Ever go to a restaurant and see an item on the entrée list that is an unfamiliar cut of meat? Something you have never before spotted in the grocery store? That is because there are some super specialty cuts that the pros know to snap up from their butchers before they ever get to the stores. But one of the strange upsides of the current challenges for the restaurant community is that a lot of the products that are usually reserved for the pros are showing up in places we mere mortals can buy them!
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Easy never tasted so awesome.
But what should we be looking for and what should we do with them when we find them?
Here are some super-secret butcher and chef faves that you should keep an eye out for (or ask your butcher for!):
Secret cuts of beef
Bavette: This cut, which means “bib” in French, is a crescent-shaped flap of meat from the front of the cow that when whole will run about 4-5 pounds. You will more likely see it cut into steaks, and it may be my favorite cut of meat. It has a rich, intense beefy flavor and wonderful toothsome chew, similar to skirt steak. Treat it like a great cut of steak: Sear hot and fast and cook to medium-rare. Be sure to cut across the grain in thinner slices for maximum tenderness.
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Chuck Flap: This is just what it sounds like—the flap attached to the chuck roast. While chuck is usually best when cooked a long time in a braise or stew, the flap can be treated more like a steak. As with the bavette, cook to medium rare and cut across the grain to bring out the flavor and texture.
Hanger Steak: Sometimes called a hanging tender, this is a naturally more tender cut of meat that you will often see on bistro menus for steak frites. It is an odd shape for a steak, thinner on one end and thicker on the other, making it a good one to share when one of you prefers steak done rare and the other closer to medium.
Secret cuts of pork
Secreto: The name literally means “secret” in Italian, because the cut has been a butcher’s secret for eons. Essentially a pork skirt steak, this thin cut has great deep porky flavor, similar to the flavor of ribs. It is terrific for a super-fast grill or sear in a hot skillet, can stand up to intense marinades or spice rubs, and makes killer schnitzel or sandwiches.
Neck: The best place to find pork neck is at an Asian butcher, and it is worth seeking out. This flavorful cut works best either really fast or low and slow cooking, so consider marinating it to use in stir-fries or throwing it in a soup or stew. If you slow roast pork neck, it will emerge very tender and can be shredded for everything from a pulled pork to a pasta sauce.
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Secret cuts of lamb
Ribs: Again, a darling of chefs, especially on appetizer menus, lamb ribs have all the flavor you love in a classic rack of lamb, for much less cost. You can prepare the same way you prepare pork ribs with smoke, or just grill them hot and serve more medium. This robust meat can really stand up to other in-your-face flavors, so don’t hesitate to season aggressively or bust out the spice!
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The ultimate secret cut: cheeks
I don’t care if they are beef, pork, or even halibut, cheeks are always the most succulent and tender cut of any creature. Pork cheeks are wonderful in long-simmered ragus (pork cheek ragu over polenta is one of my favorites). Beef cheeks make a pot roast or stew of incomparable richness and are a great swap-out for veal shanks in an osso buco style braise. And halibut or other fish cheeks make amazing fast sautés or luxurious poached portions.
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