Take a budget meat from tough to tender

A Jaccard tenderizer
A Jaccard tenderizer sss

Our food writers answer reader questions:

Q. Round steak is frequently on sale, but I haven’t found any recipes for it that result in tender meat.

A. I called my favorite butcher, Nathan Anda of Red Apron, and he has a simple, relatively low-cost solution: Buy yourself a Jaccard tenderizer. It costs about $20, and Anda says that, unlike a mallet tenderizer, this device will not denature the meat or ruin its natural shape.

“It will help its mouth feel, too,” the chef says. “It’ll cook better.”

The key is not to go crazy with the tenderizing. Anda suggests poking the round steak about every inch and a half, then flipping it over and doing the same on the other side.

You’ll get a much more tender cut of meat. And less chewy, no matter what the recipe.

Tim Carman

Q. I have decided to try making pizza dough. I want to make a bunch and freeze it. Most recipes I’ve seen say it can be frozen, but when do I freeze it? Immediately after I portion it after the first rise? Or do I let it rise again and then freeze?

When I take it out of the freezer, I know it needs to come to room temperature so I can stretch it out, but does it need to rise at that point?

A. Freeze it after the first rise. Then let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator, and set it out at room temperature an hour or two before you want to bake it.

Becky Krystal

Q. Has the current unrest in the Middle East affected the availability of certain food products? Last night, as I was preparing a dish with Aleppo pepper, it struck me that this particular pepper has become very popular lately. Yet Aleppo has been in the news as a conflict zone. Has that affected the availability of Aleppo pepper, or could it soon?

A. Conflict has indeed affected the availability of Aleppo pepper; I’ve seen a few articles addressing the issue. Most people suggest using the Turkish Urfa or Marash peppers as a substitute; they are tasty but don’t taste the same as Aleppo. Urfa is a bit smoky, almost raisiny; Marash is brighter and citrusy. You’ll find both at specialty markets or well-stocked spice shops.

Kara Elder

Q. Some non-wood cutting boards have been popular for a few years now. I think the company that makes them is called Epicurean. They look and feel a bit like plastic but can be pricey (around $80). Are these things good to use with good knives? Or is real wood a better option to save my edges?

A. Those boards, according to the Epicurean website, are made with “recycled high density polyethylene,” which is a common kind of plastic.

I can’t speak to how well plastic boards will treat your knives. But all knives will get dull over time, no matter which board you use. It’s best to keep knives in good shape with a honing steel and regular sharpening.

The main drawback for plastic boards is their tendency to scar. Bacteria and pathogens can hide in those furrows, and you don’t want that. Wood boards don’t scar as easily.

- T.C.

Q. The salmon burgers are gone, but 1/2 cup of homemade tartar sauce remains. Mayonnaise, lemon, capers, cornichons, salt, pepper, Dijon mustard: What do I do with it?

A. My favorite thing to do with dips: Thin them out and turn them into a salad dressing. In this case, with all the mayo in there, I’d thin it out with vinegar and a little water to taste. Would make a great dressing for romaine hearts, don’t you think? Or keep it a little thicker and use it to make egg salad.

- Joe Yonan

Q. I use kosher salt. I like to use a salt shaker both at the table and for sprinkling certain items (formed cookies for baking, oiled slices of eggplant for browning), but the size of the kosher salt grains are too large for my salt shaker. If you know of a shaker with slightly larger holes, I would be most grateful.

A. For larger grains of salt, I like those tiny little bowls with tiny little spoons. Gives your dinner guests a finger-pinch option, too.

- Bonnie S. Benwick

Q. Brussels sprouts - those bitter little cabbages! I’ve tried roasting them with balsamic vinegar, covering them with cheese sauce, etc., and just cannot choke them down. The CSA box just came, and guess what a key ingredient is? Any suggestions?

A. When in doubt, fry. I really love our recipe for Fried Brussels Sprouts With Paprika-Spiked Dipping Sauce.

- Becky Krystal

Q. I see a lot of recipes that call for thinly sliced garlic that is then sauteed with items like onions for five to 10 minutes. When I try to execute those recipes, the thin garlic invariably burns or sticks. Any thoughts on how to improve this situation? Thicker slices of garlic? Add the garlic for the final few minutes (worried I will get less garlic flavor)?

A. Hmm. The heat should not be higher than medium, and there needs to be enough oil in the pan to coat the garlic slices; once the garlic is where you want it to be, shove it away from the center of the pan. Stir frequently, as recipe writers like to say, while the garlic is cooking.

- B.S.B.

Q. I like to make fondue for friends. What liqueur can I add to make it interesting?

A. Green Chartreuse is a classic friend to chocolate. I’d say that orange and nut liqueurs would be reliable options as well.

- M. Carrie Allan