27 July 2008

Shopping: the meats

In the U.S., the butcher sells meats. Period. Here in Venice it’s a matter of what kind of meat you want to buy. Sometimes the macelleria will offer a variety of meats, maybe even some special prepared items like polpettine (meatballs), spiedini (skewers, sometimes with mixed meats), and rolls of meats stuffed with herbs, cheeses, and other tasty things. But not always. It’s not unusual to see a Venetian butcher offering only five or six cuts, all of one kind of animal. Overall there’s much more choice in meats here than in the U.S., but one must travel around town to take advantage of it. Fortunately, that’s fun for me.

Shopping for beef? Back home we have two categories, depending on the age of the animal when slaughtered. Here there are at least seven. All the organ meats and the oddest parts you can imagine are also sold, as well as ossi puliti (“clean bones”) for stock. (I don’t know why, though – Venetians all use very good European bouillon cubes for their stock. So do I now.)

Pork? Heavens, yes! Every possible cut. The product is rich pink and very tender. At least four age categories in this case. Also a distinction is made between maiale (pig) and suino (hog). But it’s likely one must go somewhere else to get sausages. And cured meats of any kind come from yet another place, the salumeria, which might also sell cheeses, and even olives.

Lamb? Again, certainly available, but curiously, there are very few cuts sold. There are riblets, but rarely chops. I’ve even seen mutton occasionally. And during Festa della Salute, Venetians traditionally enjoy a dish called castradina, made with meat from a young castrated ram. I’m told it’s tender and very tasty. In November I’ll try it.

Poultry? There are some birds here I had never seen before. You can also get their feet and faces, or you can choose a bird with everything still attached and the head tucked under the wing. I have seen goose once or twice, but rarely is there any duck (although there are duck eggs – perhaps that explains the shortage!). Sadly, the poultry here is often stringy and dry. I can’t recommend it, other than the small, fat, juicy chicken that’s called a gallina – even better than our poussin. Oh, yes! And I love the rosy, perfectly plucked quails. Just over a euro apiece! When butterflied, they cook up quickly on the grill. I suggest throwing some oiled radicchio right alongside them.

Rabbit? Could show up anywhere that other meats are sold. Usually locally bred, it’s certain to be tender and delicious with the most minimal preparation and cooking time. It’s just a little bit disconcerting when the full body of the animal is offered, skinned and missing ears and feet. I prefer to buy the unrecognizable lombattina (the saddle), nicely sliced with the chunks still attached to the spine.

Maybe horse? I don’t like to think about this too much, but there are a surprising number of shops that sell only burgundy-colored horsemeat. They seem to do a brisk business. I myself have only had the lightly-smoked, air-dried, shredded horsemeat called sfilacci. It’s real yummy mixed with robiola (a creamy, tangy cheese) in a little sandwich.

Then there’s a whole other kind of shop for meats called a rosticceria. Gotta love this! They offer spit-roasted birds of all types (including pheasant!), plus already-cooked sausages, ribs, chops, and roasts of all kinds, whole or by the chunk (including the incredible, peppery, herb-stuffed, slow-cooked whole pig called porchetta), plus ready-to-reheat pasta dishes like lasagne and cannelloni, plus single portions of deep-fried potatoes, fish chunks, chicken parts, and shrimp, plus grilled and/or marinated vegetable salads, plus little one-bite goodies like cherry peppers stuffed with tuna and cipolline (tiny, flat, sweet onions) stuffed with anchovies, plus...

Oh dear me! How long until lunch?