I was at a high end grocery store yesterday and overheard a piece of a conversation that got me to thinking.
There were a few senior citizens walking through the meat department, chatting about the selection. One of them was looking at a pre-portioned package of pork or chicken in a marinade that had been vacuum packaged, and exclaimed, “It’s so expensive!”
These types of things usually run $6-10 per pound around here, depending on the contents and if you can find it on sale. I absolutely love this concept, in theory. Between the price and the questionable ingredients, I just can’t bring myself to buy that type of thing.
In this particular store, those packages were located less than 10 feet from the ‘family size’ meat packages… you know, where they sell an entire pork loin for about $2.00 per pound or a total cost of about $20? (That’s what I was there for.)
The conversation the seniors were having made me pause, though. It made me realize that many people don’t even think to do something that I have been doing for years. You see, I buy the larger cuts of meat- the whole pork loin, the beef eye round, etc- and then take them home and spend a half hour or so doing a bit of my own butchering and prep work.
If you like those pre-marinaded meat packages, but the budget is getting a little tight, you can make your own very easily!
All you need is:
about 30 to 60 minutes, start to finish, depending on how fast you are. I tend to go slowly and deliberately, but I’m betting it would take one of those celebrity chefs all of about 15 minutes.
a large cutting board, preferably with a drip catching channel (I also usually stick a bleachable, absorbent towel under the cutting board)
a good, sharp carving or chef’s knife (a long and sharp blade makes the cutting go so much more smoothly!)
plastic, sealable freezer bags
a large cut of meat
salad dressing or marinade sauce (I often make my own, since I prefer to have control over the ingredients, but store bought works fine, too)
Tips: I find it’s a good idea to have a roll of paper towels nearby, and, if possible, to be working near an empty sink that has been cleaned and sterilized (empty it out, wipe & rinse, then spray it with a 10% bleach solution and allow to air dry while you gather the materials together). I also usually have my bags all staged and labelled before I start working with the meat. Staging the bags includes folding the opening, cuff-style, so the zipper part doesn’t end up getting dripped on.
What to do:
The following is how I do it for a 3-adult household, using the pork loin for this example. Your needs may be different due to household size or what your family likes. I encourage you to consider what you and your family like to eat regularly, and adapt this to those preferences.
1) This part can be a little tricky, as there’s a ‘sweet spot’ with cutting the package open enough to allow the liquid to easily drain, without having the meat pop out of the package and land in the sink, which is why I recommend having an empty & sterile sink.
In or over the sink, cut open one end of the meat package. Carefully work the meat around in the package to allow most of the red goo to drain out. Run some water into the package, work it around to dilute the remaining goo, and then pour that water out. Slide the meat out onto your cutting board and dispose of the packaging. If you’re not concerned with the drippy mess, you can just take it out of the package and give it a good rinse now, rather than in the next step.
2) Cut the loin into 3 approximately equal length pieces, and rinse each under running water. This removes any bone debris as well as the coating of goo from the package.
3) Put 1 end piece in a large zipper bag that has been labelled “Pork Roast” (or whatever you would normally call it) and marked with today’s date.
4) Slice the middle piece into steaks or chops- I like them to be about 1 inch thick, and I usually get about 6-8 pieces. Put them into bags that have been marked with what they are and the day’s date. I usually label them as pork steaks, but some people prefer ‘boneless pork chops’. It’s just a matter of what you are likely to look for in the freezer. Portion them according to your needs- I like to work in 2’s and 4’s, but your needs may be different.
5) Trim off what fat you can from the remaining third of the loin. It doesn’t have to be perfectly fat free, but it’s easier to work with for this part if you can get most of it off before you start cutting. You may find it easier to do this using smaller paring knife instead of the large blade. If you are having a hard time with it, cut the entire thing into steak/chop sized slices and then lay them each flat on the board and cut the fatty edge off. I usually save these fatty scraps for bean soup (after giving a meatier piece or 2 to the dog as a treat), but if you don’t want to deal with that, you can dispose of them.
6) Take 2 chop/steak sized slices and cut them into cubes- if you’re likely to use them in soup, cut them smaller, but for kebabs, you might want to go bigger. It’s a matter of what you prefer, what you’re likely to use and what your family will eat. Put the cubes into a labelled, dated bag.
7) The remaining piece gets cut into strips for fajitas or stir fry. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to slice the meat into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, steak/chop style, then pile a few of them together, cut it in half or thirds, and then cut it into strips in the opposing direction… that’s not very clear… picture a tic-tac-toe board, pound sign or hashtag, but with a bunch of extra lines going in one direction… kind of like this: (=I=I=I=I=I=) Does that make any sense at all?
Anyway, once you’ve got the strips cut up, put them into labelled bags. I usually get 2 bags of strips out of it, but you may only get 1. Also, I usually cut up the end piece and add it to the bag of cubes, because most of the time it is not shaped in a way that makes turning it into strips easy or practical.
8) You should have no meat left on the board at this point, so clear your work space- put the cutting board and knife in the sink, wash your hands thoroughly (a nail scrubber might be helpful to get the meat bits out from under your nails), and wipe up any spills or drips. If you chose to save the fatty scraps, seal them up getting as much air as you can out of the bag (surface exposure to air is what causes freezer burn, so it is very undesirable), and stick them in the freezer (making sure they’re labelled and dated, of course!)
9) You now have 1 roast, 1-3 bags containing steaks/chops, 1 bags containing cubes, and 1-2 bags containing strips, as well as a clear workspace and your chosen marinade liquid(s). Decide which cuts are NOT going to be frozen with the marinade, and seal them up getting as much air as you can out of the bag (surface exposure to air is what causes freezer burn, so it is very undesirable), and stick them in the freezer, too. I usually only do 2-3 packages with the marinade, and leave the rest ‘naked’
10) The remaining packages will get the marinade or dressing you’ve chosen. If you’re using a salad dressing or thinner consistency sauce for the marinade, make sure it’s well mixed before adding it to the meat- you don’t want to just pour oil or water in- you want everything to be well distributed.
I don’t measure how much I put in, I just kind of ‘eyeball’ it. If I had to guess, I’d say it probably takes somewhere around 1/3 to 2/3 cup of marinade, depending on the package. You don’t want the meat to be swimming in the liquid, but you do want to be able to see that liquid has been added. There should be enough marinade to cover all of the meat surfaces and still have some pooling at the bottom of the bag.
I usually pour it in, then seal the bag (leaving some air in it to make it easier to work) and kind of smoosh the meat around in the sauce to get all surfaces coated. Then I pick the bag up and check if there’s any liquid visible. If not, I add a bit more, then seal the bag up, removing as much air as possible, give it a bit more smooshing to distribute the liquid (and, if it’s the cubes or strips, to flatten them out into a single layer, or as close as I can get them). I then double check that my label is accurate with the cut, marinade and date, and put it in the freezer. If there is enough liquid in there, I re-open the bag and get the air out (freezer burn- BAD), then seal, smoosh a bit more, and freeze.
So, with that pork loin that cost about $20, a few zipper bags and a bottle of salad dressing, I have a minimum of 7 family meals, 2-3 of which are all set up for quick and easy cooking. Plus I’ve got the trimmings that give my bean soup a little extra porky “oomph!”
How’s that for stretching a buck?
edit- I submitted this to Joybilee Farm’s Homestead Abundance Blog Link-up, and since I can’t figure out how to make a link show up properly, here’s the URL: http://fiberarts.ca/blog/homestead-abundance-2/