Thursday, March 28, 2013

Market Trip--Butcher Shop

Not long after our last cooking class, Dan took several of us on a trip to the mercado--the fresh foods market.  The butcher shop isn't part of the actual market but it is said to have the best reputation in town so off we went.

Most of the meat markets here carry both bulk (sometimes made fresh right there) and packaged sausages.  Unfortunately, what they seem to lack is any kind of sausage that doesn't resemble bologna or mealy hot dogs.  It's sad but true.

On the other hand, there is plenty of variety in fresh meat.  I don't recall seeing any chickens there but there may have been some I missed.  There were feet and heads in abundance, however.

They carry fish and shrimp but I think I'd probably get mine from the fish merchant in the mercado.  She gets hers fresh from the coast every Thursday.  These look a little, um, well, just not exactly appealing somehow.

One of the things I was always told in the States is that having meat that is hanging like this is a very good thing and generally a sign that it will be more tender and flavorful than the stuff that was aged in a package.

First of all there's the issue with how the local beef are fed.  When I tell people they're grass fed, they tell me how wonderful that is and how tender the meat is that they get in the States that is grass fed.  That's apparently because cows that are grass fed in the States are being fed grass that is actually a grain, like oats and wheat, but while it's in the field--the grass part of it.  (You know, don't you, that I'm getting some of this wrong?)  The grass the cows eat here is the equivalent of crab grass and weeds on the side of the road.  They get less nutrition than they should and have almost no fat at all.  That is the beginning of the problem.

Then we get back to the hanging part of the whole thing. Hanging meat is good, IF the meat has been aged at all.  One of the things I learned is that the meat we get here may have been moo-ing this morning and we're cooking it this afternoon.  Not good.  You can skip to the next photo if you have a sensitive system.

After a cow/steer/whatever is killed, it needs to have rigor mortise set in for six hours (mind you, I have no idea how any of this works or if I'm saying the right things or not--this is just what I remember from our little tour and a cooking class).  Then it needs to get hung to age. It has to be very cold but not quite freezing (35 degrees F?).  Once it has aged properly, and has been fed so that it has a little fat and some marbling, THEN it will be tender.  In other words, the meat here is tough as shoe leather.  It's very flavorful and I've found that cooking it in a slow cooker makes a world of difference (I'm going to be getting a pressure cooker and I've been told that will make a huge difference as well).  At any rate, the meat looks lovely, doesn't it?

The way meat gets cut is interesting, too.  There are kind of cuts but mostly it's just cut up into pieces, so you either have meat on the bone or meat off the bone.  When it's sliced, it's generally very thin.  A steak is generally about a half inch thick here.  I'm sure a big part of that is because of how tough it is.  What it definitely has, though, is flavor.  It doesn't take nearly so much meat to flavor a soup as I would have needed in the States, so there are compensations.

I don't think I even want to know what people use these for--they're hooves.  I just took the picture and walked away.  I'll ask another time.

Now, on to the fruits and vegetables.


  1. Makes me glad that I'm a vegan...for health reasons only. :)

  2. Here in Kansas we occasionally get grass-fed beef, and it too is virtually without fat and. . . Well, you don't want to fry it.

    Steaks with less fat than skinless chicken breast. It's great slow roasted, cool smoked or in a stew, but don't even think about grilling it!