Outdoor barbecues are practically a staple during the limited summer months in Canada. What other time of the year can we bask in a Muskoka chair with a sudsy drink in our hands while the smell of delicious, charred meat wafts through the air?
Not all is necessarily idyllic in this scenario, though: for those of us on a budget, grilling our meaty staples might be a bit harder this summer thanks to constantly rising meat prices in Canada. As such, we have to make the most out of tougher, cheaper and often non-traditional cuts.
David Jorge, the winner of MasterChef Canada‘s second season, is no stranger to “nose-to-tail” eating, a.k.a. using the entire animal. The Surrey, B.C. native and contractor raises his own cattle for personal use, and has been known to entertain a small crowd or two.
The Loop caught up with the newly anointed chef to get his take on how to make the most of those cheaper cuts during the summer months.
Make friends with your butcher
In order to transform those cuts of meat into delicious concoctions, the first step is to make sure you’re getting an actual deal. Aside from waiting for pre-packaged chicken, pork or beef to go on sale at the supermarket, a butcher is your best bet to ensuring a fair price and good quality.
“It’s very chef-y, but foster a relationship with your local butcher,” Jorge advises. “You get a better product and sometimes you’ll save on pricing. That relationship is very key to me.”
Don’t be afraid of organs…
There are two camps of foodies in this world: those who eat organ meat and those who don’t. Jorge absolutely plants himself in the former camp; among his favourites are beef tongue and heart.
“Heart can be delicious when it’s grilled beautifully. And tongue,” he says. “I typically stick to beef just because of the size and the availability. Slowly cook them off and then grill them, it’s delicious.”
Thinking of giving organs a go? You should, Jorge maintains, thanks to their inexpensiveness. If beef tongue and/or heart is a little too much for you, he recommends chicken gizzards.
“Growing up, my brother and I used to fight it out for them,” he says. “They need to be braised first, but then they can be fried or grilled.”
…or unconventional cuts
Ever had pig’s ears? You know, the same ears that can be found as dog treats in pet food stores? Us neither, but Jorge says they’re ridiculously cheap and delicious — if you can get over what you’re eating and if you prepare them properly. That means not getting them from the pet food store, but buying them fresh from a butcher or Asian market.
“Pressure cook them for an hour with a bunch of aromatics and cool them off because they need to be tender,” Jorge, who uses them as a salad topper, says. “Then I like dredging them in rice flour and giving them a fry until they’re really crispy.”
Become an expert at marinades
Organs and pigs ears aside, more traditional cuts of beef like brisket or skirt steak, pork belly or chump (a rear-end cut), and even cheaper chicken drumsticks can all benefit from a really delicious marinade. Mix your favourite seasonings together in a dish or plastic bag (Jorge’s go-to is an Asian inspiration of soy, ginger and hoisin sauce), add the meat and refrigerate overnight.
“All meat benefits from a marinade,” he adds. “Marinate the world out of it and grill it.”
Keep it low and slow
When it comes to wintery stews or tender shanks, most of us know that slow cookers are the way to go. But with some of the new barbecues out there nowadays, there’s no need to contain your “low and slow” methods to the blustery indoor months.
“I use my barbecue’s side burner and sometimes I’ll make one of my favourite types of gravies — an oxtail gravy,” Jorge says. “I’ll make poutine, and have that gravy cooking away all day outside.”
Ever wondered who buys those fish, beef or pork heads at the market? Turns out it should be you. That’s because cheek is one of the most delicious and underrated cuts of meat out there, says Jorge.
“It’s probably the most delicious part of any animal,” he reiterates. “I’ll braise whole pork heads and then separate all of the meat.”
This method works well for fish, too. An added bonus? All of the leftover bones make for an excellent homemade fish broth. Just boil it all down with some water and aromatics, then strain. Use right away in a soup or a paella, or freeze for up to six months.
Finally, Jorge says that no matter what you do decide to make, creativity is the one thing that will put your dishes over the edge. His example? Pig’s feet. That’s right, those weird looking trotters you can sometimes find on sale at the grocery store can be turned into what Jorge calls “pig nuggets.” Yup, nuggets.
“I pressure cook or braise the feet, and then I somewhat debone them,” he says. “It doesn’t look like a pig foot, because I take all the cartilage and that stuff out. I call them pig nuggets. Just dredge them in a little bit of egg wash and potato chips. It’s super yummy.” Move over, McDonald’s.
Now that you’re familiar with gizzards, chumps and cheeks, get out there and experiment!