Because of the busyness of life, lack of time or simply having never learned the skills, many people in our society today do not know how to process their own food. I’m not suggesting that we all need to raise animals and know how to slaughter them or go hunting in order to get our proteins. What I mean is that we often trade quality of our foods often for immediacy and availability by choosing to buy processed chicken or other meats, sauces, and “instant” foods.
Buying processed meat (e.g. pre-cut meat; not Spam or other forms of ‘processed’ meats) is often much more expensive than buying something in a whole portion and processing/butchering it into smaller portions. For example, it is cheaper to buy whole chicken wings and cutting them up yourself rather than buying prepared chicken wings. $13 for whole chicken wings (including wing tips) yields about 3-4 lbs of chicken wings whereas $13 for prepared chicken wings yields anywhere between 350g-800g of chicken wings. Making chicken wing sauces is also far easier than one imagines, making your own honey garlic syrup to add to a batch of freshly fried chicken wings is a cinch and quite delectable! Many Westerners opt to purchase white meat and buy trays of pre-cut chicken breast rather than purchasing a whole bird; try buying a whole chicken and processing the bird yourself, you will still have 2 chicken breasts, wings, thighs and drumsticks and if you know how to debone a bird, you can have the chicken carcass to make your own chicken stock. (P.S. Making your own chicken stock is CHEAP and great if you have a freezer to be able to freeze it as well! OR, you can put the chicken stock into an ice cube tray and save it as bouillons for your cooking needs later on!)
Buying a large eye of round, whole sirloin or a whole tenderloin is far cheaper than buying pre-cut steak from your grocery store or from a butcher (the only benefit that you get from the butcher is the meat is aged for 20-some days to attain a different flavour). I once went to a butcher to purchase some smoked bacon with a DealFind coupon and the customer ahead of me purchased 4 pieces of steak for $75… in my el-cheapo Asian mind, that is kind of ridiculous. The bang-for-your-buck factor simply is not there! For $75, I could purchase 1 whole sirloin roast and 1 whole tenderloin roast from Lucky’s Supermarket and be able to portion it out to have around 30-40 cuts of steak!
Sometimes processing and preparing your own foods may end up being more expensive than simply purchasing a pre-made meal or appetizer, but the trade off is you know what is exactly in your cooking than trust what a bunch of machines have put into the cooking process.
The only caveat I would give for processing your own meat is to learn how to use a knife well and properly and also to get over any type of unease with handling raw meats.
SAUCES AND SOUPS
I love soups and sauces, I try my best to make them whenever I can. For example, did you know that you can make the Thai sweet chili sauce from your own home and not have to spend the $3-$5 it costs to purchase it at a grocery store? All you need is 2 parts water, 3-4 parts brown sugar, fresh chopped Thai bird chili, some chopped garlic and voila! Boil the water and brown sugar together together until it starts to caramelize and add the chili and garlic. Those ingredients would cost you all of $1 to make at home!
I grew up eating instant noodles because of the ease and availability of it. Having been married for a little over six months now, I knew I did not want to have instant noodles for breakfast every day or to eat instant noodles when there was nothing else in the home – I wanted to create a healthier lifestyle for my family!
So, I decided to look around in my local grocery store and found a package of 9 flavoured bundles of noodles for $1.30 which I could drop into any soup that I made at home to make my own instant noodles. While it takes an extra 2-3 minutes to have water boiling in a pot, the noodles that I now make at home far exceed those of the instant noodle packages. I create my own stock and have the ability to make ANY type of noodle soup with simple ingredients such as Tom Yum paste or curry paste at home. The cost-benefit of this particular meal is incredible: we found each bundle of these noodles produced 2 servings of noodles for noodle soup, so in effect, we had 18 servings of noodles for $1.30 while one package of instant noodles costs roughly $0.50-$1.00.
GROW YOUR OWN VEGGIES IF YOU CAN
One of the best experiences I have had this year was gardening and planting vegetables and herbs in my garden with my wife. We planted some potatoes, green onions, thyme, rosemary and several other things. The potatoes we harvested were phenomenal and made for some delectable baby roasted potatoes!
If you have the space, grow your own veggies and herbs that you know you will need often such as onions, garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, cilantro and so on. Green onions in particular grow back within the span of about two weeks if it receives a good amount of sunlight.
MAKING EASY-MEALS AND EASY-APPETIZERS
There are a number of other things you can do to make your life easier by making your own food. My wife and I have pre-made and frozen hundreds of pork dumplings, spring rolls, meat pies that looked like pizza pops and perogies. Having these kinds of items ready-made in the freezer gives you the flexibility to make a quick meal on a dime.
Having frozen spring rolls for example, enables us to make vermicelli and spring rolls if we are feeling tired or lazy one day and yet still have the benefit of a good meal.
Do you have any other tips for processing, preparing or pre-making your own meals at home? Share them in the comments section!