Blade, chuck, and brisket. Overlooked by most Australians, these tend to be the cheaper cuts. Unfortunately, even blade and chuck is approaching the $10/kg mark nowadays.
‘Food writers…are partly to blame,’ British foodie and historian Bee Wilson writes, ‘We bang on about a particular cut of meat – how undervalued it is etc, etc. This drives up demand, which drives up the price. Before you know it something that used to be dirt cheap – practically given away like sacks of stock bones* – turns into a premium delicacy’ (via The Telegraph).
So when my friend Sarah asked if I could do a post on thrifty cuts of meat, I didn’t know what to write. While I do cook most of my meals now, I am not a Masterchef; I don’t know what to do with pig’s trotters, lamb’s fry or pluck. Therefore, I’m not going to list all of the weird and wonderful cuts of meat out there; if you want that kind of information, you should ask your butcher.
Nevertheless, the general rule of thumb is to use the tougher bits of the animal:
Fine-grained tender meat is cut from the portion of the animal that has the least exercise, and is the most expensive meat to buy. The muscles exercised most yield tougher, less expensive meat, which has the same food value as the more expensive cuts. (via Shirley Cameron and Suzanne Russell’s Cookery the Australian Way, 6th Edition)
Stay clear of processed meat or anything that has been handled extensively by the butcher. On Woolworths Online, a marinated leg of lamb costs $18.99/kg whilst an untreated leg of lamb only costs $13.49/kg. Also learn to be handy with a knife. Whole chickens cost less than the sum of their parts.
Some butchers specialise in certain meats and cuts: Greek butchers will stock lots of lamb and rabbit whilst Asian butchers carry a greater variety of pork. Supermarkets tend to be more pricy than butchers, but not always. You can also buy from meat wholesalers. I haven’t tried this out yet, but according to Sandra Reynolds of The $120 Food Challenge, they’re a viable option for larger families.
Once you’ve bought your random cut of meat, do your research before trying to cook it. Tougher bits of meat need to be cooked in the low, moist heat of a slow cooker**. The gamey taste of rabbit may need to be disguised with spices. If you don’t respect your cut of meat, which is what I did many moons ago, you might end up with leathery bits of pork in your noodle stir fry.
If fried chicken hearts fail to sound appetising, try reducing the amount of meat consumed. ‘As a nation we love our meat,’ Sandra Reynolds notes in her book, ‘but it adds a significant amount to our food bill. The easiest way to address this is to have two meat-free meals a week – this simple measure will reduce your weekly meat bill by up to 30 percent.’ Instead, use stock, drippings, etc. to give vegetables that wonderful unami flavour.*** Alternatively, bulk up small amounts of meat with the help of protein-rich alternatives such as mushrooms, eggs, chickpeas, and lentils–
Anyway, all of this food talk is making me hungry. Going to eat my vegetarian pie now,
*Even stock bones cost money nowadays. Beef bones/chicken frames now cost $2 per bag. Some butchers/poultry shops still hand out frames/bones for free, but only once you buy other products from them.
**Cookery the Australian Way gives a Heston Blumenthal-like explanation for this:
When meat is cooked the proteins, albumen and globulin are coagulated and softened at temperatures below the boiling point of water. However, both these and the connective tissue proteins, collagen and elastin, are toughened by high temperatures and dry heat. The less expensive tougher cuts of meat have a high proportion of collagen and elastin and are therefore tender to eat if cooked at a low temperature in a moist heat, such as in stews and casseroles.
***The Chinese are really good at doing this. Half of their vegetable dishes have some sort of animal product in them. A vegan I dated discovered this the hard way when he ordered some mapo tofu at the local dumpling house.