Which do you eat more of, fish or meat? Almost every year, one of the Accidental Locavore’s goals is to eat more fish. I like fish, like it a lot, but I don’t cook it nearly as often as I cook meat. Part of that is due to the fact that while I know a lot of butchers and have great relationships with them, the same cannot be said about fishmongers. While there are plenty of good places in Manhattan to buy fish, none of the places I (in)frequent are the sorts where I ever see the same help twice. Upstate, the situation is more difficult as there is only one local store with decent seafood. It may also be an issue with the product–perhaps because they’re working with slippery, iced fish, somehow fishmongers never seem as affable as butchers. Or possibly it’s because for the most part, breaking down a fish just isn’t as complicated as a pig. I learned how to clean fish when I was a kid, so far pigs have eluded me.
And since almost all supermarket meat, is pre-packaged, watching a skilled butcher trim steaks to perfection or even cut up a chicken with a few strokes of a knife is witnessing an almost lost art.
The other day, I was in a new (to me) butcher, Schatzie’s on the Upper West Side. I had a discount coupon from somewhere, forgotten about it, and needed to use it, pronto. Schatzie, himself, greeted me like a long lost friend and went on to describe everything he had in the store, rating it as he went along. After a lot of perusal, I ended up with a roasted chicken, a steak, some pork sausage and his homemade bread & butter pickles. The chicken even came with sides of potato salad and coleslaw, although I have no idea how good they were, because Frank essentially inhaled them. The chicken, however, was really good, with a good clean chicken flavor. And I would definitely go back, because I know that no matter what crazy thing I was working on, Schatzie would take good care of me (although if it was something off the beaten path, I would call ahead).
Same thing with my other favorite city butcher, Dickson’s. Besides having the best bacon –possibly even better than mine — they make great sausages and the meat is pristine and locally sourced. Maybe if I hang out there more, they’d teach me the secret to their bacon (hint, hint). They also have some lesser-known cuts and will happily tell you the best way to prepare them.
Butchers have taught me a lot. At Quattro’s, near our upstate home, I learned how to judge how rare a steak is by touch. I know that a 14-day aged tri-tip is a wonderful thing–a 21-day old one, a little funky (and if you don’t know about tri-tip, get ye to a butcher!). Big Paul would lament about his lack of success hunting wild turkeys while putting together an Italian combo sandwich one of my friends named the best sandwich ever!
So maybe the next goal shouldn’t be eating more fish, but making friends with a fishmonger. Any suggestions? Or maybe it’s time to be really trendy and learn how to break down that pig…