Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Adventures In Meat Shopping

Today I'm going to confess to doing a very foolish thing.  But first, the food:

  • strawberries (for my oatmeal in the morning)
  • Indian lamb curry with spinach
  • broccoli
  • pineapple
  • green salad with cucumber and peppers
So, we have this new fancy butcher in Harlem.  It's all grass-fed, organic, etc. and being the good hipster liberal that I am, I feel the need to buy something from the shop every once and a while to show my financial support and hopefully help quality businesses like this thrive in my neighborhood.  We hardly ever cook red meat at home because we see it as an expensive and unhealthy treat that is better at a restaurant or dinner party.  When we buy something from Harlem Shambles it's usually a couple of their breakfast sausages.  We eat them on Sunday morning along with some fluffy pancakes and all the fixins'.  But this Sunday I wanted to make something special for dinner and I chose a lamb curry recipe from our slow cooker cookbook.  Surprisingly, we had all of the spices and vegetables in the house already.  The only thing I had to buy were the chiles and the lamb.  I expected the lamb to be kind of pricey but I figured  that even if it's $9 or $10 a pound I'd still get at least 8-10 servings out of the pot so in the end it's still more economical than getting Indian take out.  Anyway, I went to the shop and asked for exactly what the recipe called for "3 lb. boneless leg of lamb of lamb."  The only lamb they had on the display case had bones.  I noticed it was $9/lb and I mentally prepared myself to pay over $30 for a hunk of meat.  But, the butcher went to the big walk-in fridge to get "the cut you need" and proceeded to cut it up into cubes for me.   After carefully trimming and cubing the lamb for me he plunked down and neatly wrapped package and chirped, "that'll be $54.26 please."  Guys, I nearly keeled over and died!!!  Once I regained my composure I sheepishly handed over my debit card while furiously calculating the price per serving of this now VERY IMPORTANT curry.  I made a little joke to him that now I have to find a reason to celebrate something since I just paid celebration prices for this meat.  I don't think he laughed.  Needless to say, I walked out of there feeling a bit crestfallen.  I was almost afraid to tell Mr. Man how much I paid for 1 meals worth of meat.  He is even more miserly than I am and would not be at all embarrassed to march right back to the shop try to return it.  The main point is that I should have asked how much it was before anything went down.  I hate feeling like an uniformed consumer.  Besides, the lamb was really delicious and perfect and I would not have bought it any place else.  Harlem Shambles is a great butcher shop and I still plan on buying meat from there.  But we're back to our breakfast sausage budget for the foreseeable future.

Try this recipe:

Indian Lamb Curry with Spinach*
  • 3 lb boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 small fresh hot green chiles, seeded and minced
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated (I used 2 tablespoons of this instead)
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom (I substituted a teaspoon of ground ginger since, who has cardamom?)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 6 cups pre-washed baby spinach leaves
Put the lamb in a big bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Warm the oil in a large frying pan and add the lamb (medium-high heat).  Brown until even on all sides for about 5 minutes.  Place the browned cubes in the slow cooker to wait for the other ingredients.  Add the onions to the same pan and sauté over medium-high heat until golden brown (about 7-10 minutes).  Add all the other ingredients to the pan, except the spinach and chicken broth, and stir until the the spices are fragrant and evenly coat the onions.  Pour in the broth and deglaze the pan. 

Pour the onion/spice/broth mixture over the lamb in the slow cooker.  Cover and cook for 8 hours on the low heat setting.  A few minutes before it turns off, add the spinach to the slow cooker and stir until completely wilted.  I wanted to serve this with some brown basmati rice, but I couldn't find any of the pre-made frozen stuff at Trader Joe's so I boiled up a few small potatoes and poured the curry over that instead.


*This is how I decided to make this recipe.  It's not exactly the way it is written in the book, but it's the way that worked for me.


  1. Sigh, yes it is such a shame that to eat healthy and well you have to pay through the nose... but a nice Sunday dinner with the man you love is a special occasion that many of my girlfriends would pay ten times more it not money wasted at all!

  2. this story reminded me of an incident that happened to me while back...i had a job that i liked, but it didn't pay very well. i had to be very careful about my spending.

    one day, i went to a wine shop in my neighborhood and splurged on a bottle of red wine (i don't even remember the kind now!)...i really enjoyed that was delicious.

    i felt a little guilty about the $16.99 price tag, since i knew i could get a perfectly good bottle of wine for $10 or less. however, i was tired of scrimping and felt i deserved a treat, so i splashed out for the expensive bottle.

    a few months later, i decided to treat myself once again. i went back to the wine shop. i searched the shelves and didn't find the wine. i asked the clerk if they had any; he checked and said he would have to order it.

    he then asked me how many i wanted, and i said "one". i left my contact info and he said that someone would phone me when it arrived.

    fast forward a couple of weeks...i went to the shop to pick up my bottle of wine. i gave my name, the clerk went to the back of the store...and returned with a CASE of wine! yes, ONE CASE.

    my mouth dropped open, my palms started to sweat. i started to do calculations in my head...16.99 x 12 = ???

    as the clerk calmly proceeded to ring up my purchase, i frantically weighed my options...was there any way for me to "change my mind" about this order? what excuse could i use?

    i decided that there was no classy way out of the predicament, so i gulped and handed over my credit card. the case was over $220...

    alls well that ends well...shortly after that, i found a better job and stopped having to pinch pennies quite so much. i was also able to use several bottles of that wine for christmas gifts that year, so i didn't feel like a total alcoholic!

    my sister-in-law (who received a bottle for xmas that year) didn't know the whole story, and for a few years afterward, she always mentioned the wine that i gave her and how much she enjoyed it!

  3. This provokes a confession on my part. Last time I was at the grocery store, I had "firm white fish filets" on my list to try a new recipe out. But firm white fish filets are quite pricey. Oh, well, I figured, I'll bite the bullet and pay the $8 or so for the fish I'll need. But the fishmonger put the fish on the scale and wrapped it up and handed it to me--and it weighed more than I expected, to the tune of nearly twice what I'd expected to pay. I wandered around the store, feeling conflicted, and ran across flank steak, on sale for half price. I put the flank steak in my cart and put the paper-wrapped fish back into a refrigerated case, looking around to make sure no shop employees would see me.

    I don't know what I would do if I went to my town's fancy fish shop or fancy butcher and ran into that problem, though. I'd probably just pay and beat myself up over it. Especially if it was lamb and I was making curry. I love lamb curry.