My future career as a butcher?
Last week, I was invited along to a Lamb butchery course organised by my local butchers Drings of Royal Hill in Greenwich. Throughout the course of the 3 hour evening we saw an entire lamb butchered into the well and lesser known cuts, learned a heap about seasonality, sourcing, farming, had a go at butchering ourself and finished off with a tasty lamb curry. The course was held in a catering facility not far from the shop. It was such a gloriously hot and sweltering summer evening on arriving I rather hoped I could opt to spend part of the evening in a large catering fridge. Thank goodness there was no cooking involved in this kitchen tonight!
The course was taken by two of Drings butchers Michael and Michael. Both are hugely experienced in the butchery trade (Michael 1 for 50 years), and are always incredibly friendly and helpful with all the questions I continually ask as a loyal customer – how to cook a rabbit a perfect example. Drings had very kindly sponsored my Pop up Afternoon Tea raffle offering a place on the course to the raffle and inviting me along for the ride also. Brilliantly the raffle prize was won by a friend of mine – Matt from Fitter Food so I had a perfect foodie partner in crime to assist with sawing up meat joints and to compare butchery skills with. Much to my dismay Matt was much better than me!
Lamb is I think (am I allowed to say I think since I can’t actually decide) my favourite meat, but I do tend to play safe with mince, and all the cuts that I know how to cook; for example shoulder, neck fillet, leg, pre-prepared chops and steaks. It was great to learn the anatomy and cuts of the lamb right from head to toe whilst simultaneously discussing how best to cook them. I especially found it interesting to learn the journey of the animal through rearing, slaughtering then to our plate (or farm to fork as they say in USA). If we’re going to eat meat I think its really important we know where it comes from – and be totally OK with all the processes within that.
From a fact filled & surprisingly hands on evening here are some key things I learned;
- This whole lamb used for the demos (top left pic) was bought from Smithfield market ridiculously early that very morning for around £110.
- All lambs are labelled with weight, branding and origin when slaughtered for market (top right pic).
- Lambs are often force fed to grow in time for Spring slaughtering. Summer lamb is therefore actually better tasting than Spring lamb – since it is allowed to grow/eat more naturally.
- Lamb will have different levels of fattyness/leaness throughout the year. Cooking time and method should be amended accordingly.
- There is demand for different cuts at different times of year. Stew & roasting cuts for winter, BBQ’s cuts in summer – a whole butterflied leg for a Summer BBQ anyone?
- The organ meats are not sold with the carcass – apart from the kidneys which are still attached.
- The neck of the animal works incredibly hard, so the meat is lean, but tough. Lamb neck is therefore a great cut for slow-cooked stews.
- Lamb mince is usually made from shoulder meat plus all the leftovers from trimming up the other cuts. Nothing is left to waste!
In amongst all that learning we got to have a go at butchery ourselves – saws, very sharp knives and supervised guidance were essential to our success;
- Top left: Trimming, stuffing and rolling a breast of lamb ready for a slow roast in the oven. Breast of lamb is very economical cut of lamb, since its not very popular. Best cooked long and slow to make it tender.
- Right: The popular and expensive best-end/rack. Trimming this was hard work, mine not particularly neat – at all.
- Bottom left: A rolled saddle ready for roasting
Unbelievably generously the rolled breast, saddle and best-end along with some bones for stock were for us to take home. Just as well as I’m not sure my poorly butchered cuts would look enticing in their shop window. I’m pleased to report all joints made it safely home through the heat and are happily sitting in my freezer ready for me to have a go at cooking them all for the first time. Though before freezing I did take the liberty to chop the large saddle in two, so I could trial out a new recipe just for me at the weekend. I came up with this:
Pretty pleased with that. The lamb was divine.
Our butchery evening finished with a delicious slow cooked 4 hour lamb shoulder curry. The meat was incredible – so melt in the mouth tender.
All in all a fun evening, with heaps of tips, knowledge and meat to take home with me. I don’t think my future career as a butcher beckons – I’ll leave that to Drings!
The butchery courses are held monthly and are soon to be moving to a larger facility in the local area.
Drings Butchers – 22 Royal Hill, Greenwich London, SE10 8RT
http://www.drings.co.uk Tel 0208 858 4032
Disclaimer: I attended the course as a guest of Drings. All views and opinions are my own.