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pantry essentials

10 Pantry Essentials Every Cook Should Have

You may have taken the first key step towards a month of great eating and ordered a ButcherBox, complete with high-quality grass-fed beef, heritage pork, and free-range, organic chicken.

But do you know what else completes a kitchen? Pantry staples, like high-quality oils, a few kinds of vinegar, dried herbs, and more.

This guide details the pantry essentials that make all the difference when preparing the delicious meals at home. The essentials that all cooks have a hands-length from their stoves include condiments like assorted vinegars, Dijon mustard, and soy sauce or their gluten-free variants. With a few of these, you can make everything from vinaigrettes and dressings to sauces, rubs, and much more.

Other necessary kitchen staples include canned tomatoes, which add richness to stews and soups, and dried herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme.

The best part? None of these staples are prohibitively expensive, and your individual purchase will probably last you quite a while.

1. High-Quality Oils

You can’t cook many meals without a cooking fat, and while grass-fed butter, ghee, or tallow might be an option, you should always keep a solid selection of healthy, high-quality cooking oils at hand.

These oils might include high heat friendly options filled with healthy fats, like avocado oil or coconut oil. For lower heat preparations, a solid bottle of olive oil should always be handy. You can even use good olive oil as a finishing touch, like a drizzle over salad or hummus.

Neutral oils like avocado oil or olive oil are also excellent bases for homemade salad dressings, and, if you’re really looking to up your pantry game, keep finishing oils like sesame oil or walnut oil on hand.

2. An Assortment of Vinegar

A good vinegar will take a good dish to great, and thankfully there are many options to choose from.

If you need to add acidic sweetness, reach for balsamic vinegar. In fact, dousing some caramelized red onions with balsamic vinegar and sugar is a sure-fire way to make a quick and delicious topping for burgers and steaks, while aged balsamic vinegar makes the perfect coating for grilled veggies.

Don’t stop at balsamic vinegar. Champagne vinegar adds a sweet note to homemade vinaigrettes, while apple cider vinegar boasts so many purported health benefits it’s hard to keep count. You can even throw it into homemade barbeque sauce for a unique bite.

Even plain old white vinegar has its place in a pantry. It’s as useful for making crispy pickles as making homemade kitchen cleanser.

3. Dijon Mustard

Yellow mustard has its place, but nothing heightens a dish more than a dollop of Dijon mustard. The traditional French mustard is made with brown mustard seeds, white wine, and a verjus made from unripe grapes. This verjus is what gives Dijon mustard its distinct, tart flavor.

Use Dijon mustard in a homemade vinaigrette for a crisp salad, or as part of a rub for various cuts of meat. These rosemary brined pork chops are a perfect example.

The best part about Dijon mustard? While it sounds fancy, it’s a pretty affordable condiment, with the store brand bottles rarely costing more than $3 and the fancy stuff only clocking in at $5 or less.

4. Soy Sauce/Tamari/Coconut Aminos

What’s the best way to build umami into your dishes? Soy sauce, a sauce made from fermented soybeans, roasted wheat, and cultures, is the ultimate, inexpensive umami condiment.

Of course, many people question the nutritional impact of soy sauce. If you’re gluten-free, a specific type of soy sauce, tamari, can be made without gluten.

If you avoid soy and grains entirely, coconut aminos, a sauce made from coconut tree sap and salt, is a great alternative. While a bit less pungent and a tad sweeter than traditional soy sauce, it still packs umami flavor into dishes.

Use soy sauce or any of its alternatives in Asian-inspired fare, like this ginger pork noodle soup.

5. A Solid Hot Sauce

While the hot sauce category is vast, your favorite hot sauce is a kitchen essential. Why? Because it can be doused on most anything and elevates the flavor of whatever you’re noshing on.

Do you prefer Asian flavor profiles? Reach for the less hot, slightly sweet Sriracha, or pack in the chili garlic flavor with sambal.

Mexican and Latin America hot sauces are another great category: The options are many, but most sauces feature some kind of vinegary heat and potentially a kick of citrus like lime.

Channel pure Americana with Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce. There are, literally, thousands of hot sauces to choose from.

Use your favorite hot sauce to jazz up a simple breakfast of eggs and bacon, or incorporate it into vinaigrettes and sauces for a little kick.

6. Dried Herbs

Like hot sauce, the selection for dried herbs is vast. And while it’s great to build out your spice cabinet and experiment with various herbs, there are a few essentials we’d recommend always having on hand.

