Eddy Shin of Santa Monica specialty butcher shop A Cut Above is a man who knows his meat
By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
Most Americans eat meat without thinking very much about it — we know that beef comes from cows and pork from pigs, but rarely explore the differences in taste and texture of different cuts.
Eddy Shin would like to educate us. He’s the owner of A Cut Above, a specialty butcher shop in Santa Monica that opened late last year. The shop sells more than just cuts of meat — their house-made sausages, cold cuts and pastrami are esteemed by those in the know, and they make excellent sandwiches. I snacked on a pork banh mi sandwich while waiting for Eddy, then started by asking him about his career.
What led you to open a specialty butcher shop in Santa Monica?
I was a chef for about 20 years, most recently at Primitivo on Abbot Kinney [Boulevard], and before that I was executive chef for several steakhouses. I was breaking down meat in my previous jobs, so this was pretty much a natural progression. I saw that there were no dedicated butcher shops on the Westside — there were store operations, but no place where that was the entire focus.
What’s the difference?
First of all, a lot of butchers are not using the most sustainable practices. Here we use everything, nose to tail. Our meat is hand-cut, while at most supermarkets they run everything through a band saw. That makes a difference. We give more attention to detail. We’re also very picky about the quality of our meat — we have a personal relationship with the small ranchers who sell to us. They’re more in touch with their operation and their animals.
Regarding using the entire animal — don’t they do that already, even as pet food?
All of what we cut is eaten by people. The heart of charcuterie is using parts that are often more flavorful but less valuable — some cuts are palatable but not beautiful, not nice neat steaks. They may be high in fat, but that’s fine for sausage or things that are cured or smoked. When most Americans think of meat it’s as steaks or burgers for the grill; my European clientele buys roasts and meat for braising.
Is your clientele better informed or more adventurous than the typical Californian?
Thanks to the media, particularly the Food Network, people are trying new things. They’re buying sous vide machines [for slow cooking in hot water], which have fallen in price so that home cooks can afford them. It doesn’t mean they use them correctly — I have seen people sous viding filets, which I think is preposterous. Some cuts really shine when they’re cooked low and slow. I don’t make chili here, but if I did, I’d use chuck, brisket or shank meat. Those have a lot of connective tissue, which cooks out after a couple of hours. The broth becomes thicker, beefier tasting. The same thing happens with different cuts of chicken — the dark meat becomes better when you cook it a long time, and with the breast if you overcook it, you destroy it.
Would most Americans recognize good beef?
They’re getting more educated, with one exception — Americans almost always select meat that’s bright, bright red, while Europeans don’t mind slightly brown meat. For that reason some supermarkets take the oxygen out of their packaging and replace it with nitrogen, or they spray meat with ammoniated water as a preservative, which is allowed by law. Americans don’t like the look of dry-aged meat, but it tastes better — as it ages it loses some water, which concentrates the flavors. A rib eye can age up to 40 days, and as enzymes break down the muscle fibers it gets tenderer.
Are tastes in meat changing?
Americans are eating more lamb, but it still isn’t as popular as it is in Europe or the Middle East — they really love lamb there. Americans usually go with the chops, Europeans other cuts, and sometimes they cook them whole. Right now I have a 37-pound whole lamb that I’m going to cook for this weekend. We have other meats, too. I have fresh rabbit and will be getting goat in as of next Thursday. I didn’t know there was demand for it, but I’ve had some requests so I’m carrying it.
What do you wish people would eat more of?
I wish Americans would eat more pork; it’s a beautiful meat. With cows the yield is 60% or 70%, with pork it’s 90%. A lot of people have something in the back of their heads that it’s bad for you. They think it has to be cooked well-done and send it back in a restaurant if there’s any rose in it.
I carry kurobuta pork, and if I put a cut of it alongside the pork you’d get from a supermarket, you’d see the difference immediately. You’d touch it and the flesh would be much, much softer, and you’d see that the fat cap would be thicker — the animal was much healthier. The commercial meat industry is based on poundage and muscle, and that’s why they use growth hormones. The kurobuta pigs have more space; they move more, so the animal has more intramuscular fat. That’s a sign of how healthy the animal was, and I think how happy it was. A fat animal is a happy animal, and I’m including myself.
A Cut Above is at 2453 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica. Call (310) 998-8500 or visit acabutchershop.com.