Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Giunta's Prime Shop

At least one reader of this blog complained in the past about the name of this butcher shop at the Reading Terminal Market, objecting to the use of "Prime" for a shop that doesn't sell prime beef. Technically, the critique is on-target: Charles Giunta does not sell USDA prime grade beef.

But I don't care. His beef may be "only" USDA Choice, but his eye in picking out primals and his hereditary butchering skills have won my regular patronage. For what it's worth, overall his meats are far better than that sold by Ochs in its last few years at the market.

For the holidays I picked up a small prime standing rib roast (prime as in the definition of the cut, not the USDA grade). Even though he was exceedingly busy on the Friday before Christmas he took the time to get a new full rib from his walk-in refrigerator and asked me how many ribs and from which end, i.e., chuck end or loin end. When I asked for his recommendation, he suggested the chuck end, which he thought more flavorful than the loin end though it can be a slightly tougher part of the full seven-rib cut. He did a great job of a trimming my two-rib roast, leaving just the right amount of fat, semi-separating the bones for easy carving and expertly tying it all together, ready for the oven.
It made a superb meal on Christmas Day. No doubt it was helped by the fact that it sat it in the fridge for two days, unwrapped except for some wax paper loosely placed over the top, a do-it-yourself aging technique which will improve almost any piece of beef. I took the meat out of the fridge a few hours before cooking so it would lose some of its refrigerator cool, then seared all sides of the meat stovetop in a roasting pan (no need for additional fat). After about 10-12 minutes of browning I simply salted and peppered before placing the standing rib in a 200F oven. It cooked on a rack in the roasting pan at this low temperature until my digital probe registered 135F (this took about 150 minutes). After resting half an hour while I prepped the rest of our meal I carved the meat, and it was perfectly medium rare (quite rosy, but not red) through and through, from just below the outer crust to the deepest part of the interior. Best of all, it tasted absolutely yummy with plenty of beef flavor, with the tenderness one would expect from USDA Prime. The five-pound roast priced at $10.95/pound could be considered dear, but I thought it great value for a superior hunk of protein.

Steaks cut from the same primal are a favorite of mine and I've always been satisfied by Giunta's rib steaks on the bone. But I've also cooked his filet mignon, flank steak and hanger steak and never been disappointed. Ditto for pieces of chuck I've braised in a variety of fashions, as well as short ribs.

In recent weeks I've cooked up two ground meat dishes from Giunta. I used his pre-ground (on premises, not from a wholesaler) meatloaf mix -- beef, veal and and pork -- to make meatballs. Last week I asked him to grind chuck to my order, which went into an all-beef meatloaf (it was assisted by my addition of half a teaspoon of unflavored gelatin to mimic the collagen veal would have provided). We enjoyed both.

Lamb is one of those meats that's pretty good no matter where you buy it, so sometimes I obtain it from Giunta's and other times from his brother Martin. (Both learned their trade in the family butcher shop in the Italian Market.) Giunta's ducks are superb, offering the classic Long Island style duckling raised and packed by Joe Jurgielewicz & Son of Berks County. (For Muscovy duck visit Godshall's Poultry.)

Best of all, Giunta's prices are competitive -- rarely more expensive than what you'd pay in a supermarket, and frequently much better value.

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