Dried oregano, basil, rosemary, and thyme — commonly sold together as an Italian seasoning blend — lend bright flavors to any dish you whip up and are much more convenient in a pinch than fresh herbs.

Other dried herbs we’d consider staples include dill, which is perfect in anything from pickles to salads, and dried bay leaves, which lend depth to soups and stews.

If you’d really like to pad out your spice cabinet, add dried marjoram, ground coriander, dried mint, dried sage, and dried tarragon.

7. Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk is a treasure, and not just because it’s suitable for most diets. The silky, fatty substance lends richness to any dish it touches, and won’t spoil as quickly as refrigerated alternatives like heavy cream or milk.

Despite it including coconut meat, coconut milk is a fairly neutral, non-dairy way to add creaminess and heft. Use coconut milk to add creaminess to soup, braise meats, or add silky texture and flavor to rice.

Pro tip: Stock up on cans of coconut milk. Whichever ones you don’t use for savory dishes, use them to make dairy-free sweets like no-churn ice cream.

8. Nut and Seed Butters

What’s your favorite? Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, tahini? Whichever nut or seed butter you prefer, it’s bound to serve many uses in your kitchen.

You can, of course, use nut butters to spread on toast, add protein to smoothies, and bake up some delicious cookies. But nut butters have serious culinary uses, too.

Peanut butter or almond butter both make excellent Asian-inspired sauces, like in this Thai almond soba noodle salad. Tahini tastes delicious in Mediterranean fare. Try it drizzled over these Mediterranean meatballs.

9. Canned Tomatoes

Whether you’re whipping up a sauce for pasta, throwing some chili in the crockpot, or cooking up beef stew or pot roast low and slow, canned tomatoes are so useful.

You can find canned tomatoes in many forms, from canned tomato paste to whole, peeled tomatoes in a can. It’s good to have a variety of these options on hand for whatever you may need. They’re inexpensive and can add flavor to nearly any dish, like this fennel and tomato Italian pork shoulder.

10. Good Salt and Black Pepper

It’s a bit of a given that you should have salt and pepper on hand. It’s rare to not add it to a dish in the kitchen. But not just any salt or pepper will do.

Iodized table salt is the most common option, but it’s not exactly the healthiest one. It’s bleached, devoid of trace elements, and often contains additives. Also, it just doesn’t taste as good as sea salt crystals.

Sea salt comes from the ocean, and is evaporated to separate the salt crystals from the water.

(Another option: ButcherBox Chef Yankel always recommends having Kosher salt on hand for seasoning steaks.)

For pepper, whole peppercorns that can be cracked in a pepper mill lend the best flavor.


Flat iron steak – A relatively new restaurant favorite that’s delicious and tender

Flat iron steak shouldn’t work. It is named after a domestic appliance, it is notoriously hard to find outside of restaurants, and it comes from an area of the cow, the shoulder blade, that was long considered too tough to produce any tender, enjoyable steaks.

But if you’ve ever had a grilled flat iron steak from a steakhouse or cooked it in your own backyard, you know that it is an amazing cut of beef.

The history of flat iron steaks

Flat iron steak is a tender cut of beef that not only has an interesting history but is also tough to find, similar to the Denver steak. Flat iron is not as prevalent in the butcher case as rib-eye, filet mignon, or flank steaks, but it is quite popular on restaurant menus in America and beyond.

Flat iron steak, which derives its name from its shape being similar to that of an old-fashioned clothes iron, has been around, in some form, for a while. The cut, or something similar to it, is known as the butler steak in the U.K. or the oyster blade steak in Australia and New Zealand. In some places, it can also be called book steak, petite steak, or shoulder top blade steak. However, much like the Denver steak, the flat iron steak as we now know it was not discovered until 2002 by researchers at the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska, and also as part of the Beef Checkoff Program.

The cut is derived from the shoulder of the cow, specifically from the top blade of the chuck primal cut. For a long period of time, the region from where the flat iron steak is derived was waste meat or used in ground beef mixes. This was due to the connective tissue that ran through it, making it undesirable as a stand-alone cut.

The researchers from Florida and Nebraska found a way to remove the gristle, creating a fibrous, marbled steak that is popular as a bistro steak. The term bistro steak is often used for tasty, tender cuts that are used by smaller restaurants as a delicious, cheaper alternative to more expensive cuts at high-end steakhouses like a New York strip steak.

The popularity of the flat iron steak among chefs is due to the versatility of the flavorful cut. According to our own Chef Yankel Polak, our in-house ButcherBox chef, “The flat iron steak is an industry darling, a new-age steak.”

