A trip to the butcher is much more than a simple point-and-take operation around here. First of all, I’m still learning the names of meat cuts in Italian. In Albuquerque I’d go to my butcher shop and all would be arranged artfully in the glass coolers, clearly marked by cut. I knew a loin from a rib roast from a tip roast. I’ve yet to find a clear explanation of what I should look for in Italian if I want a specific chop. I’ve looked, believe me. I even wrote to Kyle Phillips, one of my Italian cooking heros, who apologetically offered a brief and somewhat vague website as the best he’s found.
I plug along and the butcher thinks me an imbecile every time I step in the door and stammer. This is partly due to the fact that he doesn’t put all the meats out in the case, and I must sometimes ask if I’m looking for something specific that day. There is no ground meat ready, for instance. This was the case in Anzio as well, and at first I wondered what was up that no one seemed to buy the stuff. Then I learned that I had to ask for it explicitly and they would grind it to order. Pretty cool, actually.
At my butcher here in Ascoli, asking for a piece of meat always results in the question, “ma che cosa fai?” But what are you making? At first I thought the guy was just a little nosy, or maybe really liked to talk about food. Then I realized that he was trying to determine for me – in absence of any obvious intelligence on my part – exactly what cut would be best for the dish I would be preparing. Usually he’s very agreeable and gives me the right thing, even when I don’t know what it is I need (in Italian).
Sometimes though he gives me a look indicating, what on earth is she cooking? I promise him that his meat will be going to a good home but he often seems dubious. Last week, for example, when I ordered some ground lamb he was dumbfounded and stared at me like I’d asked for a head on a platter (which he probably would have provided). Heart, tripe, other innards I consider unedible I can readily have without a sideward glance, but apparently ordinary lamb meat that is ground up is too much for him to bear. He squinted and asked the question I have now come to expect, this time with a bit of an attitude. I told him I would be preparing a Greek dish that involved stuffing artichoke hearts with seasoned ground lamb and that it was very delicious. He shrugged, obviously not buying the delicious part, but said he could cut some meat off a lamb bone and grind it for me anyway, being sure to mention that I was the first person who had ever made such a strange request. (The dish in question was very delicious, by the way, and the recipe is on my food blog.)
He really is quite accommodating though and he carries good-quality meats. I think he’s getting used to me as he’ll even say hi when he sees me on the street. I’m sure he’d not be accepting any possible invitations for dinner at my house anytime soon, however.