Have you ever seen the movie “Titanic?” That thing sucked. And yet it cost a truck load-and-a-half of dough to make, demonstrating that not only can’t money buy happiness, it can’t buy a couple hours of celluloid that don’t make me try to blind myself with a Twizzler.
The inverse is true as well: if you know what you’re doing, you don’t need more money than the Pope to make a good film (good thing too, because if you’re the Pope you may need some funds held in reserve for priest relocations and assorted payments to “inconvenienced” altar boys).
So what does this have to do with meat? Not much, except for the old saying “If it’s true for film, it’s true for meats,” so you don’t necessarily have to take out a second mortgage to make a good meat dish. Leaving aside the obvious choices (market ground beef burgers and such), here are two of my favorite underutilized beef dishes that aren’t horrifically spendy.
Cube Steaks Man do I love these things. My wife, not so much, but it has something to do with how they cook, or what they do to a pan, or her absurd claim that they smell odd when they’re frying up. They weigh next to nothing, so a four pack is basically free despite the fact that the price on these has gone up lately, and they’re ready in about a minute, making them a great choice to get your red meat on quickly.
The cubist nature of them releases juice easily, particularly when dropped between two pieces of soft bread, so don’t make the mistake of passing on them just because they look like they’ve been shaved from the surface of Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Baja racer’s tires. Easy to cook, easy to eat, total winners. Here’s how to enjoy them:
Season with salt and pepper, throw it in an überhot frying pan, sizzle, flip, sizzle, remove. Avoid making a sauce with Vermouth (sorry, mom).
Since these look stupid on a plate on their own (unless they’ve been chicken fried, of course) they belong in sandwiches. I like a simple one: steak, thin red onion, and mayo (I know, I know). I’ll roll with potato bread for sopping up juices, or take some pita for a more robust handle on the thing.
But it doesn’t really matter what you stick ‘em in or top ‘em with; three minutes from fridge to plate and you’ll be ready to argue the merits of this particular steak sandwich with any Philly native.
Pot Roast. Normally, I’d avoid this in the summer, but sometimes it’s still nice to fill your house with the smell of a good stew, regardless of the relative humidity. You can make this with cheap cuts, it’s dead simple, and tough to wreck no matter how much of the wine gets detoured to your mouth on the way to the pot. Bonus: keeps well and reheats better. Double bonus for South Florida residents: in case of a hurricane, a pot in your generator-powered fridge will last until FPL gets its act together – and it can be heated on your gas grill.
Grab a fat rump or chuck roast. I like rump because it’s fattier (therefore more flavorful) and I can tell my kids that they’re eating a fat ass, which never gets old.
Season it with fresh ground pepper and salt, then brown it nicely in a Dutch oven or equivalent. Remove some fat, leaving three or four tablespoons, then add your mirepoix (chopped celery, onions, carrots) plus a selection of whatever other veggies you have a thing for. Cook those fellows up a bit, then add some liquid; wine, chicken stock, beef stock, they’ll all work depending on the flavor you’re going for. A cup or two will do.
Let it come to a boil, add a choice of spices (spice selection is where you step up like the master of your kitchen you need to be) and a few bay leaves. Cover, simmer, and keep turning the roast every half hour or so, ‘less you’ve gotten too loaded on wine and forget. Just do your best; that’s all anyone can ask, you lush.
If you’ve got a flat roast, cook it for two to three hours, if you’ve got the Sir Mix-A-Lot special (he likes butts “round and big,” and also “thick and juicy”) let it go for four or so. Add extra liquid as necessary to keep it moist.
Check for extra tenderness, then pull it, skim and strain the liquid, and add a tablespoon each of butter and flour for each cup of juice left in the pot. Let that simmer and thicken, then serve it with sliced roast. The entire kit and caboodle works great dumped on some egg noodles, too.
The biggest problem with cheap meats is that they aren’t so cheap anymore. Skirt steak and oxtail have shot up (both are available at Spanish markets for a lot less than you might pay at a Publix or a D’Agostino), and so has cube steak (though butt is still pretty reasonable, at least near me). But it’s worth it; either of these dishes undercut the cost of most plates by a few bucks a pound, and both hold their own in The Meatist’s world of great meat dishes. Plus, you don’ t have to put up with Kate Winslet and Leo on the bow of a CGI ship to enjoy them.