It’s such a challenge to find in stores because it is in such high demand with restaurants. “It is on every top-notch steak joint’s menu these days,” Chef Yankel says.

Preparing flat iron steak

The tender cut can be cooked as is, but it is often used with a rub or marinade. It’s popular as a stir-fry meat, sometimes sliced for sandwiches, and commonly used with chimichurri or other spicy sauces for tacos. It can also be the centerpiece of other dishes.

The flat iron steak is ideal for grilling because it is relatively easy to cook. Whether using a marinade or just some olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper, our chef says that cooking it medium rare is best to keep the steak tender.

As Chef Yankel also explains, “It has a deep grain, so cutting against the grain is imperative, but it has minimal connective tissue, so your slices don’t have to be super thin.”

Chef Yankel says that flat iron is similar to both skirt steak and hanger steak, “For mouthfeel, it’s slightly chewy but in an enjoyable way, and for meatiness, it tastes like what you imagine beef should taste like,” he explained.

It is a shame that the cut is so prevalent among restaurants, as it is difficult for steak-loving consumers to find on their own. (Luckily, if you are a ButcherBox subscriber, it is often featured in our monthly boxes.)

Because of its great taste and usefulness, the flat iron steak has gained a tremendous reputation in the 15 years since it was discovered. Its legend will likely continue to grow. As Chef Yankel explains, “They will trend to higher price points as they gain popularity.”

So try to get your hands on one soon, or you might be priced out of the flat iron steak market in the near future.

Here is one of our favorite flat iron steak recipes, Chef Yankel’s Pepper-Crusted Flat Iron with Root Vegetable Mash.

Pepper-Crusted Flat Iron with Root Vegetable Mash


  • 2 ButcherBox flat iron steaks
  • 2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large turnip, peeled and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 cups milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated


1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place cast iron pan in the oven.

2. Place parsnips, turnip, garlic, and milk in small saucepan. Add more milk if needed to cover vegetables.

3. Simmer on low heat until vegetables are tender. Remove vegetables from pot, and place in a bowl.

4. Add butter and mash vegetables, adding small amounts of milk as needed to get a thick mashed consistency

5. Add Parmesan and parsley and scoop mash into medium cupcake tins. Sprinkle top with black pepper and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

6. Pour coarse black pepper on a plate and press one side of flat iron steaks onto pepper. Season steaks on both sides with kosher salt.

7. Remove cast iron pan from oven, add a small amount of oil and place steaks in pan, pepper side down. Return pan to oven. After 4 minutes, flip steaks. Continue to cook in oven 4 more minutes or until thermometer inserted into thickest part reads 120 F.

8. Let steaks rest at room temperature for at least 8 minutes. Serve with mash and enjoy!


pounding chicken breast

For the best, perfectly-cooked chicken, the key is pounding chicken breast thin

When I was a senior in high school, I had some free time on my hands. At this point in my life, I didn’t love school and had no college plans, so I got a job at a restaurant near my house.

It was a tiny restaurant; it had ten tables in total, maybe.  But it was famous for its schnitzel.

If you aren’t familiar with the dish, a schnitzel can be any type of meat — usually, veal, pork, or chicken — that is pounded thin with a meat tenderizer, breaded, and fried. It’s likely you’ve heard of the traditional Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel, which is thinned and fried veal. 

The restaurant I worked at during those formative years as an apprentice chef was highly-regarded for its take on chicken schnitzel.

To make the dish, we had to take chicken breasts and pound them paper thin. We then breaded the thin chicken in heavily seasoned flour, egg, and dried challah breadcrumbs. Then, we fried them golden brown in skillets of bubbling oil.

The first time I took a bite of schnitzel, my life changed forever.

Up to that point, chicken had been mundane for me; it was just another all-too-common menu item, often barbecued on the grill at home. I couldn’t believe chicken could taste so good after that first schnitzel bite.

The wizened alcoholic chef who worked in the kitchen took time to teach me the process between his regular temper tantrums and naps on the old leather couch in the basement of the restaurant. The key, he said, was pounding the chicken breast to a perfect thickness. Not falling apart, but thin enough to cook quickly before the breadcrumbs burnt.  Thick enough to retain some moisture but thin enough to be cut with a fork. 

To get that perfect thinness by pounding chicken took some practice; I still remember the meat mallet we used, textured on one side and smooth on the other. To get the chicken breast to the right thickness, I covered the cutting board completely with several layers of plastic wrap. Then I made a blanket of plastic wrap that would go over the chicken breast by folding the film over itself five or six times. The plastic blanket does two things: It helps keep the flying chicken pieces to a minimum, and it helps distribute the impact of the meat mallet more evenly.

