Heads and Tails
Words by Ben Runkle Photographs by Michael A. Muller
Artisanal butcher Ben Runkle knows a thing or two about salami, bacon and charcuterie—he runs the popular butcher shop/diner Salt & Time in Austin, Texas. Here’s his five-point guide for making the most of meat at home.
Reuse, replace, recycle—these are key words for modern life. Don’t waste food! Instead, be sure to use every last bit of the meat, its juice and the parts you remove. Runkle is a former vegan(!) who works with local farmers to source quality meat, and his respect for the animal means he tries not to waste any part of it. We asked him for five ideas for making the most of your meat, and here’s what he came up with.
Making stock is easy. Many things that typically get thrown away make great stock: mushroom stems, onion skins, carrot greens and, of course, bones. Next time you roast a chicken, buy some beef knuckles or pig trotters, make a rich and tasty stock from the carcass. You can freeze the stock in ice cube trays for an easy flavor boost for your next meal.
Give yourself a braise
Braising is an amazing technique for cooking meat. By cooking the meat in a flavorful liquid, you can make tougher cuts of meat tender and moist. These cuts of meat have a ton of flavor, so the payoff is well worth the work. My favorite braise is Osso Buco, cross-cut beef or veal shank cooked in wine.
It’s meat season
Not every meal needs a big hunk of meat in the center of the plate. A small amount of meat can go a long way to season a pot of beans or greens. Bacon, smoked sausage, tasso ham, pancetta—the options are practically endless.
Choose lesser-known cuts
There has been a fair amount of interest in cooking offal and off-cuts over the last few years, and that is a great thing. But you don’t have to go straight to eating liver or heart if you want to broaden your meat-eating horizon. There are tons of great cuts—especially beef—that rarely make it on to our plates. You’ll make your butcher happy by asking for these cuts, and you’ll get a great steak at a good value. Some of our favorite cuts are the Underblade and Flat Iron from the Chuck and the Culotte and Bavette from the sirloin. All of them are flavorful and tender, and are good ways to get turned into ground beef.
Animal fats have gotten a bad rap, but they’re making a well-deserved comeback. Avoid the heavily processed stuff you find at the grocery store, but freshly rendered lard is a magical ingredient. If you ever wonder why your grandmother’s cooking was so good, it probably has a lot to do with the jar of bacon grease she had sitting around. Lard is well known for making the best piecrusts and biscuits, but it’s also great for sautéing and frying. If you feel adventurous, add some of the stock you made and confit everything!