Now we know that the least expensive and most flavourful parts are found a little lower down. Think pork belly, bacon, trotters, and ham hocks.
Chefs applaud economical eating
It’s not just home cooks trying to stretch the grocery dollar as far as it will go. Celebrated chefs are also singing the praises of nose-to-tail eating. For many professional cooks who deal with farmers, buying and serving the whole beast is a very eco-friendly way to honour the animal and the hard-working producer.
Back in the day, when a hog was slaughtered on the farm, it was said that the family would “Use everything but the squeal.” Well, that time has come again. Check your local farmers market, talk to your butcher or check the meat section in the grocery store to save a few dollars. Some of these items may be a special order, while some may be kept in the back cooler for chefs and other connoisseurs of unfamiliar cuts.
Cheaper cuts have richer flavour
Matt Bell, a chef and butcher at Rowe Farms in Toronto, agrees that the less expensive cuts are often the most delicious, but acknowledges that it does take a little time and patience to make the most of a shank or shoulder. “Most of these cuts have a lot of connective tissue, cartilage, bone, and fat. This makes for rich, thicker broths when braised, but it also makes for a bit more work.”
Think of unfamiliar cuts as a side of ribs
Most of us have cooked pork, veal, or beef ribs, and we know what a tasty bargain they are. We also know it takes a bit of time to bring out their best. Low and slow - anywhere from two to five hours braising in liquid is the way to go with most of these cuts. But your saint-like patience will be rewarded with a heavenly aroma, fall-off-the-bone tenderness, and out of this world flavour.
Inexpensive cuts of pork
Pork hock or shank: From lower down on the fore or back leg, between the knee and ankle, this is a tough off-cut of the picnic shoulder roast or ham. Braising is best, but the tasty hock can be used to flavour a pea soup.
Try it! Bean and Ham Hock Soup with Kale and Croutons; Ham Hock Hash and Poached Eggs
Pig’s feet or trotters: Bad boy chef, Martin Picard, of Au Pied du Cochon, likes these so much, he named his famously popular Montreal restaurant after them. Fairly easy to come by, these tootsies ain’t so tender to start - thick skin, lots of connective tissue - but long cooking renders them tasty, tender, and surprisingly meaty. True peasant food, they can be boiled, braised, smoked, pickled, or de-boned and stuffed.
Try it! Braised Beef in Wine with Trotters
Pork cheek or jowl: Just as it sounds, this cut comes from the side of a pig’s face. The cut is very rich in both fat and flavour, and because in its life the porker did a fair bit of chewing, is also quite tough if improperly cooked. Again, it’s all about low and slow: braising, stewing, or long and gentle roasting.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to cook with inexpensive cuts of beef, veal, lamb and poultry on page 2
Inexpensive cuts of beef and veal
Flank: A thin and flat, lean, fibrous, well-worked, but delicious muscle from the hind belly of the animal, flank steak is a wonderful choice for braising, broiling, or grilling. There are two keys to a less-chewy flank steak: the marinade and slicing technique. Choose a recipe that contains tenderising ingredients, such as: tomato or citrus juices, wine, vinegar, pineapple or papaya juice, or ginger, and when you serve, slice thinly against the grain.
Try it! Rosemary Flank Steak
Skirt or Hanger: This long, flat, cut is the animal’s diaphragm muscle. Highly flavourful but rather tough, this cut benefits from braising or marinating and grilling for traditional fajitas.
Oxtail: Literally the tail of an Ox, skinned and cut into short lengths. Now, most often from beef or veal, oxtail is quite tough—think of all that fly swatting—but so full of flavour and with a silky, gelatinous texture once stewed or braised long enough. This most humble of all beef cuts is hugely important to the cuisines of Asia, the UK, and the Islands, where it’s used to delicious effect in soups, stews, and curries. Look for oxtail at any West Indian or Jamaican grocer.
Try it! Oxtail Two Potato Stew; Chinese-Style Oxtail
Shank: A tough but tasty section of leg, this cut can be purchased bone-in or out. It can be sinewy so braising is the only way to go. Veal shank on the bone is braised to succulence in wine and stock for the Italian classic, osso bucco. In North America shank meat is used to make lean ground beef.
Try it! Osso Buco
Inexpensive cuts of lamb
Shank: Braised lamb shank is a classic dish found on the menu of many European and Asian cuisines. Slow, moist cooking renders this stringy, lean, and tough cut, fall-off-the-bone tender. As with beef, lamb shank meat is also sold ground for kebabs and burgers and cubed for stews and curries.
Try it! Braised Lamb Shanks
Neck and shoulder: It seems the muscles that work the hardest, also develop the most flavour. Somewhat fatty and with many bones, these cuts are best braised or stewed. Marinate - think mint infused olive oil and lemon - and grill chops cut from the shoulder, which are leaner, and less expensive than those cut from the loin.
Try it! Honey and Beer Braised Lamb - Canadian Living Cook of the Year 2008 winning recipe!
Breast, Including Spareribs and Riblets: This lesser know part of the lamb can be purchased bone-in or de-boned, ready for stuffing, rolling, and roasting or braising. The meat tends to be fatty and not as tender as we might expect in a baby animal, but well suited to exotic, slow-cook recipes such as curries, stews, and tagines.
Try it! Lamb Korma
There really are no strange cuts in chicken, turkey, or duck - other than a steamer of chicken feet at dim sum - but in the spirit of waste not want not:
- Save the carcass for soup stock.
- Save the fat for roasting and frying.
- Don’t throw away the neck. Sure, it might look kind of creepy to some of us, but between those vertebra lurks some of the most tender, tasty meat to be found on a bird.
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