The second installment on the intersection of good value and tasty cooking – thanks Rob!
Welcome once again to another exciting edition of Rob’s supermarket secrets. On our last
adventure, I taught you how to how to shop for the product, not the packaging. Today we’re going to be talking about buying meat. If you’re like me, this is your favorite part about a trip to the supermarket. It’s where the exciting main courses come from. It’s also probably where you spend the most money. That’s why I’m here, to help you procure the finest protein for your pesos.
Without further ado, I give you Lesson 2: Learn to cook with more economical cuts of meat.
Now, we already learned to be brand blind when it comes to meat. There’s nothing special
about the chickens at Purdue or the pigs at Swift. However, if you really want to start saving money on your meat purchases, you’re going to have to get a little more radical in your approach. You’re going to have to change the way you select your meat, and the way you cook at home. If that sounds tough, don’t worry! Not only are you paving the way for a cheaper lifestyle, you’re opening the door to a much wider culinary spectrum in your kitchen. It’s easy. For the most part, it’s all about skin and bones.
The boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breast is the single worst scam that has been
perpetrated on the American kitchen. They often sell for three times as much as their boned chicken counterparts, but they’re harder to cook properly. Yes, that’s right. They’re harder to cook properly. That’s because they’re easy to overcook, and they bring almost no flavor to the party. If you’ve ever eaten someone’s bland, rubbery chicken, you understand what I’m talking about.
Meanwhile cuts like chicken thighs are available for roughly a third of the cost. These
economical little beauties are packed with flavor and incredibly versatile. Yes, more versatile than your boneless, skinless breasts. You disagree? Try making a good chicken cacciatore without skin and bones or a good arroz con pollo. No, it’s ok. I’ll wait. Once you start cooking with real cuts of chicken, you’ll find what your grandparents have always known, that the skin and bones are where the flavor comes from. The best part is that every skin-on cut of meat is still skinless when you need it to be, you just have to get your hands dirty.
This same logic applies to pigs as well. Bone in pork chops can cheaply replace a boneless cut in most applications. Bone in pork roasts such as the butt (actually the shoulder) can be purchased for much cheaper than similar cuts of beef and can be roasted or braised (my personal favorite is to turn it into pulled pork in my crock pot). Much like the boneless, skinless, breast, the vacuum sealed pork tenderloin is something of a rip off. While this is the best cut of the pig, it’s hard to justify paying upwards of six dollars a pound for it when you can find the much larger whole loin or the rib roast for a third of the cost. Both make excellent roasts and are wonderful replacements for their beef counterparts as the centerpiece of your Sunday dinner.
Finally we come to the cow. Unfortunately, I don’t have any miracle advice for finding cheap
beef. While you can often find affordable cuts like the round or the spare rib, more often than not with beef you get what you pay for. As discussed, one option is to cook with pig instead. The prime rib, tenderloin, and the steaks (chops) are all much cheaper when they come from swine. With other animals, added butchering tends to increase the price. So you tend to pay more for pork chops than you would for a rib roast. This still holds true with beef. You’ll pay more for a tenderloin than a standing rib roast, but what you won’t find is a super sale on standing rib roast (or if you do, it’s liable to still be six bucks a pound). The only answer is to pick your spots. The thrifty cook buys beef sparingly, and uses every part of the cow.
So there you have it. It may seem like a tall order. The trick is to start small. Buy that value pack of chicken thighs on sale for 99 cents a pound and try cooking them a few different ways. Buy a cheap pork roast and look for a cool recipe for it. Even if your first attempts are less than stellar, you won’t have wasted much money. It takes time and a willingness to experiment, but soon you’ll be roasting whole chickens, and you’ll have a host of recipes for what to do with the leftovers. Until next time, keep your pantry stocked and your guests well fed. Cheers!