‘Traceability’ is something we’d all like a side order of with our steaks, chops and mince. Guaranteed provenance is just one excellent reason why the self-respecting carnivore should cultivate a relationship with a good butcher. Others include getting quality, good-value food on your table, and finding out more about how to buy and cook meat.
Nathan Mills, previously at Ginger Pig, Barbecoa and Whole Foods, set up his own butchery down in Bermondsey, near Maltby Street, at the end of 2011. He supplies local restaurants such as Magdalen and 40 Maltby Street, as well as top online grocers Natoora, who deliver nationwide. Nathan welcomes curiosity from his customers, and is full of advice about buying lesser-known cuts.
‘My main focus is on getting the whole animal,’ he says, sliding open the door of his refrigerated storage unit to give us a swift but thorough tour of beef forequarter and hindquarter, including the premium ‘roasting section’ (think steaks). ‘A lot of people associate nose-to-tail eating with offal, but there’s more to it than that. A heart isn’t even one per cent of a 260kg cow, whereas the stewing piece out of the forequarter might weigh 12kg.’
We are introduced to forerib, brisket, the shin and heel of beef, skirt steak, bavette, topside and silverside, which he pickles down to make his own salt beef and pastrami. ‘Pork is also very versatile: there’s less of a distinction between expensive and cheaper cuts than with beef, and you can use everything.’
Nathan buys through the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and via direct contact with farmers. ‘There’s a rationale to preferring meat from rare-breed animals: they are native to the UK and stay outdoors all year round, thriving on grasses in their natural environment. You can’t put them into an intensive programme; they are slow-growing animals and it just doesn’t work.’
If you like the idea of buying British meat at its best, find a good butcher (one who buys in whole animals is a good start), visit regularly, and chat to him or her about provenance, ageing, marbling and interesting cuts. ‘There are no stupid questions,’ says Nathan, comfortingly. We leave with some fine-looking beef shin, feeling rather savvier about forerib, featherblade and chuck steak, and looking forward to dinner.
Native breeds to look out for
Dexter: petite, with fine graining and an intense, sweet, grass-fed beefiness.
White Park: ancient native breed with natural marbling and amazing flavour.
Gloucester Old Spot: excellent for bacon. Seriously endangered until the turn of century.
Saddleworth: likewise a fine British pork with great fat cover.
Llenwenog: hardy animals with ‘mountain genes’ and full flavour.
Ryland: originally from Herefordshire, a breed that thrives on a pure grass diet.
Nathan’s best-value cuts
Shin of beef for an amazing braise: you can feed six people well for £20.
Check out lesser-known steak cuts such as the featherblade, the flatiron and the Denver cut.
Pork belly is equally good for stews or roasts, and takes well to Asian or Spanish flavours.
Pork hock benefits from long, slow cooking, and is ideal for making a terrine or jambon persillé.
Shoulder of lamb is superb for a warming pot roast.
Breast of lamb, a top-value ‘forgotten’ cut. Find a trusty recipe, and slow-cook for Sunday lunch.