A Butcher Offers Foolproof Tips for Cooking That High-Quality Meat You Bought
Heather Marold Thomason of Philadelphia's Primal Supply Meats doesn't want you to waste your money.
Since Heather Marold Thomason began her career in butchery in 2012, she’s made an impact on her community in some meaningful ways. Primal Supply Meats provides pasture-raised, sustainable meats to an impressive roster of restaurants—including Vetri and Walnut Street Café—as well as to home cooks around the city via its subscription program, all while supporting small farmers and acting, as she calls it, as a “restorative part of the system.” But the Philadelphia-based butcher and entrepreneur also affects change on a more personal level.
“We’ve definitely taught people to cook over the counter," she says, recalling one customer in particular. At Kensington Quarters, the Fishtown-based butcher shop (now a restaurant) she moved to Philadelphia to help open in 2014, Thomason sold the customer a whole chicken with foolproof instructions for how to roast it. “He comes back in the next week, and we were like, ‘How was the chicken?’ and he said, ‘It was really good, but next time I think I need to put it in a bowl or something, because it made a huge mess in my oven.’ He didn't put it on a pan.” But the nascent cook returned weekly, and with the help of Thomason and her co-workers, he bought a Crock-Pot, learned to braise and eventually mastered cooking meat. “It was amazing,” she says. “Starting out, he didn't even know to put the chicken on a pan.”
After apprenticing with a livestock farmer, and then with a butcher, Thomason started managing butcher shops and eventually opened her own business. Primal Supply Meats has been serving Philly fresh cuts of meat through farmers’ market stands and with its CSA-style “butcher’s club” since 2016, but this spring, the company will open its first brick-and-mortar shop. Thomason is happy to get back behind the counter, in part because she can interact with her customers more, offering tips on saving money and how to cook various cuts.
Here, she offers some tips for cooking delicious (and foolproof) meat dishes.
Braise, braise, braise (and choose a forgiving cut of meat)
“There’s nothing worse than spending money on a nice thing and feeling like you can't do it justice, or cooking it in a way that’s inedible and then having to throw it in the garbage,” she says. So for easy, winter-friendly dishes, Thomason suggests braising a forgiving cut like beef brisket or chuck roast, or if you prefer pork, a bone-in pork shoulder. “As long as you’re willing to give it the time, it will kind of cook itself, eventually relaxing and yielding its way to tenderness.”
Follow a few basic steps
First, brown the meat to add a little more flavor (or skip that step if you’re feeling lazy, she says.) Thomason adds onions, garlic and a handful of herbs like rosemary to hers, splashes in a few inches of beer, wine or stock and puts it, covered, in the oven. “Those are all hard working, active muscles, so they have lots of collagen and connective tissue in them, which is tough until it breaks down,” she says. “With time and patience, it slowly gives up, melts, and becomes flavor.” You’ll know the meat is done when you stick a fork in, twist, and it gives.
When in doubt, braise some more
If you’re worried about ruining it, or that the meat isn't cooking properly, just give yourself more time, Thomason says.
Make sure the dish gets some quality fridge time
For even better results, Thomason suggests making the meat a day in advance. “The time it spends in your fridge chilling out in all those cooking juices—all the flavors meld and concentrate.” In other words, this is hard to mess this up. Just don’t forget the pan.