Harlem's New Neighborhood Butcher: Harlem Shambles

By: Cyndi Amaya

When was the last time your butcher recommended a new cut of beef for that extra special dinner you're planning? Well for a long time, the neighborhood of Harlem didn't quite have a friendly butcher they could go to for advice. In fact, there hasn't been a local butcher for a few decades in this neighborhood- until recently. Just a few months ago, Tim Forrester and brother Mark opened up Harlem Shambles on Frederick Douglass Blvd to bring their expertise in all things meat to Harlem.

Besides providing some of the best and rare cuts of meat available, Harlem Shambles not only fills a much-needed void in the community, but their insistence on providing quality natural grass-fed meat also has people putting more thought to where their meat came from.

We caught up with owner Tim for some insight on the new shop and for some great tips on what to look for when buying meat, especially on a budget. Check out the interview below...

How did you get into the butcher business?

I had always had an interest in meat, and in a well-raised product, and I had difficulty finding the kind of meat I was looking for. I tended to buy at farmers markets, but their meats were always cut at the slaughterhouse, vac-packed, and usually frozen. I decided to try to open a place where we could age the meat properly and cut it more to order. I learned basically by latching on to people that knew what they were doing, and trying to absorb everything I could from them.

Why did you choose Harlem to open up shop?

I live on the Upper West and knew there weren't any proper butchers anywhere nearby, so I wanted to open somewhere in Upper Manhattan. I initially started looking along Amsterdam Ave around the 90's and 100's. When I didn't find a space I liked in that neighborhood, I started walking around Harlem and just liked the area a lot better. I liked the energy of the neighborhood, I liked the number of people I saw outside walking the blocks, and I liked the other businesses I saw opening up.

Where do you source your meat from?

I source from a few different farms in the Finger Lakes region and the Hudson Valley. At the moment, everything I sell is Animal Welfare Approved. My three main suppliers are Autumn's Harvest in Romulus, Meili Farm in Amenia, and Kinderhook in Valatie. All are focused on raising animals the right way, and have been doing it a long time.

Why is it important to you to provide organic, grass fed meat?

To be clear, the meat I have isn't stamped with the organic label. More important to me is that the animals are raised outdoors, on a natural diet, and without any chemicals. I think that results in a healthier animal and better quality meat.

Is there much of a difference in taste and texture to organic meat?

I think there is a stronger flavor to grass-fed beef and lamb, and pastured pork and chicken. I also think there is a wider range in terms of quality when an animal is raised on grass. We looked at a number of different farms that raised grass-fed beef, but many times the quality and consistency wasn't there. It isn't easy to raise animals naturally and still produce a premium product.

What are some good cuts of meat that you recommend?

As far as cuts, since we butcher in-house, we can offer a number that aren't seen in supermarkets. We have classics like ribeye and porterhouse, and offer a bone-in filet, which has the tenderness that people want in filet but also the additional flavor by keeping it on the bone. Other tender cuts are the flatiron off the shoulder, the French cut pave', and the Denver cut. I am also a big fan of the Scotch tender, a less tender but exceptionally flavorful cut.

What are some ways people can save money, but still get good quality meat?

For getting quality meat on a budget, I think people can look to some of the lesser known cuts I mentioned before. People try to save money by buying a discount filet at the supermarket, but for the same money they can get a much better steak by talking to one of our butchers about what they like and trying out something new.

What would you recommend for a great steak dinner, and how would you prepare it?

For a great steak dinner, I like to keep things simple. I'm not a particularly skilled chef, so I basically look for a really nice piece of meat and try not to screw it up. I'd get a well aged piece of ribeye and then cook it on the grill when the weather permits or under the broiler otherwise. The one key is to get the steak to room temperature before cooking it. I like to season it with salt and pepper and let it sit on the counter for about a half hour before cooking it. Then a couple of minutes on each side over extremely high heat, let it rest for 5, then dive in. I typically cap the meal off with a belt of rye.

What can be a good, hearty inexpensive dish people can prepare during these cold winter months?

During the winter months, it's a great time to utilize the hard working, flavorful muscles that don't make for great grilling steaks. A nice stew of beef shin with the usual vegetables (onion, carrot, celery) makes an easy and inexpensive meal. And it can be stretched into two meals since leftovers can be turned into a Shepherd's Pie.

Click here for more information about Harlem Shambles.

Harlem Shambles 2141 Frederick Douglass Blvd New York, NY 10026 (btw 115th and 116th)

Photos courtesy of Harlem Shambles

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