If you can afford steak these days, you're fortunate. Most people are looking for less expensive cuts of meat. Unfortunately, most of these cuts are tough and need long, slow, moist cooking to make them tender. That means spending a lot of time in the kitchen.
Merle Ellis, ''The Butcher,'' a national television personality and newspaper columnist, has some practical suggestions.
''Use the pressure cooker,'' he says. ''It allows you to make tender meals of those less expensive cuts, and it's faster than any other cooking method.
''The pressure cooker in my kitchen is used almost as much as my knife - and that's saying a lot for a butcher.''
Merle Ellis's career as a butcher started when he was 13 and he worked with his father, now a retired butcher who helps his son answer mail. His first ambition was to be a TV director. ''I didn't want to be a butcher all my life,'' he said. Later he changed his mind.
After working in San Francisco television for several years, he started his own independent film business, then finally decided he had to go back to butchering meat, for practical reasons.
As an experiment he gave some meat-cutting advice on a local TV show and realized his information was filling a need.
So he returned to television, as a guest 28 times on ''The Dinah Shore Show'' at a time in the '70s when all America was concerned about high meat prices. Today he has a regular segment on NBC-TV's ''Regis Philbin Show'' and has just finished a TV series for ABC/Hearst Cable Network.
His television shows concentrate on advice such as what to look for in a chuck roast, how to take it apart, and how to prepare it.
His column also includes money-saving hints such as avoiding higher-priced packaged ''stew meat'' in favor of less expensive boneless rump or cross-rib roast, which can be cut up at home.
He advocates buying a whole chicken rather than precut pieces, to save as much as 50 percent.
''Such meat cuts as eye of the round are overrated, overpriced, and overmerchandised,'' he says. Instead, he suggests top-round steak or sirloin-tip steaks.
And he recommends buying rib-end pork loin roasts rather than more expensive cuts of the loin.
Mr. Ellis recommends pressure cooking for many of these cuts.
''It's the ideal piece of kitchen equipment for today's busy cooks who like the idea of good fast food without going broke,'' he said in a recent interview. ''It really fits today's life style perfectly.
''I've found it works wonders on almost any cuts of meat such as chuck roast, rump roast, bottom round, beef and lamb shanks, lamb shoulder, Boston butt pork roast, fresh and smoked picnic ham, and stewing chickens. They cook up especially tender, juicy, and flavorful in the pressure cooker.
''Of course, you save even more when you buy whole roasts and chickens and cut them up in your own kitchen. Being your own butcher also allows you to custom-cut meats and poultry to fit your own exact needs.''
His book, ''Cutting Up in the Kitchen'' (Chronicle Books, $6.95), takes you step by step through the process of becoming your own butcher, with special information and diagrams you need to help save money at the meat counter.
Here is a recipe for cooking the main meat dish and desserts at one time in the same pressure cooker. It's done by cooking the Caramel Custards in individual serving cups on top of the lamb shanks, thus saving energy and your efforts.
Mahogany Sauced Short Ribsor Lamb Shanks 3-4 pounds short ribs or cross-cut lamb shanks 2 tablespoons cooking oil 2 cups hot water 1/4 cup soy sauce 3 tablespoons rice water 1/2 lemon with peel, thinly sliced 3 thin slices ginger root or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon sugar 1/4 teaspoon anise seed 2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 tablespoons cold water
Brown short ribs or lamb shanks in cooking oil in a 6-quart pressure cooker. When meat is browned, remove from pressure cooker. Add hot water to pressure cooker and stir to deglaze. Add soy sauce, water, lemon, ginger, sugar, and anise seed to water.
Close pressure cooker cover securely. Place pressure regulator on vent pipe. Cook for 25 minutes at 15 pounds' pressure.
Meanwhile, prepare Caramel Custards. Cool pressure cooker at once. Remove pressure regulator and open.
Rearrange ribs in a single layer in pressure cooker. Place cooking rack on top of ribs. Set 4 foil-covered custards on rack. Close pressure cooker cover securely and place pressure regulator on vent pipe. Cook for 4 minutes at 15 pounds' pressure.
Cool pressure cooker at once. Remove pressure regulator and open. Remove custard cups and cool. Remove rack. Remove short ribs or shanks to serving platter. Lamb sauce:
Skim excess fat from broth. Blend cornstarch into cold water; add to hot liquid. There should be about 2 cups. Cook and stir until thickened. Serve sauce with short ribs and noodles. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Caramel Custards 1 1/2 cups milk 1 cinnamon stick 1/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup hot water 1 dash salt 1/4 cup sugar 2 eggs, beaten
Heat milk with cinnamon stick just to boiling point over low heat. Cool slightly. Caramelize 1/4 cup sugar in heavy frying pan over medium heat; add hot water and stir until sugar dissolves. Divide caramelized sugar among 4 (5-ounce) glass custard cups; set aside. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and salt.Discard cinnamon stick from scalded milk. Add a small amount of hot milk to beaten eggs. Add egg mixture and sugar mixture to hot milk, beating to mix thoroughly. Pour over caramel in the custard cups. Cover each with aluminum foil. Place 4 custards on rack on top of short ribs.* Makes 4 servings.
* If cooking custard alone, place 1 cup hot water and cooking rack in pressure cooker. Place 4 custards on rack. Close pressure cooker cover securely. Place pressure regulator on vent pipe. Cook for 4 minutes at 15 pounds' pressure. Cool pressure cooker at once. Remove custards to a cooling rack. Chill and unmold.