Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Why you should cultivate your butcher
You might think as a frugal cook the last place to shop for meat would be an organic butcher. But you'd be wrong. Making friends with your butcher - organic or not - is a sound strategy.
Yesterday I took up an invitation to spend some time behind the scenes with Graham Symes of Sheepdrove Farm, the butcher up the road. We'd been chatting about cheap cuts and he said he'd show me exactly where on the animal they were.
First he pointed out a fantastic upper rib cut on a joint of beef that sells for less than half the price of the prime rib joints (for £6 rather than £15 a kilo). For organic beef! A boned and rolled joint of brisket is almost £7 cheaper per kilo than an equivalent topside joint.
The cheapest pork joints are again from the fore-end which includes the thick end of the belly, the hand (which I bought at the weekend for £3.99 a kilo) and the spring.
With lamb, shoulder is obviously much cheaper than leg (about £11 less a kilo) but there are many inexpensive cuts on the bone such as the breast which make fantastic meals. I ordered one for the weekend which I was thinking of boning and rolling up with herbs but Graham suggested that I cook it slowly on the bone then take off the meat which would be less fatty. (You get cooking tips too)
He admitted that most people turn their nose up at cheaper cuts, a point perfectly illustrated a few minutes later when a customer came in and casually bought four sirloin steaks for £36. I bought a 700g piece of goose skirt (a beef belly cut) for £7.75. We ate about a third of it last night thinly sliced in the French style (like an onglet or bavette) and will make a big meat pie or pasty today - with some of the remaining carrots and potatoes in the veg box - which should serve four, possibly even six.
The other bonus of going to a good butcher (apart from the not inconsiderable advantage that you know where the meat has come from and that it's properly hung) is that they know how to cut and trim it so you're not paying for a lot of waste. What supermarket can offer that?
I know I'm lucky to have a shop like this within walking distance so what's your experience? Do you use a local butcher and if so how does it work out costwise? Do you find them cheaper than supermarket meat? What are your best buys?