5 things you shouldn’t cheap out on at the supermarket

Look I know times are tough in 2023 and onwards. But there’s a difference between buying stuff to chew through come dinner time and actually enjoying what you’ve prepared. Just avoid the next following 5 things and hopefully it’s more hits than misses in the kitchen!

Quick note: Permanently cheap, not suddenly reduced

In this instance I’m pointing out five things with barely any flavour as opposed to anything that comes with lots of flavour that you suddenly find on special. If you can get top shelf steak at bottom shelf prices, have at it because that’s how I enjoy my meats: large on quality, low on price. (And a bit of gravvy doesn’t go astray.)

But avoid these if you can:

5. Don’t cheap out on: Pesto

Don't cheap out on pesto
I’m sorry, it’s a no from me.

Now I don’t know if my analogy still exists in 2023 (I’m sure I could find it where I to look hard enough) but back in the mid to late 90s, cheap knock of fragrances were all the rage. Couldn’t afford actual Calvin Klein CK One or CK Be or CK Whatever? No problem, your local Reject Shop/Knock off shop has your back bro – with their version or smells like of top brands like the CK gear, Cool Water and DKNY.

The trouble was the ‘sort of’ what you wanted scent hung around for the length of a cup of coffee and then faded into the ether never to be sniffed again. Forget walking past the object of your affection and hoping they catch your lingering notes (wow, how sensual does that sound??) – unless they were there in your rental bathroom when you doused yourself in it, they’re missing out on the effect.

Cheap out on Pesto (like I did back in March this year) and you have the same issue – it smells lovely when you stick your honk directly in the jar but that’s as much of the flavour as you’re ever going to get because come cooking time, the cheap stuff never compliments and coats things like restaurant quality or homemade. Yes you get some green smattering on your pasta and chicken and if you’re really lucky, you may even get a hint of pine nut in there. Just a hint. Sadly, little or no Parmesan bite though. Yes the more you cheap out on the pesto sauce the less of a basil, pine and even garlic hit your taste buds get and you end up with more green colouring than actual flavour.

(Interestingly I found the cheaper stuff at Aldi taster better and stronger than Jamie Olivers take. However both Aldi and JO were streets ahead of any supermarket generic brand.)

Maybe try instead: Waiting for the better stuff to come on special or make your own! At it’s core it’s basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan all smooshed together. Far more of a taste sensation (and cooler) if you whip up a batch yourself.

4. Don’t cheap out on: Chicken Kievs

After 43 years circling the sun, I have eaten many a chicken kiev – especially when it’s been on offer as part of a pub menu that really knows it’s grub. Interestingly though in all that time of the stuffed chicken with oozing garlic butter experiences, not a single pub has ever served it with the wing attached like you used to find in a supermarket nor have they opted for the reason why this is on the list today, the more commonly found reconstituted version.

Don't cheap out on chicken kievs
Option show: The pub classic

What a chicken Kiev should be: Flattened out real chicken breast filled with a garlic sauce and then fried up in a great crumb. Chips on the side to soak up the garlic butter. Yum.
What a chicken Kiev comes as when you cheap out on it: Reconstituted chicken formation so that every single Kiev in the deli looks exactly the same, filled with some kind of claggy garlic sauce that could also double for mortar if you run short. When you cook it the sauce somehow explodes within the chicken and ends up burnt on the bottom of the oven tray therefore ruining the ‘cut into the dish and watch the wonder flow’ moment.
It’s not the same in terms of texture or flavour as the real thing and trying different supermarket takes on this has left me with some clearly unimpressed kids.

Maybe try this instead: Go to a pub and get one made of real chicken. Thank me later.

Nice try but it’s not the same.

Oh and the reconstituted chicken strikes again because in at number three..

3. Don’t cheap out on: Schnitzels

We’re double up on reconstituted chicken not once but twice in this post simply because of Captain Pukka aka this chef who shuns clothing.

