Puritan Dainty Meat à la Ginger Ale: Place Dainty Meat in a saucepan, and add two cups of ginger ale. Cover and cook slowly for 2 hours or until the meat is almost tender. Serve hot or cold (sliced). -- from a Depression-era cookbook featured in the Gallery of Regrettable Food (www.lileks.com/institute/
We may never know what Dainty Meat is, but it must certainly be a frightful thing. And simmering it doggedly in a solution that belongs in an IV bag probably does not improve its flavor. Cooks nowadays, except during ill-advised fits of retro whimsy, do not defile meat by dredging it in Lipton onion-soup mix, saucing it with bottled French dressing or coating it with crushed potato chips, not to mention poaching it in soda pop. Respect for fine ingredients has risen with the popularity of glossy food magazines, flamboyant television chefs and destination restaurants. Clancy's Butcher Shop and Catering supplies home cooks with top-notch fresh and cured meats, seafood and fowl. And with its mighty hickory-fired smokers, Clancy's makes a mean barbecue to boot.
On our first visit to the shop, as we peered into Clancy's gleaming glass meat case to survey the wares, an aproned man behind the counter handed us a spindly length of beef jerky wrapped in a sheet of stiff white butcher's paper. The striated, supple meat was deeply smoky and delightfully salty, with a peppery sting chasing each bite like the tingly finish of a spicy cabernet. To achieve this complex flavor, owner Sean Clancy marinates well-seasoned flank steak in soy sauce and A.1. Steak Sauce. Then he smokes the meat, slices it with the grain and dries it into long, pliant strips. If jerky has a Platonic form of perfection, this is surely it.
Mr. Clancy is tight-lipped about the exact proportions of ingredients in his beef-jerky and barbecue-sauce recipes. The sticky sauce, sneakily sweetened with grape jelly, is slathered onto shredded chicken breast, pulled pork loin, ribs or brisket after the meats have been smoked for as long as eight hours. Clancy's hefty spare ribs, the fatty cut left "to spare" when bacon is trimmed away from the pork belly, are patted with a dry spice rub before they're smoked. Baby-back ribs, a more tender cut taken from above the spare ribs, also get a dusting of ground spices. Baby backs can be hard to find in grocery stores -- most are purchased by the restaurant industry because their even size makes it easy to dole out consistent portions. A plate of Clancy's ribs or other barbecue includes a fountain drink and two sides from the shop's well-stocked deli case. The baked beans, steeped in a syrupy sauce flavored with bacon, cubed ham, barbecued pork and melted brown sugar, are the best of the lot.
Clancy's modest building stands at the foot of a slope below Clancy's Irish Pub, owned by Sean Clancy's brother, Matt. The butcher shop used to supply the pub's meats, but the two no longer use the same vendors or recipes. Later this year, the butcher shop will move down the street, and a QuikTrip will be built on the property. Clancy's new location will have more seating than just the two or three tables and chairs available now. Sean Clancy plans to model the shop after the storefronts of old-fashioned meat merchants, complete with pigs' heads and hindquarters of beef dangling from hooks.
For now, the steaks are lined up in neat rows like fleshy chorus lines, spared from suffocating in the Cryovac packaging that imprisons their grocery-store kin. The top three grades of beef are Prime, Choice and Select, based on the voluntary USDA grading system that most commercial meat packers follow. More than 65 percent of supermarket beef is Choice, and the quality within this grade is so variable that the term is virtually meaningless. Another 30 percent is Select, the grade below Choice, but Clancy's doesn't carry this inferior, leaner beef. Instead, it stocks USDA Prime, the highest grade. Most Prime beef is purchased wholesale by white-tablecloth steakhouses and can't be found in the grocery-store meat aisle. Clancy's also sells Certified Angus Beef, a designation guaranteeing that the meat comes from Black Angus cattle, a prized breed. Unlike supermarket meat departments, Clancy's ages its beef. Hanging the steaks in a cooler for about two weeks allows the fibrous connective tissue to break down and lets moisture evaporate, concentrating the meat's flavor.
Clancy's caters more than 200 down-home pig roasts a year and will sell you any part of the pig except the squeal. The most desirable cut is the loin, taken from the middle of the animal's back. In fact, the phrase "living high on the hog" was coined to describe the hoity-toity folks who could afford this costly cut. Another plum part of the pig is the ham, or hind leg. Sean Clancy estimates that customers snapped up 300 or 400 of his praline-glazed hams during the holidays.
In addition to seafood, veal, lamb, poultry and game birds, Clancy's is a good place to find highly perishable organ meat, often charmingly referred to as "offal" or "variety meat." Most offal in this country is exported to Europe, where the demand for it is greater. Clancy's carries liver, heart, brains, tongue, pigs' feet, head cheese and oxtail. At your request, the shop will even special-order Rocky Mountain oysters -- bulls' testicles, to be frank -- and turkey fries (yep, you guessed it), which are said to be pretty tasty when fried up and impaled on toothpicks. But if that method of cookery doesn't appeal to you, try plunging the little fellows into a vat of ginger ale and boiling them into oblivion.