Rob Rossi is a Food Network Canada favourite: he was the runner-up in the inaugural season of Top Chef Canada and he was a star chef on Chef in Your Ear. He’s also a celebrated Toronto restaurateur and meat savant, known across the city as the culinary brains behind Bestellen, a meat-centric restaurant where diners with the foresight to place an advance order can enjoy an entire roasted suckling pig, family style.
Despite all the attention, Rossi’s approach is actually quite simple; focusing on quality ingredients and time-tested techniques. Here he gives his advice for choosing inexpensive meats, as well as the cheap cuts home cooks can prepare without sacrificing flavour.
Think low and slow.
When in doubt, search for recipes that call for braising, stewing, or ‘low and slow’ cooking. “Any cut that can’t just be grilled or seared is usually pretty cheap,” says Rossi. “Tougher cuts are often the cheaper ones.”
Season, season and season some more.
“I think a lot of the time people are really scared of salt and pepper,” says Rossi. “They’re really scared of fresh herbs, or they use them too sparsely.” But when cooking with cheaper cuts — which Rossi says are often more flavourful — seasoning can mean the difference between adequate and great.
Spend your meat savings on wine.
Quality is important when braising, a common technique for turning tough cuts tender. Use an excellent veal, beef or chicken stock, and avoid high-sodium boxed brands. Even the low-sodium versions are too salty, says Rossi. If you prefer to braise your meats with wine — a solid choice for darker meats like oxtail, venison and beef — Rossi suggests choosing one that’s good enough to drink. “It’s probably not a good opportunity to dump in some crappy wine,” he says, “because that taste is really going to stay there. You certainly don’t want to open up a $20 bottle, but I would say if you’re going to drink some of it, that’s a good measure there. Would you have a glass of it? Okay, that’s good enough.”
Ready to get cooking? Here are some cheaper cuts Chef Rossi loves to make:
Roasting the shinbone of a cow yields a decadent marrow, perfect for spreading on brioche toasts or potatoes. “There’s no real meat on the outside of them,” says Chef Rossi, “so that’s why they’re cost effective. It’s just the marrow on the inside, which is basically just really rich and fatty.”
Although Rossi says most Canadians are liable to pick beef, it’s not his top choice. “I like ground pork a lot,” he says. “I think that it doesn’t really get enough attention. I think as Canadians we’re usually fairly conservative when it comes to food, and ground beef is one of those things we always gravitate towards. But ground pork is awesome — it’s a little bit fattier and it has a lot more flavour.”
Use ground pork (and ground beef and veal) in Rob Rossi’s Spaghetti & Meatballs and Olive Oil Ice Cream
“Sausages are always cost effective,” says Rossi . “Again, it goes back to that ground meat.” Whether you enjoy them in their original shape, or disassemble them for the ground meat inside, they’re a relatively inexpensive way to add meaty flavour to many dishes.
Try Rob Rossi’s Chorizo Sloppy Joe with Manchego Cheese
“Pork’s an easy one,” says Chef Rossi. “Most pork cuts are very cheap: even the prime cuts, which would be pork chops, we know they’re cheap.” He suggests pork tenderloin if you’re cooking for a group. “Pork tenderloin is always really good for a family,” he says. “Super tender, super cheap and easy to find.”
Despite their relatively low cost, flatiron steaks provide the same feeling as having a very good cut of meat, says Rossi. “You can cook it medium rare, you can slice it like a steak.” However, don’t expect to find them easily at a grocery store. “That is something you would definitely buy at a butcher shop,” he advises.
Whatever cuts you end up choosing, have fun with them! “Chefs always make mistakes, we always have failures, and it’s certainly not something you should be scared of or say, ‘Oh I tried that once and it didn’t work,’” says Chef Rossi. “You know, it’s just food. At the end of the day, you’ll get it, and it will turn out eventually the way you want it to.”