Because a long time ago while at a loose end I sat through his incredibly revealing documentary on the fate of chickens. What happens to the male ones when they’re born (hint: Nothing good), chicken in cages and ultimately what made my stomach just about turn in on itself, the reconstituted stuff. It’s brutal, it’s educational and even if you watch it just the one time, you’ll never look at a meal of chicken the same way ever again.

Which is why I shy away from chicken schnitzels from the supermarket deli that strangely all the look the same size and shape and often come moulded into some kind of cartoon heart. Now I’m no chicken expert but I highly doubt that all chickens somehow magically produce schnitzels of the exact dimensions, down to a tee. Call me a sceptic but when I see a pile of schnitzels in the deli window so lovingly piled on top of each in perfect formation, where nothing short of a a natural disaster could bowl over this impressive structure, I have my doubts that a master craftsman hammered them all into that regulation shape.
No I know it’s minced up chicken out of a tube, missing all the fibrous wonder of an actual chicken breast flattened with a hammer.

Now this, this is a snitzel the chef did not cheap out on. Irregular, large, crispy and delicious. You can toss those pickles in the bin however.

Give me the real stuff every time. Also see: Chicken nuggets. Don’t get Jamie above started on those again..

Maybe try this instead: Schnitzels from a butcher. They can still be fairly cheap there if you’re willing to shop around.

2. Don’t cheap out on: Cheap steak

Now this entry does come with a bolded however. If said cheap steak is spending a few hours being softened up in a slow cooker/pressure cooker experience than it’s fair game and ideally suited for the experience. If you’re trying to use it for anything quick and easy like a steak sandwich however..

Locally here the steak that you can easily cheap out on is blade steak but like I mentioned above, unless it’s doing the dance of the slow cooker than it’s really not worth it. It can be tougher than old boots fried up and an absolute teeth destroying (and soul on occasion) mission trying to work your way through and that’s not counting the grisly bits you get with the really budget options.
There’s nothing worse that putting this in a steak sandwich only to find out the surrounding bread and ingredients fall away long before the meat in the middle gives up.

Fresh steak is to be appreciated and not chewed like jerky before it finally breaks down into something you can swallow.

Maybe try this instead: Rump steak. (Or just about any other cut on special.) Cheapish and depending on where you buy it, plentiful. Do your teeth and stomach a favour, do not cheap out on steak.

And finally 1. Don’t cheap out on…Carbonara sauce.

Yes we’re going back to entry number 4, the claggy cheap Kiev for the reason why this one cements itself into the number one position. Because the sludge that comes out of the jar in the cheapest carbonara sauce options are just like the glue substance in cheap reconstituted kievs, only lacking in any flavour whatsoever. It’s like they’ve vacuumed out any note of taste and just left the perfect double for the school glue you’d occasionally find the weird kid in your primary school class trying to eat.
What should be eggs and cream (with minuscule flakes of bacon) comes out like the cheapest slime monster ever, star of the shlockiest B movie in history, coating your pasta in a sludge that if green (like the pesto should be) could probably turn turtles into full scale ninjas.

While we’re not Italian, pasta for us like a lot of Australian families is a big staple for us because it’s quick and very easy to make. However the cheap jar stuff? Flavourless. Claggy. Glue like as mentioned above. Not to mention you need a tonne of grated cheese and or salt to turn the pile of plain Jane into something far more palatable.

Luckily the alternative is just as easy and far tastier– fry up your favourite bacon (even if it’s the diced stuff from the deli), cook up your pasta, throw it all together and run an egg or two through the mix stirring evenly before taking it off the heat. It doesn’t traditionally have cream from what I’ve heard but you can certainly add it if you’re not worried about your waistband and voila, suddenly you have a scratch built carbonara hopefully so tasty, you’ll never reach for the cheap jars again.

Well that’s what I’m trying at the moment..

Anything we’ve missed that you know you shouldn’t cheap out on at the supermarket? Let us know below!

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