My friend and street-rules dodgeball player Amiel Nuchovich, who knows and loves meats (including, I believe, the hearty beef heart – the food, not the Captain and his Magic Band), shares tips on how and why Latin markets beat most chain supermarkets hands down.
When Brad asked me to write an article for Meatist, I thought I’d take out two birds with one stone (an economical hunting method) by talking about cheap meats and educating readers with some street science at the same time.
While Brad might have many, many (really? we had to go with two manys? – Ed) years on me in the field of eating and meating, I do come from an impressive carnivore pedigree: I am Uruguayan. While some of you may only know Uruguay as “the guys who lost to Germany on Saturday,” you should also know that our only cash crop is that funny-looking-yet-delicious plant that moos.
With beef as our main export, all of the pricier cuts like filet and tenderloin wind up in cargo containers, leaving us with the cheaper skirt, plate, and flank cuts. All of which make us experts at figuring out ways to turn these fatty and sinewy meats into delicacies. So while I do enjoy a good steak au poivre, eating a (properly cooked) skirt steak sends me back to childhood, back to the motherland.
The problem is that chain supermarkets really don’t know much about these cuts and either don’t sell them (in favor of grinding them into burger), or, for some unknown reason, price them higher than filet. This is where the Latino market comes into play. Latino markets provide the freshest food for the lowest prices around (Publix should be fined asking four or five bucks a pound for stuff like oxtail).
Do you live in a town where immigrants from south-of-the-border countries are readily visible, walking or riding bikes to or from work? If so, it’s likely there’s a Latino market nearby; ask one of these hardworking people where it is if you can’t find it yourself.
The meat counter at a Latino market is a beautiful sight. Meats are displayed in the largest pieces possible to preserve freshness, and they’re cut to order. Every little disgusting part of animal can be found: tripe, chicken feet, oxtails, intestines, tongue, you name it. Especially delicious are the short ribs, the chicken, or any other meats that have been marinating in the secret in-house spicy elixir all day. A language barrier with the butchers may pose a problem, but it’s easily remedied by bringing a bilingual friend or Googling how your meat o’ choice is pronounced en español.
A word on cheap cuts: if your idea of a gore-may steak is a $8.99 flatiron from Applebee’s, cheap beef may not be for you. Cheap cuts take work, but have the potential to be the best-tasting meal you’ll have all week.
Take, for example, skirt steak. Skirt is cut from the diaphragm muscle, which means the cow uses it frequently; basically it’s the opposite of the tenderloin. Since it gets worked every time the beast breathes, it’s a well-developed muscle with strong graining and an intensely beefy taste. And I mean beefy. This isn’t a delicate steak with complex nuances of flavor that get enhanced by a drizzle of hollandaise.
With this kind of balls-deep flavor, the best you can do is marinate the steak in something acidic in an attempt to soften the blow, kind of like diverting a runaway 18-wheeler so that it only partially hits the orphanage it’s heading towards.
Try this skirt steak marinade (for 2 pounds of delicious beef) that I recently made the other day. How much did the entrée for a family of five cost me?
Yep. 14 bucks and change. God bless Latin America!