Sunday, 20 February 2011

The new cheap cuts: tips from The Ginger Pig

All of us I guess like to think of our meat coming from a farm where the animals graze freely and are well looked after but few can have such a good life as at the Ginger Pig. I visited one of their three farms up near Pickering in North Yorkshire the other day and it made me feel I never wanted to buy supermarket meat again.

The problem is good meat is pricey - too pricey for most families to afford you’d think but in actual fact so long as you avoid the prime cuts - and, ironically, the humble cuts that have become so fashionable like pork belly and lamb shanks there are bargains to be found.

Who would have thought that topside and silverside were among the best-priced joints on the butchers’ slab these days but according to farmer Tim Wilson everyone wants ribs. And pork legs are better value than belly. He also told me he can hardly give away lambs’ liver and hearts so reluctant are we to eat offal.

My own view is that we’d all be better off if we ate less meat and saved it, as our grandparents did, for a once a week treat - with leftovers if you were lucky. And if we took the advice of our local butcher rather than a telly chef and only decided what to make once we found out what was cheap that week. That means being more flexible about what we cook and eat - not easy in a generation of fussy eaters. (I’m not being holier than thou here. At least two of my children wouldn’t touch offal.)

Another problem is that not everyone lives close to a butcher these days but I reckon if you ring up one of the many online suppliers and tell them you’re looking for good value cuts they’ll respond. And if you band together with some neighbours on a delivery it shouldn’t cost too much. At the time of writing, for example, Sheepdrove has an offer on organic pork shoulder at £6.40 a kilo (though I’m amused to see they lump offal with ‘doggy bags’. Hardly encouraging . . .)

And if you’re lucky to live within striking distance of one of Tim’s Ginger Pig shops - in Borough Market, Marylebone and Hackney - you can drop by and see what he's got. He was telling me about a cut called lamb 'Henrys' which is a shoulder of lamb divided into about five or six big chunks, which he says is cheaper than buying lamb shanks and can be cooked exactly the same way. You’ll find more suggestions in his forthcoming book The Ginger Pig Meat Book which is written with a cookery writer friend of mine, Fran Warde. (Quick plug there for Tim and Fran.)

So what’s your attitude to buying meat and how often do you eat it? Do you buy direct from the farmer, from a butcher or do you mainly use the supermarket? (Incidentally Tim said that he thinks that Morrisons has the best meat of the big chains) What are your favourite cheap cuts?

March 1st
I actually did call by the Ginger Pig's Borough Market shop the other day. Disappointingly they didn't have much in the way of cheap topside and silverside but there were some great pork bargains including pork ribs for £4.95 a kilo, hand of pork for £5.95 a kilo and pork hocks for £3.80 each. (I'm sure you could find them cheaper out of London that's fair for rare breed pork). They also - impressively - knew what Lamb Henrys were!


Brucey1 said...

We mostly buy from the supermarket but head to one of the three amazing butchers in Oxford's Covered Market when we're feeling flush. Love the service and knowledge you get there.

Kavey said...

As we don't have a local butcher (and the two that are within vague striking distance are truly awful) we used to buy all our meat from our local supermarket, a Waitrose.

In the last couple of years we've tried more online suppliers as I really like the idea of buying it directly from the farmers who raised it.

I've been very happy with the meat I've bought from Paganum (Chris Wildman, based in Yorkshire).

I have also had some meat from Abel & Cole and some other online suppliers.

I have more I want to try.

But many of the recommendations from my London food friends work best for those who either work or live centrally. I don't, so a 45 minute tube journey each way doesn't work.

So it's now a mix of Waitrose and Paganum.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

I'm lucky to live within 5 mins drive of 2 very good butchers who also rear their own meat - and then a further 5 mins from the Goods Shed in Canterbury, which has an outstanding butcher. Also use Barbecoa from time to time. Each of them is incredibly helpful and enthused by my requests for the less popular bits of animal!

It's a travesty that people shun offal - I love the stuff and, as you say, it's usually incredibly cheap, too. Fantastic for frugal cooking.