Rather than tenderize and pound a whole chicken breast — which can be quite thick — I sliced it down the middle, so I had two thinner breasts. Placing one of the thinner sliced breasts on the board, I covered it with the second layer of plastic. First, I’d give it a couple good smacks with the textured side of the mallet to soften it up sufficiently. Flipping the mallet, I would then continue pounding it until I had the perfect thickness.  

Pounding chicken thin is a vital process to prepare chicken for a lot of dishes that require boneless chicken breasts. If the step is skipped, it will result in uneven cooking when baking, grilling, or frying chicken. Dishes like chicken piccata, chicken marsala, schnitzel, chicken parmigiana, and chicken and waffles are just a few of the many popular chicken dishes that benefit from the pounding method to achieve a delicious texture and flavor.

Pounding a chicken breast paper thin, marinating it in an herb-and-spice-heavy marinade, and then grilling it is one of my favorite ways to grill white meat. Because of the thickness, it cooks in a minute or two; so fast that it never has time to dry out. Also, the grill and marinade make more contact with the meat because there’s so much more surface area. Pounding a chicken breast thin is a great way to cook chicken for sandwiches or to be sliced on salads, too.

Really, there are so many ways to use this method!

So get practicing and try one of our many ButcherBox chicken breast recipes. Or check out one of my recipe or how-to videos on YouTube.


bacon-wrapped filet mignon

A bacon-wrapped filet is one of life’s simple joys

Why bring bacon and filet mignon together?

Of course, it makes sense. It seems like a question that does not need to be asked by any sane person. Crispy bacon and a delectable, tender steak together?

But, have you ever paused, mid-savory bite, and just momentarily think, who thought of THIS?

Believe it or not, there is a pretty good reason why it’s a good idea to wrap a filet in bacon.

Why do we wrap filet mignon in bacon?

Filet mignon comes from one of the least fatty parts of a cow, which is the reason it is so tender. However, this can also be a reason why some folks don’t like filets as much as, say, a well-marbled ribeye. The lack of fat also means a lack of some of the flavors that we — as a steakhouse-packing public — have come to love.

Wrapping a filet in bacon allows for some of the savory, smokey goodness inherent in bacon to seep into the filet when cooking. The fat also burns off the bacon, creating a crispy sear when grilling or cooking in a cast iron pan, or other stovetop methods.

Filet mignon, a lean cut from the little-used tenderloin section of a cow. It has little to no marbling, or intramuscular fat, due to its lack of use. Grass-fed cattle, however, do produce filets with some unique marbling and depth that isn’t found in grain-fed and finished cows. Butter, ghee, or some other fatty dairy product like blue cheese is often added when cooking to up the fat content and flavor.

As filets are often grilled, seared, or roasted, adding fats is vital to keeping the cut moist and tender. If it is cooked without added fats like butter or bacon, a filet can quickly dry out.

No one wants to waste a spectacular — and pricey — cut of beef like filet mignon by cooking it wrong.

How to cook a bacon-wrapped filet mignon

A grilled bacon-wrapped filet is a spectacular treat and is relatively easy to pull off — cook on high-heat for between four to six minutes on each side, and let it rest for 5- 10 minutes to get a perfect medium-rare finish.

However, searing and roasting is — in many people’s minds, including our ButcherBox Head Chef Yankel Polak —  the best way to approach a filet mignon to get the most delicious results.

According to Chef Yankel, a meal centered on a filet mignon wrapped in bacon is, “Romantic and luxurious.” 

“It is the perfect dinner for an indulgent night in,” he adds.

Below is the recipe for Chef Yankel’s bacon-wrapped filet recipe with buttermilk mashed potatoes and a mushroom wine sauce. Yankel’s recipe calls for wrapping a couple of ButcherBox filet mignons in ButcherBox bacon, which you can do with either a toothpick or butcher’s twine. You can also watch Chef Yankel lead you through this bacon and filet delight at the bottom of the page.


Bacon-Wrapped Filet with Buttermilk Smashed Potatoes and Mushroom Wine Sauce

This recipe serves two people. It takes five minutes to prep and 40 minutes to cook. 


  • 2 ButcherBox filet mignons
  • 4 strips ButcherBox bacon
  • 2 c small multicolor potatoes
  • 3 Tbsp salt for boiling potatoes
  • ¾ c buttermilk
  • ¼ c butter for potatoes
  • ¼ c chives
  • ½ c dry red wine
  • 1 cup assorted mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • ½ c heavy cream
  • ghee or avocado oil for searing
  • 2 Tbsp butter for basting
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place potatoes in a pot, cover with salted cold water and bring to simmer. Cook until fork-tender.

