MARX FOODS SELLS meat with a mission. The Seattle-based company aims to connect carnivores with the finest available, with every bit of attention paid to how the animals are raised — the opposite of factory farming is what they’re after, and they visit the ranches and ranges and coops to make sure the admittedly limited days of these beasts are happy ones. It’s written into their mission statement, which also simply says, “Be delicious.”
Co-owner Justin Marx runs the company with his two brothers and their father, and caring about meat runs five generations back to the butcher shop that the family started in Brooklyn in 1895. Justin’s wife, Orsi, helps now, too — they met when she worked for an exporter dealing with the foods of her native Hungary that happened to be purveying some heritage pork that Justin was interested in. “We just absolutely sparked,” Justin says. Theirs is a meat-romance.
Until recently, Marx Foods sold meat only to restaurants — you’d have to go to places such as Seattle’s Kamonegi and Manolin to get a taste. But the coronavirus pandemic didn’t just shut restaurants down: The chain reaction rattled through the companies supplying them and, of course, the ranchers and farmers on the other end, too. As Justin explains, “Our restaurant distribution just kind of evaporated overnight” — not an exaggeration, with those sales dropping by 95% around the third week of March.
Time to rethink, and rethink fast, not only how to try to fill this sudden void in their business, but how to continue to support those farmers and ranchers depending on them, too. The upshot: Now those individuals lucky enough to be able to afford it can go to the Marx Foods website and place an order for a sampler, then get a text message when a big, heavy box of beautiful meat has landed on the doorstep the very next day. They’re doing no-contact delivery during COVID-19 times, but even that’s of excellent quality: My delivery person, Charlie, and I texted each other meat emojis, then he offered me his recipe for a bresaola-style cure.
Proponents of local foods will notice that Marx meats come from far and wide, but, Justin explains, this is the product of deep consideration. He thought of himself as a very educated diner-out when he started looking at supplying meat to restaurants, but he learned something that disturbed him: that much of the local meat that’s brand-name-checked on upscale menus comes from animals that’ve spent time on feedlots, and that a lot of supposedly premium quality local chicken differs from inferior in name only. “We wanted to do better,” he says, and his research didn’t stop until he’d sourced “literally the purest, most well-cared for meat — and the most carefully butchered and handled meat — that you can buy. At the end of the day, any day of the week, I’d rather have the purest lamb in the world … rather than [that from] a local feedlot.”
The research hasn’t actually stopped. For instance, Justin has made a practice of traveling to New Zealand, where that lamb comes from, once a year for “everything from formal meetings to getting loaded with a bunch of farmers,” and to see the sheep “out on expansive, beautiful, rolling green pastures.” Of the company he deals with there, called Ovation, he says, “They just do everything right … it’s among the best lamb in the world. It’s just quality all the way through.”
The Marx meat samplers instantly became best-sellers. “It’s a COVID thing for sure,” Justin says, with people stocking up and, obviously, cooking more at home and sometimes wanting that to be special. “Everybody’s looking for a place to put their minds right now,” he observes.
All the meats in the sampler boxes come with recipes, but Orsi wrote down these grilling ones just for us, just for this spring and summer — cooking over flames feels primally timeless and reassuringly normal right now, when little else does. Also, grilling is just fun, and we can all use more of that at the moment.
As you might imagine, a sampler box from Marx Foods isn’t cheap, but then it shouldn’t be. If we’re going to do it, we should eat less meat and consider it a treat, truly appreciating it and supporting animals being raised right. I’m not engaging in hyperbole in saying it was an incredible privilege and an epic joy to eat the Ovation lamb from Marx Foods, simply grilled according to the recipe below — it was better than any lamb I’ve ever had in any restaurant and possibly the best thing I’ve ever personally cooked. It’s so good, you might forget to eat much of the mint-pea pesto at all, which is just fine because it’s excellent straight out of the fridge the next afternoon, just eaten cold with a spoon.
Marx Foods’ Slow-Grilled Lamb Chops with Pea-Mint Pesto
I used frozen petite peas, which always seem sweeter, and boiled them super-briefly instead of waiting for them to thaw. Also, just a splash of stock or water plus several more tablespoons of olive oil made this glossier and richer and possibly even more delicious. — B.J.C.
6 ounces defrosted frozen or fresh peas
1 bunch fresh mint
1 small to medium garlic clove, minced
¼ cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
¼ cup vegetable stock (or substitute water)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
1. Combine all ingredients except the stock, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, and blend until well-mixed in a food processor, blender or with a hand blender.
2. While blending, slowly stream in vegetable stock. Once all the stock has been incorporated, add the olive oil and lemon juice, and blend again. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Slow-Grilled Lamb Chops
4 12-ounce 4-rib lamb racks
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, rough chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, rough chopped
Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper
1. Light your grill into two zones, one high heat and one medium-low.
2. Season the lamb all over with salt and pepper. Spread the meaty sides of the racks with the mustard, then press the rosemary and thyme onto the mustarded meat.
3. Place the lamb racks over the high heat, fat-side down, and grill until browned, 4-6 minutes.
4. Turn the racks, and cook another 3-4 minutes until well-browned.
5. Move the racks to the medium-low zone. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the lamb reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees F (medium-rare).
6. Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice into chops and serve drizzled with pea-mint pesto, with more on the side.
Marx Foods’ Grilled Honey-Mustard Chicken Thighs
Enough for 4-6 chicken thighs
Justin Marx loves the sauce/marinade here — he says it’s like “an elevated, adult version of chicken nuggets sauce,” and he is not wrong about that or its goodness.
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons honey
Juice of ¾ lemon plus a little lemon zest
1 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch of Kosher salt
Fresh-ground pepper (generous)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients except the olive oil until completely combined. Spoon out and set aside enough for drizzling when served or putting on buns, should you decide to make chicken sandwiches. Add olive oil and combine.
2. Add chicken thighs, make sure the chicken is evenly covered and marinate in fridge for 4-6 hours or even overnight.
3. Grill chicken thighs over medium-high heat about 4-6 minutes per side until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F when a meat thermometer is stuck into the thickest part of the thigh.
Orsi Marx’s Cucumber Salad
This is Orsi’s suggestion for a side for the honey-mustard chicken thighs, and it is a very good one. If you decide to make chicken sandwiches, this could go right in them.
For the dressing:
3 parts rice vinegar
1 part olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon brown sugar
Few drops of fish sauce (optional)
For the salad:
4 large cucumbers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1. Cut cucumbers in thin slices (“In Hungary, we do this super thin,” says Orsi).
2. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the cucumber slices and the chopped herbs, then stir well. Let it sit for a short time so that flavors blend together.