13 Mar 2008

Sharp knives and supper

This Christmas I had received a virtual voucher for a cooking course of my choice and I had been searching for a class I really wanted to do. So, last night I ventured into the Marylebone Ginger Pig shop after hours to attend a lamb butchery class.

In the name of eating good local food, but unable to justify a humongous budget for it, I am enjoying learning how to be thrifty. An introduction to the cheaper and tastier cuts by Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s Meat book, I was looking to learn more about the subject; what part of the animal different cuts come from and how best to cook them, with the ultimate aim of buying great value for money local meat. The course was an incredible insight into the work and skill put into getting a simple lamb chump steak onto the plate and I will be returning to absorb even more from both their beef and pork sessions.

Unlike many courses, this one was really hands on – more than I expected when we were playing around with expensive rare breed meat - and I went home with dried blood under my nails to prove it. With only 6 per class, it was an intimate evening with Perry and Borut, two butchers who between them have 45 years experience in slicing and dicing meat. In typical butcher style, it was a light hearted evening with plenty of banter at the token girl’s expense, but there was a serious undertone of respect for the animals about to be butchered and the safe handling of deadly knives and saws.

Borut began the evening talking us about the three Ginger Pig Yorkshire farms, explaining how they control as much of the process as possible, from growing their own animal feed to selling it in their own shops, and hopefully to the point of building their own abattoir. Many mysterious butchery terms were uncovered, and we learnt that male and female lambs over 1 year are called hogget, and female lambs over 2 years are mutton. Unfortunately the boys are surplus to requirements after their reproductive duties – it is a woman’s world after all!

Talking over with, we moved to the butchers block to watch Perry expertly segment the first of the lambs. The beautiful dark marbled meat that was strangely dry but soft (due to the breed selected) was turned into recognisable cuts with admirable precision, ease and speed. Helping us to understand what part of the animal each part comes from, the group talked through the wealth of names used for different cuts and parts, the lambs anatomy gradually starting to make sense.

Then it was time to get stuck in as we each took a turn at removing the legs, belly, and shoulders using the company’s favoured continental butchery style of “seaming”, working with the natural seams in the meat to preserve the muscle quality. As I found out when removing the shoulders from the ribcage, much of this requires brut force and could be indicator to why most butchers are blokes.

More hands on experience, this time preparing a roasting joint by de-boning and rolling our own shoulder of lamb. Watching Perry pull out three clean shoulder bones, roll and secure it with terrifying ease…how was I ever to repeat that? I asked.

Surprisingly, once I got used to working with the tip of the knife against the bone, and looking for the natural seams, despite being one of the last to remove my bones, I got there. For some of the class, the real mystery came with tying the butchers’ knots, and thankfully my inner Girl Guide shone through meaning I was not last to complete. (Yes, there is alway an elemnent of competition!)

Finishing the evening with a delicious simple supper of slow cooked shoulder of lamb on the bone, and a well deserved glass of red, we chatted until the wine bottle was empty. I then hopped in the cab laden with my not so perfectly rolled shoulder of lamb, complete with bones to make stock at the weekend.

Happy Christmas!

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