  2. Drain water and add buttermilk, butter, chives and gently smash potatoes until buttermilk and butter are fully absorbed. Season with salt and pepper.

  3. Season filet mignons on both sides with salt and pepper.

  4. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lay two strips of bacon side by side with a tiny bit of overlap. Lay filet on top of bacon as though it was a wheel and roll up bacon around the filet. Secure with two small pieces of string each tied around one strip of bacon. Repeat for the second filet.

  5. Preheat cast-iron pan, add ghee or oil, and sear filets on all sides, 2-3 min per side. Add remaining butter and baste for additional 2 min on all sides. Place pan in oven and roast for 8-10 min.

  6. Remove pan from oven when the thermometer inserted into the center of filet reads 120°F. Set steaks aside.

  7. Place pan on stove top on medium heat. Add mushrooms to pan and sauté in pan juices for 3 min.

  8. Add red wine and cook until liquid is reduced by half.

  9. Add heavy cream and cook until liquid is reduced by half again, stirring every min or so.

  10. Serve filet over potatoes and top with mushroom wine sauce.

Happy Eating!

braised beef braising meat

How to braise beef and why it’s one of the best cooking methods

Whenever I come across braised short ribs on a restaurant menu, I have a hard time passing up the delectable dish. Just thinking about it, I can taste the melt-in-your-mouth, flavorful meat. In all my short rib adventures, I’ve never stopped to wonder how chefs create such divine creations.

The secret, I discovered comes down to braising.

A cooking method mixing high dry heat, low moist heat, and time

Braising is a two-step cooking method that uses both high-heat for a short period and low-heat for a longer period of time. First, it involves browning meat in olive oil, butter, ghee, or some other fat — on high heat — usually by sauteing in a pan. Second, the meat is cooked in a covered dish, in the juices left from the browning and often also with an added liquid such as stock, water, etc.

The second, slow-cooking step is done in a tightly covered pot, like a dutch oven, or, often, in a slow-cooker. This process is also sometimes referred to as “pot roasting.”

Slow-cooking — and, well, the use of a slow-cooker or Crock Pot — helps to add flavor and tenderizes tougher cuts of beef and other meats.

According to The Kitchen Encyclopedia, published in 1911, “Braising is a method much used in France, and is a cross between boiling and baking.” The word itself derives from the French word brasier, which is a form of braise, meaning “live coals.” A brasier or brazier, in French and English, is also another name for a receptacle to burn coal or charcoal. Dutch ovens can also be called brasiers. The origin of the term braising seems to come from a French word for a method using both dry heat and moist heat.

Why braise?

Braising can be done with any meat but is most often done with tough cuts of meat, because tender cuts usually don’t need additional tenderizing or flavor.

Cuts that traditionally have less flavor — say a chuck roast, shoulder steak, chuck pot roast, pork butt, or beef chuck arm — are the best cuts to use and may need richer braising liquids. The best way to add great flavor is with beef broth or chicken stock, as well as spices like rosemary, bay leaves, and other fresh herbs. Moreover, braising done in the style of a pot roast can include aromatic vegetables — carrots, onions, and more — for additional flavor.

How to braise meat

The first step of braising takes about ten minutes, but achieving truly fall-apart-tender meat takes many hours of cooking time. Our in-house ButcherBox Chef Yankel Polak recommends seasoning the meat with salt and black pepper, then searing your meat until you get a nice brown crust. When cooking pork, he likes to use apple cider as a braising liquid that can also help scraping the browned bits of meat left from searing. Chef Yankel also recommends adding tomato paste to your braising liquid for texture and taste. For added flavor and simplicity, he also advises using the same pot to sear and cook, covering the dish after the flavorful liquid and browned meat have simmered.

A long, slow cook is crucial for breaking down the proteins and tenderizing the meat. You’ll need to cook for at least an hour and a half to two hours (depending on the size of your cut of meat) in the oven set to 300 degrees. Cooking on low heat allows the meat to cook slowly as the braising liquid evaporates. It is this process that makes dishes like pulled pork, carnitas, and roasts fork-tender.

Whether cooking pork in the slow cooker or keeping a watchful eye on a roast spending a day in a Dutch oven, meat braising in its juices and spiced-up flavor can turn a simple cut of beef or pork into a truly amazing dish.

