Paying top dollar for scraps of meat — and bones

The least desirable parts of an animal, like flank steak, now cost as much as the desirable parts. (Dreamstime)
Caption
The least desirable parts of an animal, like flank steak, now cost as much as the desirable parts. (Dreamstime)

Credit: Dreamstime

Credit: Dreamstime

The other night, I grilled a flank steak. It weighed a little less than two pounds. It cost 20 bucks.

The meat was delicious, thank you. I marinated it for eight hours in a balsamic vinaigrette and served it on flour tortillas with grilled onions and red peppers.

But … but … it cost more than 20 bucks. For flank steak.

Flank steak, as the name indicates, comes from the cow’s flank. It gets a lot of exercise, and that means it is very tough.

It is wonderfully flavorful, especially when it has been marinated for eight hours in a thick balsamic vinaigrette. But it is tough. If you don’t slice it in very thin slices across the grain, it can be so hard to chew that it is impossible to eat.

And the store I bought it at — this is a regular grocery store, not one of those Amazon places — charges $11.99 per pound.

In comparison, that is the same amount, less one penny, that the same store was charging for New York strip steak.

New York strip may be my favorite cut. It’s beefy, it’s fairly lean without hurting the flavor and, significantly, it has just the right amount of chew. It’s everything a steak should be.

Flank steak, on the other hand, used to be an afterthought. If you couldn’t afford sirloin, maybe you’d pick up an occasional flank steak. And then, people would only use it to make London broil.

So what happened to flank steak that brought the price up to the level of New York strip? In a word, fajitas.

Before the 1980s, fajitas were largely unknown in this country outside of Texas and the Southwest. But then something happened (Chili’s? Taco Bell?) and suddenly they became popular all over. The popularity of fajitas drove up the popularity of skirt steak, which is the original fajita meat, and the popularity of skirt steak made the culinarily similar flank steak, which can also be used for fajitas, also popular. And expensive.

But it’s not just flank steak. All of the meats that used to be considered undesirable or even scraps —pork bellies, beef cheeks and hanger steaks — now demand top dollar at the butcher.

The problem is the rise in status of what used to be called peasant food. People with money began to realize how good the food was that was being cooked by people without it, and they started wanting it for themselves.

And now flank steak is $11.99 a pound. Stew meat, which is tough and requires a long cooking time, goes for $8 a pound. Even ground beef can cost $5.99 a pound, and you don’t want to know what parts of a cow ground beef comes from, or how old the cow may have been.

And then there are soup bones. Butchers used to give soup bones away for free. After all, you can’t eat them. People gave them to their dogs or used them to make soup.

But then along came the food revolution, and bones became popular for both soup and stock. Some of us use them to make demiglace. But when we do, we pay a lot for them.

I have seen beef bones at the store — again, an ordinary store — for $5 a pound. You can buy them online, and I can’t tell you how hilarious I think this is, for $9.95 a pound.

Or to put it another way, you pay 10 bucks and all you get for it are some old bones.

This inflation of cheap foods has had a disastrous effect. People who could only afford things like flank steak and soup bones now have to look elsewhere for their protein. If a meal has meat in it, it no longer can be considered truly inexpensive.

Demand has kept up with the prices. Even at 20 dollars for less than two pounds, it can be hard to find flank steak.

It has come to this: The least desirable parts of an animal now cost as much as the desirable parts.

Do you like chicken feet? Made the right way, they are actually pretty good.

But even chicken feet will cost you. Online they now go for $3.99 a pound.