Otherwise the 'fashions' for certain cuts is frustrating, but I always try to go against the trends ;)

Clare said...

I live in Sheffield city centre and we have a great indoor market with plenty of local butchers. I've been going there for about 4 months now and never looked back! My favourites include ham hock (£1.60 each and enough to feed 4!), chicken livers, chicken hearts, lamb hearts and pork cheeks. This is my definition of frugal cooking - using products that would have normally been wasted and can be snapped up cheaply.

Check out my blog for cooking tips on all of these items.... - that's a link to the pork cheek and ham hock post - my favourites!

Well Seasoned said...

Really interesting post on cheap cuts, I'm always interested to find out about different cuts of meat for different dishes and to find new suppliers. I live between Woking and guildford and buy from a combination of butchers, farmers market (newly award winning Ripley is great) and supermakret, but always looking to buy as directly as possible from the farm. Be great if anyone has any reccommendation for the Surrey area? Gemma :)

Fiona Beckett said...

You're lucky to live in the north, Clare - there are some great markets there. I did a series for the Guardian way back and remember visiting the one in Doncaster - and Oxford Market @Brucey1 - loads of bargains. Good post too!

Interesting to hear that you buy meat from Barbecoa, Helen. I haven't managed to get a booking there yet but don't imagine it's cheap? Do you know where they get their meat from?

And I've heard good things about Paganum too, Kavey. Maybe Yorkshire has it when it comes to meat!

Anyone got any more Surrey recommendations for Gemma?

Robert said...

I love the range of meats from Morrisons. As they specialise in cheap and cheerful tasty cuts like lambs liver, pigs cheeks or ham hocks. I enjoy the challenge of creating a meal from them whereas I find the premium cuts of meat a bit boring tastewise as well as being pricey. Good food is not about being just cheap or expensive. It's how you make it appetising.

Unfortunately the butchers where I live are now in supermarkets. I wish we had the great markets in the north down south, as Clare pointed out a great Market in sheffields.

Fiona Beckett said...

We don't have a Morrisons near us but my son does so will check out the meat counter next time I see him!

Fabulicious Food said...

Hi Fiona, it's interesting to hear about Morrisons - we have one near us but I don't shop there that often - I will now! I do like their 'market' feel - even as a supermarket. I am lucky enough to live near some lovely farm shops, so a trip to one of those is always lovely and worthwhile. I tried a stew with pork leg steaks this week, which I bought as whole pieces and cubed myself and it was amazing. So yes, I agree that cheaper cuts are good and also that eating better bred meat but less often is a good way forward! Ren

Crumbs said...

We use a good local butcher or Ocado, but the range there isn't as good, and you can't ask for advice when you're buying. I think if you don't have a good local butcher it's really difficult, but i think lots of people feel nervous going into a butcher because they're so clueless about what to ask for. It's much easier to find chicken breasts in a supermarket than choose something tasty but cheap at the butcher. I think we all need to be re-educated. I know I certainly do!

The Grubworm said...

Oh, great post. I was lucky enough to visit the Ginger Pig farm near Pickering a couple of years back. I love those pigs. I am also lucky enough to live in Hackney and work near Smithfields so have access to a plethora of butchers.

However, I also do like a bit of delivery. Ballards Farm in Cornwall - a wee 2-field farm - does some superb pork, and will happily add offaly extras to boxes. I'm also eager to give the East London Steak company a go too. Their boxes look great.

Fiona Beckett said...

That's a very good point @crumbs. It's a vicious circle. You (I don't mean you personally - you plural) don't know much about meat so you feel embarrassed to ask so you don't discover different cuts. I think the only way round it is to leaf through a couple of recipe books - or online - and find something you fancy making then talk to your butcher about what the best cut to use is. Assuming you have a decent butcher nearby.

How did you get on at Morrisons, @fabulicious? Have you checked out the meat counter?

And thanks for your tip @grubworm. I'll check out Ballards Farm. And can recommend the East London Steak Company. They have good stuff.

BTW I dropped in at the Ginger Pig shop in Borough market the other day and have posted my finds at the end of the main post.