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DIY butchering with Taylor’s Danny Johnson

Slicing off the side of a 28-pound halibut is just another day at the office for Danny Johnson, co-owner and butcher at Taylor’s Market in Land Park. It’s a skill he was happy to share with a dozen Sacramentans on Saturday for one of several Butchering 101 workshops his store has held since January.

The class members bombarded Johnson with their seafood, poultry and butchering questions. He didn’t let them down.

"Everything I tell you, it’s how it works (at Taylor’s)," Johnson told the class.

They started with poultry.

Johnson explained where dark spots on chickens and turkeys come from, the current controversies with organic labeling, and good handling and knifing technique.

He showed turkey from Woodland, duck from Stockton and chicken from Cache Creek. Taylor’s sources their products locally, whenever possible.

"You want to know where this stuff comes from," he said. "Some of the stuff from China and large warehouses — buyer beware."

Johnson then demonstrated the many different steps and methods to butchering a whole chicken: boning thighs, halving, removing the keel bone, etc.

He mostly used just two knives: a 10-inch scimitar and a 6-inch boning knife. He uses the same knives at Taylor’s and at home. He said that’s all anyone really needs to butcher well.

As he chatted with the class, he would flash his blade across his steel to realign the edge of his knife. He admits he does this more often than is necessary.

"It’s a nervous habit," he said.

This was the smallest class he’s had since they started, but Johnson liked that. Being able to interact with the guests on a more personal level made things more fun and engaging for everyone, he said. Seafood is something that Johnson is particularly fascinated with, so the opportunity to explore the subject in more detail was welcomed.

Johnson prefaced his seafood demonstrations with a talk about sustainability. He does a lot of his own research on making sure the market’s seafood purchases aren’t adversely affecting fish populations somewhere else in the world. It’s not scientific, he said, but he talks with all of his suppliers and researches the vulnerability of the species they want sell. If the fish they want is suspect, or if the suppliers can’t account for where everything came from, they don’t buy it.

Throughout the discussion he shucked oysters from the East and West coasts and passed them out to whoever wanted a taste.

One class member wondered how clean it is to prepare different foods on the same surface.

"Ninety-seven percent of food-borne illnesses are because of bad hygiene, not the food," Johnson said.

The finale of the class was Johnson butchering a California king slmon and the halibut, both weighing over 20 lbs. each.

He showed the class how to collar, fillet, cut steaks and salvage the residual meat surrounding the spine for salmon sausage.

You can view a video of Johnson butchering the halibut here.

Nathan Grisham is new to the Sacramento area and loves to cook in his own home. He’s interested in anything that has to do with food.

"It’s interesting to be in the presence of anyone with real-world experience, and to be able to glean from them any knowledge you can," he said.

He said Johnson showed some techniques he had never seen and was excited to bring the methods home.

"I’ve never purchased a whole salmon, so that’s probably what I’ll try doing, especially for a party or something," he said. "Or even just to buy one and cook it for a week’s worth of dinners."

Kris Backus is a regular Taylor’s customer, but this was the first class she attended. She was impressed with the chicken demonstration.

"I’d never seen a chicken with the bones mostly cut out and then put into a cone shape that you could actually do something with, like stuff it," she said.

The market has received national press for their classes earlier this year. Johnson isn’t sure why the classes he and his wife offer are so popular. But he’s grateful they are.

"People are getting back to their roots," he said. "There’s a certain amount of the population that’s never going to change, but there’s a certain amount that are opening their eyes and are saying, ‘Hey, we need to know where this stuff comes from.’"

Working at the market and teaching the classes are one in the same for Johnson. He said customers can come to Taylor’s Market and ask about technique and meal planning, and Johnson and his employees will do their best to help. Acknowledging that not as many people are cooking in the home, Johnson sees his market as providing a needed service.

"This is how it used to be," he said. "Every neighborhood used to have a store like this. Now Sacramento only has two: us and Corti Brothers."

He is hoping the popularity is indicative of a return to local sourcing for food, and thriving neighborhood grocery markets with professional butchers, bakers and the like.

If you missed this class and would like to attend one in the future, you can view the schedule here.

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