You can find some of Chef Yankel’s favorite recipes to braise beef, chicken, or pork here, or watch the video below for more braising techniques.

If you want more from Chef Yankel, check out his recommendations for the best red wine to pair with braised beef and other dishes. 

Our monthly ButcherBox comes often comes with cuts like pork butt and grass-fed beef roasts that are perfect for braising. You can also get these cuts in a custom ButcherBox. If you’re not a member already, you can sign up here. 

Digging into shepherd’s pie: A rich, simple dish with a complex history

As the days start to get warmer, let’s skip the stew and dig into a dish that’s a lot easier to make. 

The dish itself is not complicated. Popular in the British Isles, it is usually some combination of meat, spices, vegetables, with a mashed potato crust. 

A problem arises, however, when discussing the name of the entree. Shepherd’s pie? Cottage pie? “Pâté chinois?

Here in America, we usually refer to any dish that contains beef, hearty veggies, and is topped with potatoes as “shepherd’s pie.” However, what we know as shepherd’s pie is actually a “cottage pie,” which is popular in Ireland, Scotland, and England. A shepherd’s pie is the same except the featured meat is lamb instead of beef. 

The background for the name differences is quite interesting. Cottage pies have traditionally been more common because they were made from the leftovers of from larger meals. So commonfolk in places like Ireland and England — who predominantly lived in country cottages — would take leftover beef they had, cut it up, and throw it into a pot or dish with whatever veggies they had lying around. 

As our in-house chef, Yankel Polak explains, “There are endless variations since its basically a free-form stew topped with mashed potatoes.”

Because potatoes have been such a prevalent and accessible crop to broader swaths of the population — especially in Ireland — it made more sense to use mashed potatoes as a crust or topping than any grain-based foods. And so, the cottage pie became a staple in Ireland, Britain, Scotland, and, eventually America.

It is a bit odd that a cottage pie — the dish with beef as its meat — would be called shepherd’s pie more commonly here in the U.S. 

If you haven’t made the connection yet, shepherd’s pie gets its name because it features lamb, the livestock tended to by shepherds.

Whatever name it goes by, the savory dish is good just about any time you happen to have ground beef or any leftover meat and vegetables handy. But it is a perfect hearty meal for the winter, especially in the more snow-blanketed, northern sections of the country.

ButcherBox’s Chef Yankel likes to make a beef stew and store mash potatoes in a pastry bag. “When I’m hungry,” he explains, “I heat up the stew in a saute pan, pour it into an oven safe dish, pipe the mash on top with a sprinkle of parmesan and pepper and broil it till golden.” 

For another variation on the cottage pie/shepherd’s pie, check out Chef Yankel’s “Spiced-Up Shepherd’s Pie,” which adds some more complexity with Indian-inspired flavors and a unique potato topping that blends in cauliflower for a lower carb count:


Spiced-up Shepherd’s Pie


Meat Filling

- 1 ButcherBox Ground Beef

- 1 c butternut squash, small dice

- 1 c carrots, small dice

- 1 c peas (if frozen do not thaw)

- One can (15½oz) garbanzo beans

- 1 can (14½oz) diced tomatoes

- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice

- 4 garlic cloves, minced

- ½ tsp cinnamon

- 1 tsp muchi-curry powder

- 1 tsp garam masala

- 1 Tbsp tomato paste

- 2 tsp kosher salt

- 1/3 c beef stock

Cauliflower Topping

- 1 cauliflower

- 2 russet potatoes

- ½ tsp muchi-curry powder

- ½ tsp ground black pepper

- 1 tsp kosher salt

- 1 tsp ghee


30 minutes cooking time:

Serves: 4-6

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Rinse potatoes, poke them twice with a fork and place on baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 1 hr or until fork-tender. Peel the skin off once you are able to handle them.

3. Cut up cauliflower and place in a steaming basket. Steam for 10 min, or until very soft.

4. Place cooked cauliflower, peeled potatoes, and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

5. With a hand mixer, mix until smooth.

6. Set aside.

Meat Filling

7. Preheat sauté pan. Crumble ground beef into the hot pan, and sauté until slightly pink, then drain liquid.

8. Return the meat back to pan and add garlic, onion, butternut squash, carrots, and spices. Sauté until onions are translucent.

9. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and beef broth mix, and cook for 3 min.

