I recently wrote a piece for a regional magazine here in the UK about how tighter budgets don’t necessarily mean that we have to shelve our ethics when it comes to buying meat.
Here it is. Comments and thoughts appreciated.
With consumers having to tighten their purse strings thanks to the economic downturn, many of us might be tempted to head towards the budget aisles of the supermarkets and start filling our trolleys with meats of dubious origin in order to make savings.
Of course, thanks to Hugh and Jamie et al we know about the plight of the ‘three-quid’ chicken and continentally raised pork. But when it comes to the bottom line, many of us are hampered by simple economics.
But the answer doesn’t necessarily lie at this end of the market and the good news is that we don’t need to temporarily shelve our principles in order to enjoy meat on a budget. There is, in the words of chef Fergus Henderson – advocate of a more holistic ‘nose to tail’ approach to meat cookery – a world of delights ‘beyond the fillet’.
Before you switch off entirely, we’re not talking about offal here, although liver, kidneys and their ilk remain a very cheap option for those that aren’t squeamish about such cuts. The answer instead lies in the ‘forgotten cuts’ that for so long have been unfashionable but are making a swift and timely return to the fore.
‘There is some wonderful meat that is so cheap it is almost unbelievable,’ says Miles, head butcher at Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop. ‘For a while it has been hard to sell, but we’re finding that they are getting more and more popular.’ They are the cuts whose very names evoke an earlier age of cookery and thrift, ones that perhaps your grandmother would have made the most of.
Kevin from Andrew Northorp Butchers on Mill Road agrees: ‘The one cut we’re selling a lot of is pork belly, people love it and we’re selling more than ever. Brisket is brilliant as well, it makes a great and economical pot roast.’
Pork hand, cheeks (both pork and beef), beef shin, and chicken thighs are also all ideal for a credit-crunched menu. And what’s more, as well as being staggeringly cheap, they are supremely delicious: far tastier than fillet, loin or chicken breast in many cases.
Although they may lack the convenience of the more familiar pieces of meat – you certainly can’t cook beef cheeks as you would a fillet steak – they invariably lend themselves to near effortless slow cooking, a process as close to culinary alchemy as it is possible to get without donning a wizard’s hat.
The animal perhaps most synonymous with this time of year, though, is undoubtedly lamb and that too has no shortage of cuts ideal for those looking to cook on a budget. Lamb neck makes a better curry than almost any other meat and, left on the bone, adds an unsurpassed flavour and richness that lends itself beautifully to spiced dishes. Perhaps slightly more unusual is lamb breast which is the cheapest cut on the animal. Similar to pork belly, it is delicious rolled around rosemary and garlic stuffing and slow roasted.
Although they may be hard to find at the supermarket there are many excellent butchers throughout the region (see LocalFoodAdvisor.com for more details) that would be delighted to talk you through these wonderful pieces of meat that are well worth hunting out for both economic and culinary reasons.