Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Beef on discount (Βοδινό σε έκπτωση)

Every Monday, I check out the protein section at one of the LIDL supermarket branches in the town. During my last visit, I was hoping to find another egg bargain, like the one I recently pounced on, something like 30 eggs for €3.30. (Normally, a dozen eggs costs more than €2.00.) Unfortunately, there was nothing in this way on Monday. So I carried on to the fresh meat counter (a relatively recent addition at LIDL), where I might be lucky to chance on some of those discounted prices for nearly-expired fresh meats: the price is reduced by 30%. There is nearly always something to be found in those 'fridge bins', as I like to call them, on a daily basis, and everything is packed in styrofoam and cling-film, so you can clearly see the contents. Whatever I find, I usually freeze as soon as I get home, unless I plan to use it sooner. I've bought cooked chicken wings from here before, as well as uncooked chicken wings, sausages and kebabs.

This time, I found something else: 2 packets of (French) chuck beef were sitting in the fridge bin. I checked the weight and price of each packet with the use of the various machines that most supermarkets have these days in their customer areas: they weighed about a kilo each, and they were selling for just €3.50/kg. We haven't had beef (except in mince form) because it's usually quite expensive to buy it in Crete.

I found some heat-n-eat cooked marinated chicken wings which are useful for a quick meal  I bought 2 packs: 500g for €1.74 each - at that price, it's cheaper than cooking them yourself - and some cheap beef selling at €4.99/kg. Two of the three beef packets that I bought were discounted by 30% due to being close to their expiry dates

In the past, when I used to buy fresh beef at the supermarket counter, it usually contained very little fat or fibrous bits. But it got very expensive, whether Greek or French beef, so I just stopped buying it. The discounted beef was priced at less than half the usual price of French beef, and a third of the usual cost of Greek beef. So I decided that this offer could not be passed up. I bought both the packets, even though I could see that the beef contained a bit of sinew. What worried me most was if it would cook till tender, so that it melts in your mouth; will it be stringy and chewy with all that sinew?

When I got home, I unpacked the beef and began cutting it up into chunks. I found that this beef was rather tough, even when cutting through it with a sharp knife. Perhaps I had just fallen into the trap of false economy. But there was not much I could do about it, so I set to work cooking one of the packets into a stifado. As it stewed away, I cut up the other piece in the same way (and that too was rather tough), to get tt ready for the freezer.
Not quite done...

While the beef was cooking and spreading its aroma through the house, the family began to drift in and out of the kitchen.
Stifado? Mmmm, I'll have all the onions, my daughter said.
Stifado? I can smell the orange peel cooking in it, my son said. (I add dried peel.)
Stifado? Finally, we're eating beef again! my husband said.
He asked me about the price. I explained to him where I found the cheap meat, and how I make it a habit now to check out LIDL's discounted meat section. This trend hasn't caught on at other supermarkets, in the same way that it operated in LIDL. There are some products marked down due to a close expiry date, but they are usually highly processed packaged foods, like chocolate and crisps. I want primary ingredients with which to cook, not ready-to-eat food.
I would have bought out the stock at that price! he said. You can imagine how pleased he was when I told him that this was in fact what I had done.

I let the beef cook three hours on a very low heat on top of the stove, testing it with a knife every now and then to see how much it was cooking through, occasionally adding some water to the pot to make sure that the meat did not stick to the bottom. The beef cooked down to a perfect texture, and it practically broke apart when pressed. Not only was it tender, but if it wasn't the best meat to begin with, the cloves, cinnamon, orange peel, onions and garlic concealed this fact very well.

This meal reminded me of a recent trip to London where my hosts let on that the meal they had prepared for the six of us at the table cost less than five pounds in total. The organic (if the labels are to be believed) chicken alone cost just two pounds. They shop after work, and they know when the specials start to become available, and what is usually going at which supermarket. I remarked how this kind of shopping was not possible in our town. That was less than a year ago - we didn't take long to catch up, did we? Not only have certain food items become cheaper, but they are being packaged in more convenient ways. Even though we are a small town, the idea of shopping after work for your evening cooking needs is now becoming well entrenched in our life too.

Buying food on special - and knowing when and where it will be on special - is not a sign of being poor or stingy. It isn't even a sign of being on a low income (my London hosts could not be described in this way). It simply shows how careful you are in your spending habits. In Greece, it is also a sign of Europeanisation. It may not always feel nice, but it's what people are doing in Europe's opposite extreme corners. Being able to eat red meat is also a healthy sign; in the western world, this is used as an indicator of poverty. Finally, it also could be said that the UK and Greece are becoming ever more similar in terms of the poverty levels being reported for each country, as well as the distorted statistics used to present optimistic accounts of how the recession in each respective country is receding. In her early EU days, Greece was in a rush to catch up with the western world's wealth; now she's also catching up with the western world's problems.

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