Make friends with your local butcher and you won’t regret it! Although it can be tempting to buy your meat in the supermarket along with the rest of your shopping, you will never be 100% certain as to where the produce has come from and nor will you get the bargains available to a butcher’s favourite clients! A good local butcher will generally either stock meat from their own farm or will have a contract with a local farmer and so you can always be sure of the quality, as well as getting the best bargains.
Butchers are also best placed to give you some fab new ideas you may not have thought of before. Remember that a lot of the time, they will have had the business passed down to them and it may have been in the family for generations, and they will generally have access to all sorts of delicious recipes which used to be made by their mothers and grandmothers. When I was a child, very little was wasted; it was simple really, you just couldn’t afford to throw food away and so every little bit of useful meat would be used in some way or another.
Think of some of the dishes which have suddenly become ‘trendy’ in some of the up-market restaurants, such as oxtail, belly pork or brisket. There’s a darn good reason these cuts of meat are popular again and that’s because of the superior flavour you get from them and also the fact that they represent excellent value for money. Slowly braised oxtail is a real delight and you always get the benefit of having a wonderful soup to eat the following day. A lot of people are put off by the fact that belly pork can be rather fatty, but cooked properly, the fat melts away, leaving a wonderful flavour in its wake. After braising slowly, try cutting into bite-sized chunks, rubbing the skin with Chinese Five Spice and then roasting until crispy…delicious! Brisket is fabulous when teamed with a can of dark beer, such as Guinness (or try a local ale) and then slow-cooked for as many hours as you have available.
Don’t be frightened by some things you might not have thought of cooking either, such as cow or pigs’ cheeks. These can make the base for a fabulous Bolognese when slowly braised for around four hours. They become succulent and packed full of flavour. If you’re ever unsure of whether a particular cut of meat would suit a dish you have in mind, again that’s the time to ask your butcher. As long as they don’t have a queue trailing out of the door, you’ll find that most of them are more than happy to spend an extra five minutes with a customer, giving them advice and recipes. After all, a happy customer will come back and shop there again, won’t they?