10. Add garbanzo beans and peas. Mix everything together and pour meat filling into a casserole dish.

11. Spread the mashed cauliflower and potato mixture evenly on top of meat.

12. Bake for 30 min. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Wine with Steak Grilled ribeye beef steak with red wine, herbs and spices on wooden table

Wine with steak: Finding the perfect pairing

There are plenty of reasons why red wine pairs so well with a delicious steak. Some are cultural, some are even scientific, but for most people, the perfection of this pairing comes down to the magic it performs on our palate.

I love pairing wine with steak. And, honestly, nothing brings out the beefy characteristics of our grass-fed steaks like a heady red wine.

When trying to decide how to pair your booze with your dinner, you should start with the cut of meat.

Braised roasts and ribeyes have richer, fattier flavors and need a deep, full-bodied wine to hold up. These pair best with a cabernet or Zinfandel for example. For leaner cuts like sirloin steaks and round roasts a mellower wine like pinot noir or merlot work nicely.

You can get even better pairings by matching characteristics of your seasonings and sauces with notes that the wines exhibit. For example, mushrooms and onions pair well with wines with spicier characteristics; sweeter sides dishes taste best with fruitier wines.

A vital step to pair wines and beef is to make sure you put some thought into how you plan to use the two together.

What I mean is that you should keep both the meat and wine in mind as you plan your meal. You may have a dish you want to try cooking or a wine you’ve discovered that you’re itching to drink. Don’t just cook the dish without thinking of the wine or pick a wine without thinking about how it pairs. You need to balance the other half based on the choice you make with the other. If you began with wine, choose a dish that has a complimentary flavor profile. If you choose to begin with a dish, find a wine that will add to the experience.

Cooking with wine has a few different rules, but the main key is to only cook with a wine you would enjoy drinking. There are plenty of delicious, affordable wines, so choose one that you like. You don’t want to use a $50 bottle of cabernet sauvignon as the base of a rosemary and red wine sauce for a filet, no matter how expensive the cut.

I highly recommend a book called Culinary Artistry for a detailed break down on flavor combinations. In my early days of menu creations, this book was my bible.

I recently put together a 10-course wine dinner with a focus on Burgundy. I began my recipe creation process by exploring all the different notes Burgundy wines exhibit — flavors like vanilla, cocoa, and pepper, as well as coffee and various berries. I then picked proteins like salmon and oysters, and hearty steaks like ribeyes and chuck steaks to balance the astringency or acidity of those tastes. I also flavored the meat with rubs and sauces that incorporated notes from the various wines. This way, each bite complements each sip and vice versa.

One thing to note, you are not always going to find a perfect match between your protein and your win. That’s fine! As you experiment more and more, you will notice what works and what doesn’t. Your palate becomes more discerning, alerting you to imbalances when some taste is not quite right.

Just remember, the number one rule for pairing your wine and meat is to make sure one flavor doesn’t overwhelm the other.

Balance is the key to successful wine and food pairings.

The true joy of the pairing comes when you take that bite of steak, and wash it down with a sip of wine, and you know immediately: You nailed it.

There is no sensation quite like a pairing working in perfect harmony in your mouth.  


ButcherBox Chef Yankel Polak.

Chefs and health: How to truly eat well

One challenging aspect of finding a career that you love can be, sometimes, loving it too much.

This is especially true for chefs.

The reasons I became a chef are quite simple: I love good food, and I love cooking and creating amazing meals. This is true for a vast majority of chefs. It is quite likely that we also might enjoy eating a bit too much.

Turn on the Food Network, look at the cover of any famous chef’s cookbook, or just pick up a can of Chef Boyardee. It is easy to observe that it is an accepted cultural norm for our trusted chefs to be a little on the plump side. Some have argued that a portly disposition has been seen as something comforting and a sign of a good cook at various times in history.

It is a reality that chefs often find it difficult to eat healthily. (An unhealthy cook doesn’t necessarily have to be overweight either, there is plenty of junk one can easily consume in the day-to-day bustle of a kitchen.)

Some of the reasons that chefs often don’t eat well are obvious, like access to copious amounts of food, but some are less so.

Generally, there isn’t much time to sit and eat throughout the day. Sometimes, you can spend an entire day tasting intensely concentrated flavors until your palate is totally overwhelmed and exhausted. After this flavor bombardment, when you are hungry, you don’t necessarily care about the saveur of what you are putting in your gut. This is often why the food you find at places that cater to late-night service industry dining guests is often burgers and cheap beer — that and the truth that many kitchen workers make a pittance. There were plenty of jobs where all I ate for sustenance were PBJ sandwiches and instant ramen.

So what is the key to eating healthy, for both chefs and anyone else?

Plan ahead.

