Back when I was unemployed and living on the tit of the almighty unemployment check (which I miss more than I can express), I promised to write a bit about my experiences trying to feed us on a minuscule check.
Now that I have a job a again, that is minutely more than my minuscule unemployment check I still find the lessons learned during that period apply–I just don’t have the time like I used to do the long term prep work.
One of the great lifesavers when cooking on a budget is pork. It’s cheaper than beef and tastes different from chicken. breasts; two pluses in my book. There are several pork products I get that I can stretch out for a while.
Bacon is always good. Get a pack of midrange bacon and you’ve always got part of a meal. It’s breakfast food, that bit of wonderful for wraps, and I can even render it down nicely to go with root veggies, red beans and rice for a quickie meal. It may not be the healthiest thing in the world, but I don’t suggest making it a steady diet.
In hindsight, after looking down at my belly while looking at the keyboard, perhaps I make it too much a part of my diet . . .
Another nice thing to get that can be used for a couple meals is a pork loin. I get a long one, careful not to spend too much. I’ll cut it in half, use half as a loin for an evening meal that I have time to prepare. The other half, I slice up into quarter inch, to half-inch chops that I’ll put away. I make a nice, spicy seasoning salt and cover the chops up a couple days before I plan on cooking them either on the grill or under the broiler. Pork takes to a dry salt cure wonderfully. Some mashed potatoes and veggies and you’ve got a meal. Cutting my own chops ensures that my money stretches long enough into the next deal. A pork chop lunch while everyone else is staring forlornly at Ramen noodles is blissful.
The last thing I try to do when I buy pork is look for a Boston butt or shoulder cut for a good price with the bone still in it. When done right, I can score five meals for a ten dollar cut of meat. I marinade and slow cook it in the oven until it shreds off the bone. This past time, I made a mojo and let it sit in Tupperware for five days before finally cooking it for six hours or so at 225 degrees F. I put in a roasting pan fat side up and left it uncovered. Most importantly, I resisted as many temptations to pick off it early and left it alone: letting the low heat breakdown the fatty connections between the muscles and so it would all just fall apart. Usually, I let the fat cap crisp up under the heat, but I couldn’t wait this time. We could smell it all day and we were getting hungry. However, its best when you can almost float the fat layer off and slide out the bone.
Keep both, they’ll come in handy in the future. If I’ve got a crispy fat layer, I’ll throw it in a pan and cook it up like bacon to keep handy for seasoning things like beans and rice. As for the bone, you’ll want to turn it into bean soup. Throw it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer and forget about it.
With luck, there’s more than enough of the meat itself to turn into lunches for a while. I divide it up after we pick at it on the first night. I save some for carnitas with flat bread or tortillas, and I eat the rest of it with some BBQ sauce.
Properly cooked pork shoulder is the gift that keeps on giving. I just try not to think how closely the beasts are supposedly related to people. . . If they’re almost smart enough to be sentient, I don’t want to know.