When I was a kid, any decent grocery store had a butcher counter. The butcher was there every day. He could help you pick a cut of meat for your recipe, or grind some beef for you, or get “specialty cuts” for you. If you only needed a small roast and all that was out were big ones, he could cut a big one down for you. And of course, he always had lollypops for little kids. Of course, some things were out of his realm — bison, lamb, venison, kosher or halal meats for example — and for that you’d have to go to a specialty butcher shop.
A lot of grocers still have something they call a butcher counter, but it’s not what it used to be. Most of the meat that gets sold comes to them already packaged and ready for sale. A small amount of meat is in the counter, mostly common items like ground beef and chicken breasts, and sale items. The “butcher” is also responsible for the meager selection of seafood, often half of it pre-cooked shrimp in various sizes, along with seasonal items like salmon in Springtime. The “butcher” himself knows cuts of meat, but he’s unlikely to know much about meatpacking. I really only know one traditional grocer in town that has a real butcher, and that’s a kosher butcher in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Ask him about chopped liver and you’ll get a regular dissertation.
Some stores don’t even have that much. Just try to find a butcher in a Wal-Mart Supercenter or a Fresh And Easy. Every bit of meat arrives shrink wrapped, much of it half-frozen. What’s in the cold case is what they’ve got. The end.
So this brings me to an interesting discovery. Some ethnic markets still have actual butchers! That’s right, a human being who hacks up cows and chickens and pigs and sells the parts. I don’t worry about “pink slime” in the ground beef from my local Asian grocery store, because I have every reason to believe there’s a guy dumping chuck steak into a grinder in the back. Because most of the clientele isn’t interested in traditionally Western cuts, things like sirloin and filet mignon are downright cheap. This particular store even has a fish counter where you can buy frozen or fresh seafood (some of it still swimming). And as if that’s not enough, the produce is fresh, plentiful, and inexpensive. We also have a terrific Hispanic superstore that has a whole section devoted to different kinds of bananas. Shopping at these alternative stores is also a great way to stay away from heavily processed “Standard American Diet” foods.
So do yourself a favor: head out to your local ethnic market and see what they’ve got. You might have a new favorite grocery store!
In Closing: she doesn’t post often but she’s interesting; two views of the Apple ebook case; I really don’t want to step into the latest round of Mommy Wars; guerrilla gardening; GOP says we don’t need any consumer protection; counter-intuitive; and Sakura.