I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would enjoy a butchery class so much. My parents gave my husband and I butchery classes for our Christmas gift. Last Friday night, we redeemed our gift and attended the Beef Butchery class at the Ginger Pig Butchery in Marylebone, London.
The Ginger Pig, which began over 20 years ago now farms over 3,000 acres of farm and moorland, and supplies its five London butchery shops and several London restaurants with meat. All of their beef, pork and lamb come from free-ranging Longhorn and Galloway cattle, their Tamworth, Old Spot, Berkshire, and Middle White pigs, and Blackface, Swaledale and Dorsett sheep. They farm 300 acres of barley, oats, wheat and fodderbeat (a crop in between sugar beet and mangold) to feed their animals. In summary, they raise happy animals and happy animals provide us with a more humane and delicious food source.
The class started promptly at 7:00 and lasted until 10:30 p.m. We were 15 students, 13 men and 2 women. Borut, our butchery teacher from Slovenia, was very engaging and personable. He began by giving us some information about dry-aged and wet-aged meat. During the first two weeks of aging, the beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscles making the meat tenderer. Beyond the 2-weeks, moisture evaporates from the muscle developing flavor and taste. He recommended a minimum of 30 days for dry aging but probably no more than 50 days. The reason he explained is the cost of longer aged meat becomes very high with very little incremental difference in taste. Wet aging is when meat is vacuum-sealed to retain its moisture. This achieves the tenderizing but does not impart the flavors of dry-aged beef. Most of the supermarket chains sell wet-aged beef. He taught us what to look for in meat and what questions to ask your neighborhood butcher. Soon after class begun, Borut’s assistant, Daniel from Romania, passed around dry-aged beef tenderloin that he had sumptuously prepared for us. It was beautifully cooked, using a piece of the animal fat to prepare the pan, the tenderloin was browned and finished off in the oven with just salt and pepper and served in all of its natural juices.
At first I thought I would be disgusted seeing a side of beef being carved. The truth is it gave me an appreciation for the animal, awareness of proper raising and handling techniques of the animals, and of the art of butchery. Borut taught us that if you ever see meat with spots on it, it means the animal was stressed when it went to the slaughterhouse. At that moment, the animal is releasing adrenaline, causing its blood vessels to constrict and that appears later as dark spots in the meat itself.
In our class we focused on the top part of the cow, what is called the roast. We worked with ½ of the roast lengthwise weighing approximately 40 kg or 88 lbs. If you look at the diagram in the picture below, we dealt with Section 6 – The Rump/Rump Cap, Section 7 – Wing Rib Section: Sirloin/T-bone/Fillet/Chateaubriand/Cote de Boeuf/Wing Rib, and Section 8 – Fore rib/Rib-eye steak. Together with the teacher we carved the whole roast into the various sections and steaks.
I volunteered to separate the T-bone steaks from the Wing Rib section. First I had to locate the pelvic bone within the Wing Rib section. Once you know where the pelvic bone is, you cut on the left hand side of the pelvic bone. You use a knife for the meat part and then a saw to go through the chine (back bone). That exposes a whole block of what we know as T-bone steaks. The teacher then sliced one steak.
After the group lesson, demonstration, and some hands-on, it was time for each student to prepare his/her own joint for roasting.
We each got a section of the Fore-rib (Section 8), two ribs with the steak weighing approximately 3 kg or 7 pounds. We had to trim the chine off (good for stock), then we had to remove the cap (layer of fat with some very tasty meat), French-cut the ribs*, reassemble, and tie the joint with butcher’s twine. And voila, we wrapped our roasts to bring home.
By 9:30 in the evening, we were rewarded with delicious Côte du Rhône red wine and feasted on a large roasted fore-rib of beef accompanied by Dauphinois** potatoes, salad, and a delicious pudding (dessert).
The city of London is fortunate to have neighborhood butchers in many of its High Streets. If your neighborhood does not have its own high quality butcher then you can always go to one of the Ginger Pig’s five stores. If you don’t have access to a good old fashion butcher shop then look for local farmers at farmer’s markets or on the Internet.
I cannot deny I am a carnivore, and that I enjoy meat, but I do feel the humane treatment of our animals is so important. It gave me comfort last night to know where my meat had come from, how it had been raised and handled, and how it had been prepared. This is why it is so important to support your local farmers. We are already looking forward to returning to the Ginger Pig to take the butchery class for pork.
For Further Reading:
*French Cut or to “French” a bone: A method of preparing a roast, where the meat between the ribs is trimmed down to the loin, exposing the bones, and then the bones are cleaned of all meat/fat/tissue. When roasted, the bones become white in color. This is done with lamb, beef, and pork and often the final roast is called a crown roast because it is shaped into a crown.
**Dauphinois potatoes my Julia Child: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/POTATOES-DAUPHINOISE-50029695
Side Note: Temple Grandin
I take this opportunity to invite you to see a wonderful movie about a remarkable woman. Temple Grandin (2010) starring Claire Danes as Grandin is about the true story of a child born in 1947 who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. At the time she was treated as having brain damage. Her mother’s perseverance to find solutions to deal with her child’s autism paid off. Grandin, who was extremely bright, was able to graduate from high school, attend university and go on to get a doctorate degree. By the time she reached college she developed the “hug box”, a device that she would get into and that would help calm her anxieties. The “hug box” continues to be used today as a treatment for some autistic children. Because of her own autism, she has a keen understanding of what it is to feel threatened by everything in her surroundings, this allowed her to apply her experiences to the humane handling processes of livestock. She has a doctorate of animal science and is professor at Colorado State University. She is an advocate for autism and for Ethical Treatment of Animals. Her business website promotes improvements in standards of slaughter plants and livestock farms.
Temple Grandin’s Website: http://www.grandin.com/
About the movie Temple Grandin: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1278469/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1