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?


Anonymous said...

I used to work on the counters in a supermarket and although the meat was terrible quality, I still did my best to learn everything about the products. There was one old butcher working part-time and I learnt lot's from him. Same for the fish monger.

I recommended cuts, I boned the meat, cut perfect steaks, could bone any fish, knew shelf life of all the products we sold, recommended different types of beef and more. I knew way more than any of the managers and other non-butcher/fishmonger counter staff.

I hope everyone doesn't assume the people on the counter don't know anything - although from first hand experience 99% of the public assume this.

Fiona Beckett said...

I wish I'd come across you on my occasional attempts to buy decent meat from a supermarket butcher's counter then! All I can say is that most of the assistants who serve on them haven't a clue. Fish is even worse than meat.

Anonymous said...

The main reason is this Fiona. There are usually lots of students at supermarkets (especially at busy periods such as Easter, Christmas, Summer etc) and they only work for a couple of months at most. They just simply aren't interested in learning anything, they do the minimum work for the minimum pay. There's no pride in their work and they aren't interested in satisfying customers needs.

I'd add to my previous last paragraph: 90% of the time it's true. Sad but true..

For this you should go to a butcher. And also the meat is awful, hacked up in warehouses by people with no clue. We routinely sent atleast 15% of our meat back to suppliers. Same for fish.

graham said...

I too worked in supermarkets as a counter manager after the collapse of the meat industry in the seventies. I note the previous comments, I would add that my particular frustration was that on the rare occasions that we recruited someone with enough about them to do a good job, they were very quickly snapped up by a more senior manager for their own dept having done their induction training at my expense.

Fiona Beckett said...

Nice to see a couple of butchers reading this blog! Let me tell you about my bargain buy (or to be totally truthful my husband's bargain buy) this morning - 295g of ox liver for 80p! They've changed the rules, apparently as to what can or can't be classified as calves' liver and this was from an animal that no longer qualified.But you can cook it the same way as calves' liver and I will. With a salad of new season's watercress which is fantastic at the moment. Yum.

Anonymous said...

I buy my meat from the local butcher. Although I normally purchase the cheaper cuts, I do occasionally get a better cut as a treat. Overall I prefer going to the butcher because a) the meat taste much better b) it's more cost effective c) I only end up with what I need, no excess because of the pre-packaging.