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!

Monday 14 February 2011

What you pay for convenience

I was going to write about my amazing trip to The Ginger Pig farm up near Pickering this week but I've been so insanely busy it'll have to keep for a day or two more. So let me highlight instead the ridiculous amount you pay to have your cheese chopped up into squares.

Spotted at Sainsbury's in York: a 200g pack of feta for £1.60 for 200g next to a - wait for it - 150g tub of feta cubes for £2.15. That's £14.33 a kilo compared to £8 a kilo.

I don't know what to get more worked up about - Sainsbury's for ripping off its customers or our apparent inability to cut a piece of cheese into squares which would take all of - oooo - 45 seconds? A minute, max. Who doesn't have time to do that? Or who considers the time saved worth £1.27*? Plain daft, if you ask me.

Anyway, good opportunity for a rant. Have you spotted any pre-prepared products that get up your nose? Or, come to that, ones you think are worth buying?

* The difference in price between 200g of the uncut cheese and 200g of the pre-cut cheese. I think. Maths was never my strong suit.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Creamy cardamom rice pudding

I’ve been thinking for a while that rice pudding is the perfect frugal dessert and it was time I made it again but it’s quite hard to track down old-fashioned pudding rice these days.

A food writer friend of mine, Andrea Leeman, suggested I try her recipe which uses arborio rice, an ingredient you may well already have in your store cupboard. She also uses evaporated milk which gives it a wickedly creamy texture - and cardamom - which bestows the exotic, scented taste of a kheer.

Evaporated milk is again hard to find in the small tin she recommends which bumps up the cost a bit. Unless of course you make double the quantity which is probably not a good idea given that I’ve already been digging into it as a fridge snack for the past couple of days.

I made it in the Aga but not following the recommended Aga method which involves giving it half an hour in the top oven before transferring it to the lower simmering oven. I found the rice clumped together a bit in between stirring it which could possibly have been avoided if I’d washed it first. And it needed a slightly shorter time than the Aga book recommended - hence the pale caramel colour.

I served it with forced rhubarb poached with a little ginger, a perfect seasonal accompaniment though I do find it a bit ironic that a home grown ingredient that’s in season should be more expensive than imported strawberries.

Here’s Andy's recipe with my notes in italic:

Serves 4 or one person for 4 greedy days

50g arborio or pudding rice (I used 55g)
500ml whole milk
50g caster sugar (I found this a tad sweet. I’d probably reduce it to 40g another time)
170g tin evaporated milk
2-3 cardamom pods (I used 3, crushing them lightly before I added them)

Pre-heat oven to 150°C/Gas mark 2

Stir the rice into the milk in a saucepan (it might be an idea to wash it first). Add the sugar and heat slowly, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the evaporated milk and cardamom. Spoon into a baking dish, cover it with foil and cook for 2½ hours, stirring once an hour (maybe every 45 minutes).

Andy says: "This looks a pathetically small amount of rice and disproportionate quantity of milk liquid, but it all gets absorbed in the cooking. If necessary, add more milk once the pudding has cooled and thickened" (a good idea, this).

Andy’s version doesn’t include skin, of course, which may outrage those of you who think no rice pudding is complete without it. Where do you stand on skin (as it were . . . )