Tuesday 24 September 2013

Facing the chop.....

And the leg, and the fillet…….

A few years ago, I was delighted to get a winning email telling me I had won a butchery course! The course was a one evening session at the Marylebone butcher, The Ginger Pig. Some weeks earlier I had been to a sausage making evening there, with some friends, so I had some idea what to expect when I headed into London for my Pork Butchery evening.

 Walking into the shop is a pleasure – customers are faced with a tempting display of the very finest meats, expertly prepared to show off the high quality they insist on at the Ginger Pig. There were seven of us on the course – the maximum number they can take is eight, so with two instructors there is plenty personal tuition.  At the back of the room, there was a table with a whole pig on it – the head had been removed and placed on one side and the carcass had been split down the backbone.

The evening started with a talk about the pig breeds and farming techniques used at the Ginger Pig’s farm in Yorkshire, then we moved on to look at the carcass and were shown where various cuts came from. Vegetarians and any squeamish readers should stop reading right now…..

We were encouraged to handle the carcass and the various organs from it, to get a feel for how all the muscles worked together, a great help in understanding which cuts of the meat would eventually be suitable for long slow cooking and which for faster cooking such as grilling or frying.  We learned the difference between soft fat and hard fat,  picked out the brains from the head (yes, really! – and what a tiny brain a pig has) and removed the caul from the spleen. I’ve seen pig’s caul used in recipes many times but never met it in the flesh (groan!) before.

Then the fun started – one at a time, carefully supervised, we took turns to use the huge saws and incredibly sharp knives to actually butcher the entire pig. Roasting joints, chops, steaks, tenderloin – we produced them all, and it is a testimony to the skill of the instructors that almost all of what we prepared was going to be on sale in the shop next day.

After dismantling “our” pig, we cut several loin joints from another carcass and were given one each, then shown how to trim, bone and season it to produce a boneless joint. The hardest part of the whole evening? Tying the knots in the string the joint was held together with. The flying fingers of the butchers made it look so easy, but we all ended up in a tangle with string all over the floor.

As well as the butchery skills, we had lots of tips on cooking the various cuts, and a lesson on knife skills and knife care. I have sworn to sharpen my lovely (prize) knives every time I use them from now on, having seen what a difference it can make. 

By the time we had finished preparing our meat, a delicious smell was wafting from the other side of the room – dinner was about to be served. The same joint we had prepared had been roast for us, and was served with baby carrots, roast potatoes and an apple, sage and chilli jelly and a glass of wine.
After we had eaten it was time to set off home, staggering under the weight of my pork joint (almost 2kg of meat) and a separate bag containing the bones removed from it – nothing goes to waste and we were ordered to make them into spare ribs!

Being quite a well informed foodie, I was surprised at how much there was to learn over the course of the evening. I may never become a master butcher but I now have a much greater understanding of the meat I buy and cook and have picked up a lot of tips that will save me both time and money.

The evening was something I would probably not have done if I hadn’t won it – and what a fascinating experience I would have missed out on!



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