In Praise of a Good Butcher

I can’t claim I never buy meat in a supermarket – expediency and all that – but I seldom do. Picking up a plastic tray just doesn’t enthuse me.  And the so-called “butchery counter”, if there is one, isn’t much better. The choice of cuts is still limited and the staff, for all their stripy aprons and hygienic hats, aren’t that knowledgeable (try asking for a hand of pork or chump ends). I suspect training for the role is minimal.

The weekend before last I went to the butcher for a joint of beef. Now, I normally buy rib but he said he was reluctant to cut the rib he had out the back as it would benefit from hanging for a couple more days, and could he interest me in this piece of sirloin? Yes, I was interested, but it was a substantial hunk of meat for two, even allowing for cold cuts during the week, and probably costing rather more than I had planned on paying. Then he said “I could take out the fillet”, which sounded like a good compromise, so I ended up with a piece of sirloin on the bone – and very good it was too – and someone else presumably got a few fillet steaks or a small, tender off-the-bone roasting joint.

Thinking about it afterwards, my butcher was being very canny regarding that piece of beef; not only was he keeping it intact so that it would go on maturing on the bone, he was keeping his – and his customers’ – options open. There were at least three other things he could have done with it (and probably other possibilities I haven’t thought of). He could have:

  • sold the whole thing as a delicious but rather pricey roasting joint;
  • sliced it into several T-bone steaks;
  • boned it and made several each of sirloin and fillet steaks.

You just don’t get that kind of service and expertise from a supermarket.

[And when I went in on Holy Saturday to collect my shoulder of new season’s lamb, there were kidneys – fresh ones still encased in their protective suet – just right for my signature dish “Kidneys in B Minor”.]

 

 

Food for thought?

I’ve been pondering on food labelling. Whilst I applaud any effort to encourage people to eat good quality, wholesome, responsibly produced and traded produce, it seems to me we’ve got the labelling business arse-about-face:

Instead of some vegetables being described as “organic”, the rest of them should be labelled “grown with the assistance of nasty chemical fertilisers and bee-killing pesticides”.

Instead of some bags of coffee and bars of chocolate bearing the Fairtrade logo, the others should carry a large red label saying “produced by exploiting poor farmers in Africa (or wherever)”.

Instead of some eggs being labelled “free range”, the rest should be in boxes with a picture of a caged hen and the explanation that “these eggs were laid by hens which have spent their entire lives in a cramped, unsanitary, unnatural environment”.

That should make the punters think twice.