Cooking on a budget isn't always easy, but there's a silver lining: it can be really fun. Ever since I started supporting myself I've enjoyed going shopping, finding the most affordable items, and learning how to make the most of them. Sure, sometimes I wish I could afford to buy a filet mignon and some morel mushrooms every night, but there's a different kind of enjoyment that comes from being able to turn a few dollars into a gourmet meal. For me, that means starting with cheap meat, and affordable cuts that are fun to work with.
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When I talk about cheap meat, I don't mean bad-quality meat. I'm a firm believer in buying grass-fed beef or responsibly raised fish since they will always taste better than the alternative. Instead, when I say "cheap meat," I mean the cuts that are less popular or less known, and thus are a lot cheaper at your local butcher/meat department of your grocery store. Here are my three favorite cheap cuts of meat:
In my opinion, bottom round steak is the ultimate ingredient for classic steak and eggs. I could eat it for breakfast every day. But the best part is that my local Whole Foods sells responsibly raised bottom round steak for $5–6 a pound, which is a third to a quarter as cheap as most of their other steaks.
Then you'll want to season it; I recommend coating it in flour as well, or even making chicken-fried steak.
Then fry it in a skillet on high heat, and it will be ready for steak and eggs, a cheap steak lunch, or a brilliant steak sandwich.
I suppose that carcasses aren't a cut of meat per se, but they're a very affordable meat element that is a lot of fun to cook with.
I buy whole chickens with great regularity, and I always save the carcass (you can freeze it for months!) so that I can make stock afterwards. But many butchers will sell you carcasses (they're rarely on display, so just ask), and they'll almost always be incredibly cheap. Many butchers also sell turkey necks, which are excellent for both stocks and gravies.
All you need to do to turn a carcass or a neck into cheap and delicious stock is add it to a stockpot with some onions, seasoning, and water, bring it to a light simmer, and let it sit for 3–6 hours. It tastes better than any store-bought stock, and it's a lot cheaper.
Fish collars can be hard to find, but when you do find them, they're an excellent and affordable treat. If you go to a specialty fish shop or fish monger, you'll almost always have great luck, and many butchers have collars if you simply ask. The fish collar is exactly what it sounds like: the part of the fish immediately below the head. There's lots of tasty meat on the collar that gets left behind when fishes are traditionally fileted, but the meat is as delicious as any part of the fish. Plus, it's surprisingly easy to cook.
I'm a big fan of fish collars because they're very economical; lots of places throw them away since they can't be fileted, so it's a very responsible cut of meat.
What are your favorite cheap cuts of meat?