For one, always get good, simple ingredients. Second, make sure you identify the times of day that you are vulnerable to poor eating choices, and have a meal ready for those instances. 

It helps to be able to have access to grass-fed beef, heritage breed pork, free-range chicken and other more naturally healthy food choices that ButcherBox provides to its customers each month.

As far as making healthy food interesting, find ways to boost flavors, while using minimal ingredients. Season thoughtfully and thoroughly. This is something you will find with many of our ButcherBox recipes and the cooking advice we share.

There are quite a few other best and worst industry eating habits, that you can discover by talking to other chefs, which you can use in your chef career or in your own lives in general.

God only knows how many family meals I ate out of a quart container leaning over a trash can.   


Don’t ruin your steak by cutting it wrong

Obviously, we love a great steak as much as anyone.

And there is nothing we dislike more than when a simple mistake ruins a fantastic, tender steak.

So as a bit of public service, we want to make sure that you are aware of one of the most common errors that can transform a melt-in-your-mouth steak into something akin to chewing a rubber boot.

So once you cook your steak to your preferred level of doneness — although we don’t know why anyone would eat a steak cooked anything but medium-rare  — you should first let the steak rest for it to maintain a perfect tenderness and its juices.

And now comes the part that is easy to screw up: Cutting the steak.

Don’t ruin your steak with a simple mistake

You should always cut a steak against the grain, which means against the direction that the muscle fibers run.

This is true of all cuts of meats, but it is most vital in some of the unique cuts that we include in our ButcherBox shipments like flank steak and Tri-Tip. These and cuts like skirt steak and hangar steak have more pronounced muscle fibers (the grain of the meat) because they come from parts of the cattle where the muscles work harder.

Our in-house ButcherBox chef Yankel Polak said that to dig into the reasons for this more, it’s important to consider what beef is.  “It is muscle, and muscle consists of fiber and connective tissue,” said Yankel. “Depending on where the cut is harvested, the muscle may be tougher with more connective tissue or tender with very little. Cuts from the loin and rib — such as New York strip, filet mignon, or ribeye steaks — are quite tender because those are less used muscle groups. Cuts from the chuck, round, and flank tend to be tougher with more tissue due to their high usage.”

The more the muscle is used according to Yankel, the more apparent the grain. “On a tender steak, like the filet or strip, it really doesn’t matter how you cut it, it will pretty much be tender no matter what,” he said. “However, a steak with a distinct grain will be inedible unless cut against the direction the grain runs.”

If you do cut with the grain of the steak, you will often find the meat more gamey and tougher to chew. The reason? It is because the longer muscle fibers remain intact and haven’t been cut. Cutting against the grain breaks up the muscle fibers making the steak much more tender.

Cutting grass-fed steak

This is even more true with grass-fed beef. “Grass-fed will be significantly less forgiving to an improper cut,” said Yankel. “It’s leaner, to begin with, and the cows have lived more active lives meaning their muscles will be more developed than grain fed cows who spend a significant portion of their lives cooped up in a feedlot,” he added.

That’s why it is essential for you to cut against the grain and why most restaurants cut their flanks, hangars, and skirts before delivering them to your table.

Not only is cutting against the grain crucial, but the thickness of the slice is important as well.  “Considering the muscles fibers run parallel to each other,” said chef Yankel, “cutting thick slices against the grain still leaves a significant amount of tough muscle to chew through.”

“Keep the slices thin,” he added, “as thin as possible.”

Lastly, consider the knife you use.

While most steak knives are serrated, the best knife for a steak is actually a flat blade, a chefs knife, or slicer. “At least double the length of the width of the meat,” is chef Yankel’s rule.

“This will allow you a smooth motion while slicing,” he said. “Don’t press down hard or struggle with the meat. Using a sharp knife, draw the blade smoothly across the surface.  Allow the knife to do the work, not your strength.”

“A clean-cut retains all the moisture that reabsorbed during the resting period,” Yankel said.

So, to sum up, always rest your steak for ten minutes or more, use a wicked sharp knife, and cut THIN against the grain.

Think this is nonsense? Well, Cook’s Illustrated did an interesting test that discovered that even steaks that many people consider to be “tougher” cuts were actually as tender as the traditionally better known and more widely considered “tender” cuts, if cut the correct way. You can watch a video of the experiment and its results here.

Our taste buds and science concur: Cut your steak against the grain and you will have a mouth-watering, tender steak every time.

Our taste buds and science concur: Cut your steak against the grain and you will have a mouth-watering, tender steak every time.

Oh, and whatever you do, don’t cook it medium-well. But we’ll get into that another time.