What do you like to do in your spare time? Read books, knit scarves, make airfix models of Lancaster Bombers perhaps? Not me, I like to chop up bits of dead animal for fun! It might sound peculiar but butchery is something of a hobby of mine: I really do enjoy spending time in the kitchen boning a shoulder of pork, spatchcocking a chicken or knocking up a brace of pork pies.
Not that I’m bloodthirsty in any way of course – perhaps it’s just the odd combination of a keen cook and frustrated surgeon.
Ergo, I take great care in buying good quality meat – mostly, but certainly not always, from the butcher. Shopping at a good butcher (HG Walter in Barons Court if you’d like a recommendation) is usually a good way to make sure that you’re buying quality meat, but if you’re at the supermarket, which is where most of us buy our chops and steaks, how can you tell?
Well, help is at hand because Eblex, who are the trade organisation for English beef and lamb, have revamped their quality standard mark scheme. Buying meat with the quality standard mark (QSM) ensures that it comes from farms, abattoirs, wholesalers and retailers which meet the necessary standards in terms of animal welfare, food safety, care for the environment and, finally, taste. Which all means a tastier mouthful for you and I!
Canny people that they are, Eblex have hired a couple of famous faces to help get the message across, and one of these is butcher Henry Herbert from Channel 4’s Fabulous Baker Brothers. So when it was offered, I jumped at the chance to head up west for a bit of chat about the QSM and a butchery masterclass with Henry.
After the low down on the QSM, Henry went on to demonstrate how to correctly seam-butcher a beef rump and how to butcher half a lamb into the familiar cuts we all know Ã¢â‚¬â€œ chops, shoulder, leg, breast and the rest.
Being the only one present who had any experience of butchery, I managed to establish myself as a bit of a teacher’s pet. Not only do I indulge myself at weekends, my first job out of university was working at smart food shop, which had a butcher’s counter. Cranking the handle on the sausage machine, dealing with the Billy the bone man and fetching joints of beef from the walk-in fridge were all in a day’s work!
He finished off by demonstrating how to de-shank and then bone a leg of lamb. At this point everyone started paying close attention, because we were then given our own lamb leg, a sharp knife, a chainmail glove (!) and asked to do the same.
I have actually done this before and it isn’t the easiest of jobs; you have to locate and cut through the joint attaching the shank and then remove quite a few odd shaped bones. Practice makes perfect though and with a couple of master butchers available to give a helping hand, every one of us amateurs managed to get the job done!
With the QSM scheme, Eblex are certainly preaching to the converted where I am concerned, but I’d urge anyone reading to take just the vaguest of interests in the kind of meat you’re consuming and its provenance. This doesn’t have to mean spending more and if you don’t buy from the butcher, at least buying beef or lamb with the QSM branding gives the assurance that it comes from a reliable source and more importantly that it is going to taste good!
And if you were wondering what happened to the boned leg of lamb, it is actually defrosting as I write and is going to make the centrepiece of a forthcoming Middle Eastern feastÃ¢â‚¬Â¦