Treat Meat as a Condiment

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor

You need only use a bit of pork in an otherwise vegetarian stir-fry, which will then act as a flavoring for rice. Photo credit: Everyday Food

We all know we should eat less meat. We all know the reasons why. We don’t all know how to do so. For many of us, meat is the center of the meal, the… meat in the meat and potatoes.

Why not treat it as a condiment? A flavoring? A TREAT? Many traditional styles of cooking approach meat this way.

The American Way. Salt pork was a favorite of American pioneers because it was cheap, lasted a long time, and could flavor an entire pot of beans. And it’s still that way, although bacon, which is easier to find these days, can be subbed in for salt pork in most recipes (and crisped up more easily for a garnish). Try some slow-cooked baked beans. For something greener, try these braised green beans. Then, of course, there’s the smoked ham hock, used to flavor Southern collard greens and split pea soup, almost like a cooked-in condiment.

The French Way. Pâté is basically spreadable meat paste. And while the French may move from this appetizer to a healthy plating of boeuf Bourguignon, if you want to reduce your meat intake, you know, don’t do that. Stick to having just the pâté—either as an appetizer, at lunch, as a spread on an otherwise veggie-packed sandwich, or smooshed on the side of your dinner plate, to be eaten in small doses alongside those haricots verts.

The Chinese Way. Unlike the Americanized versions of pan-Chinese cuisine we know in the States, much of the real stuff centers around rice and rice alone. The rest of it—meat, fish, pickles, stewed veggies—is used to flavor the starch, which is the main, filling event. This is true across Asian cuisines: Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Thai people all add bits of meat to stir-fries, salads, soups, and noodle dishes.

This Writer’s Way. Last weekend, I served browned ground turkey in a small bowl with a spoon as a topper for pasta tossed in pesto. My guests could have also sprinkled it on the accompanying raw squash salad if they so pleased. Think of it as haute bacon bits!

As Mark Bittman wrote in the New York Times, these are cases in which “meat is seen as a treasure, not as something to be gobbled up as if it were air.” Do honor it as such.