Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Fearful Gourmet Buys Meat

Sometimes you just have to ask for help. The older I get, the more I realize that's true. Lately though, I've been finding that the place where I need the most help is in the meat section of the grocery.

Take today for example... I went to Uncle Giuseppe's to pick up meat for a recipe that I'll be making this weekend. The recipe (from an old issue of the now defunct Gourmet magazine) called for either beef cheek (EWWW) or boneless beef chuck roast. Since there was no way in hell  that I was EVER going to cook something called "cheek," I decided to go for the chuck roast, which sounded harmless enough.

But when I located it in the meat department it didn't look like I had expected it to (ie: like a brisket - the only cut of meat that I apparently understand). It was a little too... "meaty" looking. Plus, it appeared to be tied with a string, and the recipe called for cutting it into 4 pieces, against the grain. Do I untie it before cutting it? And how could I even tell where the grain WAS with this sort of meat?

Befuddled and confused, my mother (yes, she was trying to help, but isn't too comfortable with meat either) and I stood discussing the options for a while. Could I get a "bottom eye" roast instead? (Whatever the heck THAT is). Could I just substitute brisket?

Finally, I just decided to bite the bullet and ask for help. I marched over to the butcher counter and asked the butcher all my silly questions (ie: about the string, about the grain, and about whether I could substitute a "bottom eye" -- (he didn't recommend it)). I explained that I live with two vegetarians and I don't cook meat much. He very kindly answered all my questions and then asked me if I would like HIM to cut the meat into four pieces for me. WOULD I??? Would I ever! He explained to me why a chuck roast was better for my purposes (a long slow braise) than a bottom eye (more fat in the chuck makes it taste better). And then he untied a roast for me, cut it in four pieces and repackaged it.

"You don't know the the trauma you've spared me from," I told him, and I asked if I could come back another time and ask him more questions. He was happy to oblige, and even introduced himself and asked my name (probably so he can avoid me in the future).

Moral of the story -- Unless you are a cow, the butcher is your friend. Don't be afraid to ask him questions.


  1. Ok, so, yes, I AM laughing at you! Haha! I live with meat eaters (aka meatatarians) so this is just so funny! I also can't believe you paid that much for chuck. Chuck!! Oye vay! I'll have to come to NY to show you a thing or three. Does anyone even sell cheek anymore? I overheard someone the other day lamenting over the price of ham hocks - as if they were some prime meat, the price is ridiculous!

  2. I'm still waiting to see how your cheek, er I mean chuck recipe turned out without the sting (sic)

  3. Joan - want to be my official editor?

  4. Great line: Unless you are a cow, the butcher is your friend. :-D

  5. Since I'm the vegetarian in the family, it's my solemn duty to post this Reuters story.

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  6. Ditto Margaret Reyes Dempsey's comment. Love the second to last line.

  7. Beef cheek? Seriously? I wouldn't even know where to start and I'd half expect my local butcher to look at my funny if I asked for it.

    How does the old saying go: With age comes wisdom? I do agree it gets easier to ask for help as we get up in age a few years.


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