We are so fortunate to still have over 400 family butchers in Ireland – many less than a number of decades ago but nonetheless we are the envy of many other countries, including the UK. Of those, 120 still have their own abattoirs which means they are in complete control of the whole process from choosing the animal in prime condition, to the humane slaughter, hanging and dry aging and the final skill of butchering. A few still have their own farms, so finish animals on their own land. In some family enterprises the skills have been passed down through the generations and it is heartening to see so many of the young people continuing the tradition.
However, they are facing a tidal wave of challenges in recent times not least the ‘below cost’ selling policies of several supermarket chains. I understand the supermarkets motive but I question the wisdom and the business ethics. Local butchers support family farms in a way that large corporations don’t, so are an essential part of the fabric of rural communities and an important element of food security.
The butchers challenge is to ‘up the bar’, and really tell the story of the breed, the feed, the provenance, the aging, the extra flavour and nutrients so customers understand and can taste the difference. Another unexpected challenge that is not about to go away any time soon, is the change in people’s eating habits for a variety of reasons.
The reality is that in the US, UK and many other countries an increasing number of people are eating less meat but better quality meat for health and environment reasons. Animal welfare and environmental concerns have contributed hugely to the increase in the number of people, particularly the millennials and teenagers, who are choosing to be vegetarians and vegans. All of these issues feed into the growing interest in a plant based diet.
For me, it’s enormously important to know where my food comes from and where it is produced so I urge people to develop a ‘relationship’ with their local butcher (not to be misunderstood)…. Ask questions about how to recognise superb meat and how to cook it.
There’s a huge increase in the sale of slow cookers, an immensely useful piece of kitchen kit that means one can make a wonderfully flavourful stew with less expensive cuts of meat.
Yet, another ongoing challenge is the expense of the growing regulatory burden some of which is out of proportion to the risk involved.
Look out for butchers who are making their own sausages and puddings and curing their own charcuterie.
Seek out black pudding made in the traditional way with fresh blood rather than imported dried blood from Belgium which produces an altogether different and less appealing product. The former is soft, succulent and slightly crumbly and a true gourmet product, part of our traditional food culture – delicious and super nutritious as well.
Many butchers are becoming more innovative, a development encouraged and highlighted by the Irish Craft Butchers Association Awards. See www.irishcraftbutchers.ie for details of award winners. Meanwhile lets seek out and actively support our local family butchers – as with everything else, “if we don’t use them we will lose them” and what a loss that would be.
Smoked Black Pudding, Charred Onions, Jerusalem Artichokes and Watercress
6 small onions
6 medium Jerusalem artichokes
18 pieces of smoked black pudding or traditional fresh black pudding
Bramley apple sauce (see recipe)
1 tsp freshly grated horseradish (optional)
12 fresh watercress sprigs
Extra virgin olive oil
Forum Chardonnay vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 250C/450F. Slice the unpeeled onions lengthwise. Drizzle a little olive oil in a roasting tin. Lay the onions cut side down in a single layer in the tin, roast for 10-15mins until the onions are soft and the cut surface is charred.
Slice the well scrubbed Jerusalem artichokes into 3/4 cm rounds or lengthwise. Toss in extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with flaky sea salt and arrange in a single layer in another roasting tin, turn half way through and cook until tender and once again golden on each side.
Heat the Bramley apple sauce, stir in the cream bring to the boil and add the grated horseradish. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Cook the smoked black pudding gently in a little extra virgin olive oil or clarified butter on a frying pan over a medium heat.
To serve, toss the watercress springs in a little extra virgin olive oil and a few drops of Chardonnay vinegar.
Divide the watercress, hot roasted onions and Jerusalem artichokes between 4 plates. Lay 3 pieces of smoked black pudding and a generous drizzle of Bramley apple and horseradish sauce on top. Offer extra sauce as an accompaniment and serve immediately.
Bramley Apple Sauce
This recipe makes a generous quantity, save the remainder in your fridge to serve with roast duck, pork, sausages….
1 lb (450g) cooking apples, (Bramley Seedling)
1-2 dessertspoons water
2 ozs (50g) sugar approx. depending on tartness of the apples
Peel, quarter and core the apples, cut pieces in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast iron saucepan, with the sugar and water, cover and put over a low heat, as soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness. Serve warm.
Beef and Oxtail Stew with Gremolata
In season: all year, but best in Autumn and Winter
Oxtail makes an extraordinary rich and flavoursome winter stew, considering how cheap it is. This is another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs who are capitalizing on their customer’s nostalgic craving for their Gran’s cooking.
2 whole oxtails
450g(1lb) shin of beef or stewing beef (cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes)
110g (4oz) streaky bacon
25g (1oz) beef dripping or 2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) finely chopped onion
225g (8oz) carrots, cut into 2cm (3/4 inch/2cm) cubes
55g (2oz) chopped celery
1 tablespoon tomato puree
1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml (1/4 pint) red wine
450ml (3/4 pint) homemade beef stock or 600ml (1 pint) all beef stock 170g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced) 15g (1/2oz) roux (see recipe) 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
First cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – the joints are made of cartilage so you won’t need a saw. If this seems like too much of a challenge, ask your butcher to disjoint the oxtail for you.
