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Butchers delight: 5 most economical cuts

  • whole_chicken.JPG

    Get multiple meals out of a whole chicken. (Fleisher’s)

  • sausage.jpg

    Sausage is versitile and inexpensive. (Fleisher’s)

  • pork_chops.jpg

    Pork cutlets are cheaper than chicken and can be made in similar ways. (Fleisher’s)

Butchers (blood-stained aprons notwithstanding) are the new black. Or, to put it in popular food terms: They’re the latest hot dish in the trendy world of food obsessiveness. 

Sure, chefs are great and all, and who doesn’t like to watch ol’ Mario whip up some fab, hand-churned pasta (that you’ll never, ever make at home) on the Chew. 

But getting to know a good butcher? That’s money in the bank—literally.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans waste more than 34 million pounds of food annually—staggering numbers when you stop and think about the current tight-fisted state most of us are in with our bank accounts. And while butchers might seem like a luxury, they can actually save you a whole lot of money. Why? They know every inch of the animal and how to use it.  Not to mention the benefits of fresh meat.

We checked in with Jessica Applestone, co-owner with her third-generation butcher husband, Josh, of New York’s latest and well-deserving darling of the butcher block, Fleisher’s Grass Fed and Organic Meats. The Applestones recently opened an outpost of their Kingston, N.Y. shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the couple happily dispense meaty wisdom not just on great cuts, but how get the most out of them.

“The thing about economics to me is that almost any cut, with very few exceptions, can be thoroughly economic in the right proportions,” says Jessica, who is also co-author of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat (Clarkson Potter). “You really don’t need more than 4 to 6 ounces meat on your plate; less in stir-fry. It’s really important to remember not just what cut your dealing with, but also proportion.”

And, of course how to use it – here are Applestone’s top five favorite economical cuts to get you eating well and stretching a buck:

Pork cutlets. “They are far cheaper than chicken breasts, and used in exactly the same way. They have more flavor because they’re fattier, but still are extremely lean.  And they’re great because they can be used at cutlets, for stir-fry, and even in soups.”

Whole chicken. “With one whole chicken, you can roast it and have a meal for four or five people; pick at the bones and make sandwiches the next day, and then throw it in a stock pot and make soup. It’s fantastic!” As to the oh-so popular chicken breast, Jessica says buying them packaged on their own might be the biggest budget and flavor mistake that many shoppers make. “It plagues me because they’re really not in any way economical and not that delicious. Chicken thighs, on the other hand, are fabulous. They can do anything you need a chicken breast for, but are so much less expensive and loaded with flavor. And the fat content is really insignificant in comparison."

Lamb sirloin and neck.  “Lamb sirloin makes a great little roast for three,” says Jessica. “And the neck is probably the source of the most flavor you can get from a lamb. The neck is the most used muscle on the body. It never stops working because you’re constantly moving your head. Any time an animal really works a muscle, you’re going to get more flavor.” Problem is, many cooks don’t know how to work with the fatty, bony cut. Applestone advises stewing the meat and letting it to chill, allowing you to easily pull the fat away and strip the meat off the bone. Use it to make a hearty, delicious (cheap)  stew, or get your Italian grandma on and use it in Sunday pasta sauce.

Sausages.  “They’re a great way to put meat in a diet but not expensive at all. You can use them in sauces, frittatas, or fillings for burritos or enchiladas.  At home, we make chorizo and eggs – a lot”

Eye-round.  For a classic cut that makes a great cheap stew or roast, go for eye-round, says Applestone. “It’s very lean, but a good eye-round will have a lot of flavor and is so simple to work with.” Jessica rubs hers with oil, salt, and pepper, and tosses it in the oven, allowing the internal temperature to get to around 150 degrees. Then she takes it out and lets it rest for a 15 minutes or so--that’s it. “That’s dinner and sandwiches the next day. We use bottom round – it’s the most flavorful and super cheap.”