Going on the Lamb: Basic Butchering Class at Miel

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Alice from the Brady Bunch didn't love Sam the butcher just for his rugged good looks. Everyone's impressed by a man who can handle a knife. Unfortunately, what passes as the butcher department in many stores in Nashville is just a place to distribute pre-processed parts which arrive in boxes rather than on the hoof and in pieces not bigger than a breadbox. If you're interested in the disappearing art of whole-animal butchery, Seema Prasad of Miel is offering a great opportunity to learn and enjoy the fruits of your efforts with a Basic Butchering Class next Monday, Jan. 24, from 5-7 p.m.

You will take part in the butchering a whole lamb and learn how to use all the cuts. After the class at 7:30, you will sit down to a freshly cooked meal made from the freshest meat you will ever find in a restaurant.

The cost is $150 per person, and if you'd like to try something like this you should call 298-3663 for reservations as soon as you can.

I was lucky enough to preview this class as part of the University School evening class program, so if you would like to see exactly what to expect, continue reading after the jump. (Warning to the squeamish: AP Biology-level dissection pictures ahead):

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The small class group assembled in the dining area of Miel for a glass of wine and introductions. First we met our instructor for the evening, Steve Johnson, who works in the meat department of Harris Teeter on Highway 100. Steve's family ran the Johnson Butcher Shop for three generations out of the same building that Miel now occupies, so it was bittersweet to see him back at the cutting board where he worked for years until the mega markets drove the small butchers the way of the dodo. Steve say he only uses 15 percent of his knowledge as a butcher now, but it was a treat to see a master at work as he examined the lamb carcass, which he said was the first whole animal he'd broken down in over a decade.

Muscle memory must be a strong trait among butchers; Steve made expert cut after expert cut using only his father's meat saw, his filet knife and his grandfather's steel. Students in the class were encouraged to help out at whatever their comfort level allowed. Some held the animal in a more accessible position, some cut chops and frenched ribs, and fellow student and Grins Chef Rusty Johnston even sauteed us up some "lamb fries" as a snack while we worked. They were delicious, by the way. I know have a new favorite gland food, replacing sweetbreads.

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Steve treated the animal with great respect and took special care to conserve every edible piece of meat. There were several reasons for this. One, we were planning to make some great lamb sausage for the students to take home. Secondly, Seema really wanted to take a "whole animal" approach to the lamb and planned to serve it throughout Restaurant Week. Also, the farmer who actually raised the lamb was also in attendance at the class.

Kelsey Keener and his family run Sequatchie Cove Farm between Monteagle and Chattanooga. They are known for their pasture-raised beef, pork and eggs, their organic vegetables, fruit and mushrooms, and most notably for their artisanal farmstead cheese. Sequatchie creates raw milk cheeses from a diverse dairy herd made up of Jersey, Montbeliard, Brown Swiss, Dutch Belt, Tarine, Fresian, Holstein and the American Milking Devon.

The cows graze and roam free on the farm and are rotated through the pastures to ensure the biodiversity and sustainability of the herd and the farm. It also makes for some damn tasty cheeses. Recently, Kelsey has formed a collective with three other farms to raise grass-fed, hormone-free Katahdin lambs for sale in the Chattanooga and Birmingham area. He did say that if he could develop some more business in Nashville, he might consider coming up more often. Call Kelsey at (423) 802-0516 and he'll bring you half a lamb for $150 before the next class. Visitors are also welcome to take farm tours to see where their produce and meat comes from if they contact the farm in advance for an appointment.

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Lamb that is pasture-raised has much more complexity in its flavors. Under the knife of an expert like Steve Johnson, the cuts that resulted were nicely marbled with a good fat ration. Steve did admit that he missed his band saw from the Teeter, and if you could have seen four of us students struggling with Seema's ancient hand grinder you would agree there is still a role for technology in the butchering process.

An added benefit of using a lamb for demonstration purposes was that the anatomy was similar to that of a cow or a pig, but much more manageable on the cutting table. Steve answered questions about where a particular favorite cut of beef or pork would come from, even if it wasn't a normal offering from a lamb. He even removed a scent gland from deep within the leg of lamb that is missed by most butchers and adds an unwanted gaminess to the dish. Even Kelsey admitted that was a new one on him.

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After breaking the animal down to roasts, legs, shanks and ribs, each student took home a baggie of their favorite part and a healthy portion of the ground sausage that we had seasoned with simple mix of minced garlic, rosemary, parsley and a touch of nutmeg. Steve also offered some of his famous "Johnson's Moon Dust" seasoning that has been around since his father invented it. Look for it at the Highway 100 Harris Teeter and you'll have a secret weapon for the next grilling season.

A side note that I have been meaning to mention for a while. I live in Hillsboro Village and was able to drive to Miel in Sylvan Park in just eight minutes. I keep forgetting that it's only about three minutes off of I-40. Somebody remind me to quit being so provincial.

Miel is at 343 53rd Ave. N., just off Charlotte and behind Bobbie's Dairy Dip.

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