Cut the bacon into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes
Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables, cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer into a casserole. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown. Add to the casserole. Add the wine and a 1/4 pint of stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices form the pan, bring to the boil. Add to the casserole with the herbs, stock and tomato puree. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and cook either on top of the stove or in a preheated oven 160°C/325°F/regulo3 very gently for 2-3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are very tender.
Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2-3 minutes. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a hot serving dish and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.
Bring the liquid back the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley. Bring to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ or colcannon.
Sprinkle a little gremolata (see recipe below) over each portion of oxtail stew and serve.
Gremolata is a fresh tasting mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest. We use it to sprinkle over roast or braised meats, pastas or anything pan-grilled – delicious!
4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) preferably flat parsley, chopped
1 generous teaspoon grated or finely chopped lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and use soon.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic, Rosemary and Flageolet Beans
Lamb shanks are still relatively inexpensive and full of flavour. Cook them slowly until they are meltingly tender – a wonderful meal for a chilly day.
6 lamb shanks, 1 kg approx.
12 small sprigs of rosemary
12 slivers garlic
8 anchovy fillets, halved
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1oz (25g) goose fat or duck fat or olive oil
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, halved horizontally
7fl oz (200ml) bottle good red wine
5fl oz (150ml) chicken or lamb stock
1 sprig of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 strips of dried orange peel
4 ozs (110g) streaky bacon, cut into lardons and blanched
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1/2 celery stalk, finely diced
1/2 onion, finely diced
6 cloves garlic
4 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1/2 x 14 oz tin of tomatoes + juice
2 sprigs of thyme
leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
400g (1 x 14oz) tin flageolet beans, drained or 110-200G (4-7 ozs) dried flageolet beans, soaked overnight and then boiled rapidly for 20 minutes
sprigs of rosemary and garlic
Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/Gas Mark 2.
Remove most of the fat from each shank, then scrape the meat away from the bone to loosen it. Make 2 deep incisions in each joint and insert a sprig of rosemary and a sliver of garlic wrapped in half an anchovy fillet into each incision. Season the meat with salt and black pepper. Heat the goose fat in a heavy sauté pan or casserole and sauté the meat in it until well browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, onion and garlic and cook over a high heat until well browned. Add the red wine to the pan and bring to the boil, stir for a minute or two. Add the chicken stock, herbs and orange peel to the pan, then place the lamb shanks on top. Cover and cook in the oven for 4 hours.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and brown the bacon in it. Then reduce the heat and add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic and cook for 8 minutes approx. or until the vegetables have softened. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, herbs, flageolets and enough stock to half cover the beans. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
When the lamb has finished cooking, remove the thyme, bay leaves and orange peel. Taste and correct seasoning.
Serve the lamb shanks on a hot deep dish with the beans and vegetables poured over and around. Garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme.
Braised Neck of Lamb with Gratin of Potatoes with Rosemary and Bay Leaves
The image of neck of lamb is not helped by it’s colloquial name ‘scrag end’ but don’t let that put you off, it is possibly the sweetest cut on the lamb – all those bones give extra flavour and juiciness.
3 whole or 6 half neck of lamb (scrag ends) on the bone
extra virgin olive oil or trimmed lamb fat
4 medium onions, quartered
2 large carrots, cut in chunks
1/2 head celery, coarsely chopped
6 bay leaves
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of tomatoes, chopped or 1lb (450g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 sprigs of rosemary
500ml (18fl oz) lamb stock or water
62ml (2 1/2fl oz) white wine
Trim the excess fat off the necks. Cut into cubes, render out the liquid fat in a large sauté pan over a medium heat.
Season the lamb necks with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the pieces of lamb fat and discard (alternatively you can use extra virgin olive oil). On a high heat seal the meat for a couple of minutes on all sides turning until nicely browned. Remove from the pan. Add the coarsely chopped root vegetables, to the pan and toss and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Lay the lamb necks on top, add the herbs, white wine, chopped tomatoes, garlic and enough stock to come 2/3 of the way up the meat.
Bring to a simmer on top of the stove and then transfer into a preheated oven 250°C/500°F/Gas Mark 10, to start with and when it’s simmering gently, cover the lamb loosely with the lid or parchment paper. Reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and cook until completely tender – 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat should be almost falling of the bones.
Cool and refrigerate until next day.
Remove and discard the solidified fat and warm through uncovered in a hot oven. Taste and correct seasoning before serving. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.
Serve with Gratin of Potatoes with Rosemary and Bay Leaves (see recipe).
Gratin of Potatoes with Rosemary and Bay Leaves
about 300ml (10fl oz) each of single cream and milk
2 sprigs rosemary and a couple crushed bay leaves
4 medium sized potatoes (approximately 900g//2lbs), peeled and fairly thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a gratin dish
butter for greasing
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6
Put the milk and cream into a heavy saucepan, add the scrunched bay leaves, finely chopped rosemary and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the shivery stage on a medium heat, turn off the heat and allow to infuse.
Meanwhile peel and slice the potatoes into a generous 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices approximately. Rinse the potato well to remove some starch, add to the herby infused liquid with the crushed garlic. Bring to the boil on top of the stove (to take the rawness away).
Then pour into a buttered gratin dish, cover with parchment paper.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes. Uncover and brown before serving in a hot oven or under the grill.