Our meat supply is shrinking. Why? The Department of Agriculture forecasted in May that “Beef output in the U.S., the world’s top producer, will fall 5.3% this year to 24.35 billion pounds, the lowest since 1994.
According to The Wall Street Sector Selector, “At the start of this year (2014), the cattle herd fell to 87.7 million head, the lowest since 1951, following drought and high feed costs.” In addition… “Porcine epidemic virus has killed more than 4 million pigs, according to an industry group.”
According to Bloomberg News, “This is very unusual to see this kind of price increase this early in the season,” Donnie King, the President of prepared foods at Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson, the largest U.S. processor of beef and chicken, said in a March 13 presentation to analysts. Cattle futures reached an all-time high… up 25 percent from last year’s low in May. Hog futures surged … and are up 47 percent this year. Domestic wholesale pork has advanced even more, gaining 56 percent this year.”
What does that mean to you? Increased costs to restaurants and retail stores get passed on to the consumer, so it’s going to cost you quite a bit more to eat beef and pork.
What to watch out for? Look not only at the price of the package of meat you want to buy. Check the weights on the packages too. Although retailers will cut what they can to keep their margins intact, he first thing you can expect to happen is that an attempt will be made to fool you by changing packaging. In other words, the price you normally see will be the same or very slightly more, but there will be less in the package, so you don’t notice the increase in price. Do notice it, though, because it’s definitely there.
What to do? Take a look at other products whose supply has increased, causing their prices to drop. An example is lobster – once brought into households only as a luxurious indulgence.
Supplies of lobster have dramatically increased. Why? According to The Columbus Dispatch, “last year’s record haul of 126 million pounds is double that of just a decade ago.” That made prices very cheap. They go on to say, “No one knows exactly why lobster populations have increased so quickly. The answer, says marine biologist Robert Steneck, is likely a combination of warming water temperatures, the overfishing of inshore predators like cod and a long history of forward-thinking conservation measures.” That means that lobster is suddenly really affordable. It’s also very simple to prepare this delicious meat!
What to look for in buying lobster: Buy them live, as fresh as possible and as close to preparation time as possible. Retailers keep live lobsters in tanks. Make sure your lobster is lively when taken out of the tank. If it has a lot of energy, it will probably try to curl up. If lobsters are in the tank too long, they get lethargic and lose muscle mass because they are not fed there. You can ask the retailer when they arrived so you know exactly how fresh they are. Once you choose your lobster, keep them in the refrigerator until cooking time.
Here are the best two ways to prepare lobster:
- Bring a large pot of water (infused with 1 Tablespoon of salt) to a boil. You can usually cook several lobsters at a time, but it depends on the size of your pot. Plunge the live lobsters head first into the hot water and cook them until they turn pink, about 15-20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well. If you want to spoil your guests, crack the back and claws in two with a large, sharp knife and serve immediately with fresh lemon quarters (to squeeze on the meat) and clarified butter. (What is clarified butter? When you melt butter, the white solids rise to the top. If you skim them off, that’s clarified butter.)
- If you buy frozen lobster tails, take them out of the freezer the day before you want to serve them and thaw them in the fridge. Sprinkle the meat side with salt and pepper. Squeeze on fresh lemon juice. Then get your grill hot and grill for 12-15 minutes. Again, serve them with a little dish of clarified butter for dipping and some fresh lemon.
Googling lobster will find many more recipes, but these are the simplest and in my mind, the most delicious. If you use too may spices, you will easily overpower the taste of the meat.
What wine to serve? Loren Sonkin of “InToWine” suggests – and this is in order of price, with the first being the highest – a Montrachet (from Burgundy in France), a California Grand Cru Chardonnay, or a Gewurztraminer. He says, “In my opinion, boiled lobster with drawn butter begs for a medium bodied white wine with perhaps subtle nuances of oak ageing.”
So choose your wine price point and go enjoy that lobster while the prices are still lower than hamburger! 🙂