL AT ONCE! Take your time doing this.
1/4 cup water
Puff pastry dough (you can make or buy frozen)
Whisk water and egg together and set aside. Take one sheet of puff pastry dough and flour countertop or wooden cutting board so as not to stick. Cut approximately an 11x7-inch sheet of dough and then cut 1/3 of the sheet into a rectangle and place unwrapped tenderloin in the center. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg wash on all the edges around the tenderloin. Carefully lay the larger sheet of pastry dough directly over the top, making sure there are no air pockets inside the dough. Cut any extra dough off the edges, leaving about a 1-inch flat edge around the perimeter. Using a fork press down on the edges to properly seal the dough. Brush the remainder of the egg wash on the outside of the dough but not on the bottom. Place the Wellington on wax or parchment paper and place in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the crust turns a golden brown. Remove from oven and slice into three or four sections. The Wellington should stand up on its own. Ladle your mushroom sauce on the plate first and place cut Wellington over sauce. Keep extra mushroom sauce on the table -- you will want more.
This recipe is best prepared with local healthy docile animals that feast on a "gourmet" salad bar of clover, wheat, oat, rye grass and millet and should also be USDA certified organic.
Greg Campbell, executive chef at Pier 22 Restaurant in Bradenton, can be reached at email@example.com.