Tips for Cooking Inexpensive Cuts of Pastured Meat

By now, we hope you’ve heard about
the many benefits of choosing pastured meats over industrially raised meats.
For more on that, check out the following resources: Eat Wild, The
Amazing Benefits of Grass-Fed Meat
, What
You Need to Know About the Beef You Eat
and Yet
More Proof That Grass-Fed Meat is Better
.

But if you’re already sold on this
great idea, you may have discovered that pastured meat products often cost more
than their inferior commercial counterparts, which are unfortunately raised in
ways that keep cost–and quality–low. The good news is that you can make
incredibly delicious meals from the less
expensive cuts
of meat available from pastured producers. Here are a few
tips from Good Meat: The Complete Guide
to Sustainable Meat
by Deborah Krasner. 

Tips For Cooking Inexpensive Cuts of Pastured Meat

* Grass-fed meats can often be a
little bit drier than corn-fattened meat, so you always want to take care not
to draw out any natural moisture. To that end, it’s usually best to add salt in
the form of a rub or in the pan as the meat cooks, rather than in marinades.
Using salt in marinades can draw out moisture.

* Always
let roasted meat rest for at least 15 minutes before carving–this is
particularly important with grass-fed beef, as it contains less fat to hold in moisture
than industrial meat does.

* Use
a meat thermometer to judge doneness, and stop cooking meat when it registers
10 or so degrees less than the ideal temperature. This allows for the continued
internal cooking that occurs when the meat is first removed from the heat
source and is rested.

* Ground
beef from grass-fed cows must be cooked carefully–either quickly seared on the
outside to stay rare within or cooked very slowly to a more advanced state of
doneness.

* Cook beef chuck and beef brisket
with low-and-slow cooking methods. 

* Braise beef shanks. They can be
more or less meaty, but are always worth cooking
slowly, whether on or off the bone. (On the bone offers more flavor.) 

* Flank steak is generally cheaper than filets and other
fancier steaks. Try marinating flank steak in a tasty mix of sweet and
acid elements before pan-cooking or broiling. Other cuts from the flank include
portions of the sirloin (the flap meat), which is cut into steaks, steak tips,
and meat suitable for stuffing and rolling.

* Tri-tip
beef roasts and steaks, stewing beef from the ball tip, plus sirloin steaks and
roasts, as well as the culotte (used for stuffing and rolling), make up the
offerings from the sirloin portion of the cow. Stews should always cook very
slowly with the lowest possible heat (in the oven or on the stovetop), while
steaks can cook more rapidly over direct heat on the stovetop, grill or under
the broiler.

* Divided
into top, bottom, sirloin tip and eye of round, beef round offers a wide mix of
steaks and/or oven roasts as well as stew meat and pot roasts. That’s because some
parts of this primal are more tender than others, and so profit from different
cooking methods and cutting patterns. Minute steaks, for example, are cut
thinly and pounded to create tenderness when rapidly cooked, while
London broil’s open texture absorbs flavorful marinades to
provide a tasty and tender mouthfeel when sliced on the bias. For those who are interested
in curing meats, eye
of round is the choice for bresaola, the great Italian air-cured dried beef.

* Learn
to cook beef offal and other odd bits. Liver, heart, kidneys, sweetbreads and
tongue are generally referred to as offal. All of these are worth cooking
carefully and well, and offer good eating. Odd bits such as oxtail or beef
cheeks are equally rewarding when braised, and beef fat (suet) is a valuable
ingredient in its own right for pastries as well as for larding lean roasts.
Cuts such as brains, testicles, and tripe can be very difficult to source from
local processors, but may be available from on-farm sources, or ethnic markets.

* Today’s
heritage and traditional pig breeds offer real texture and deeper flavors than
those of industrial pork, in large part because they are raised outside on a
more natural diet. Their meat has a good fat cover, and is generally well
marbled, which (because it doesn’t dry out) makes it easy to cook. Sustainable
pork offers one of the most dramatic flavor and texture contrasts between the
products of industrial production and those from farm-based husbandry, so it’s
worth trying even the least expensive cuts of pasture-raised pork you can find. 

* The
pork shoulder is a versatile cut from a hardworking part of the pig. It
includes the butt, which can be smoked (or not) and cooked like ham,
country-style ribs (great for braising and baking), Sunday dinner choices like
picnic arm roasts and shoulder blade roasts, and weekday night standbys like
picnic and blade steaks.

* The
lower portion of the pork leg gives us shanks and hocks, which are great
braising cuts to use in soups, pasta sauces, or stews.

* Lush
and fatty, pork belly is best known for bacon (smoked), but is increasingly
valued for fresh belly, which is usually braised or boiled before browning, and
is usually cheaper than bacon. 

* If
you find a great deal on free-range chickens, try salting
or brining them overnight,  marinating
them in spices and oil, slow-cooking them to melting tenderness, or simply roasting
whole birds. Brining or pre-salting always adds succulence, but is perhaps less
essential with pastured birds than with supermarket organic birds.

* If
you can buy sustainably raised chicken in parts or cut one up yourself, the
meat will make one of the most memorable chicken braises you will ever taste.
And if you are lucky enough to come across a stewing hen (usually older birds
that are no longer laying eggs), snap it up and make any of those braises again
(only cook it for much longer–up to five hours) to discover a depth of chicken
flavor you’ve probably never had the chance to experience before.                                                                                                      

Finding Quality Meat Producers: To find pastured producers in your
area, check the searchable databases of Eat
Wild
and Local Harvest.

Do you have tips for cooking tasty
but inexpensive meats? Share them in the comments section below. 

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