Butchery at The Ginger Pig

To follow on from my slightly evangelical musings over the quality of shop bought meat a few blog posts ago, I thought it would be fitting to let you in on my experience of a Ginger Pig butchery class, all about beef.

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I was looking forward to a hands on approach to learning whilst diversifying my knowledge of the different cuts of meat, cooking possibilities and differences in taste, and I was not left disappointed. The two Ginger Pig butchers charged with expanding our awareness and familiarity with beef were charismatic, extremely knowledgeable and incredibly down to earth. Once we had all donned our butchers’ coats we were greeted by an impressive table of beef, ready to start our lesson.

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Our evening began with an over view of the different ageing processes; wet and dry. As I touched on in a previous post, supermarkets and many chain stores will use a “wet” ageing process to increase profit margins at the expense of quality and flavour. In the wet ageing process meat is cut and vacuum packed before being “aged”. This means that no weight is lost, ensuring that profits are not affected by the ageing process. However, in this vacuum no moisture can escape and no bacteria can breed around the outside of the meat, leading to no enriching of flavour or tenderness. By “dry” ageing beef, The Ginger Pig (like most good butchers) will lose some of the meat to bacteria and evaporation, yet this leaves you with much more tender and flavourful beef. We were shown two dry aged fillets (made up of the Wellington, Chateaubriand and mignon, or tail), one at around 30 days aged and another at around 70 days. The differences were striking and the amount of waste from the older fillet had drastically increased. We learnt that the longer the beef is aged the more gamey the flavour, the raw meat has an almost cured like smell and tasted heavenly simply seared in a piping hot pan and generously seasoned.

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After our little starter of fillet steak we were then shown an enormous side of a cow. Weighing in at a hefty 40kg we were then challenged to lift it for 10 seconds, which my friend and I happily accomplished.

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The knowledgeable butcher talked to us in detail about each section of the cow; the forerib to rib-eye to sirloin and rump. Excitingly I was given an opportunity to use a saw to cut through the bone and then slice down the sirloin with the sharpest knife I have ever touched. For safety reasons we were given metal armour gloves for our none knife hands, which we all gladly wore.

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After our demonstration we were then each given a rib of beef to “chine” and French trim. Chining is the process of cutting through the fat and back bone to release the “paddywack”, a gelatinous type tendon which should be removed before cooking. French trimming involves cutting the meat away from the protruding bones and scraping off any sinew or smaller bits of meat. This not only creates a beautiful presentation but ensures that no burnt bits of meat are stuck to the bones during the roasting process. Our off cuts were saved to make beef stock and gravy and our joints tied up using the complicated butchers’ knots, for which I enlisted the help of our kind teacher…

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We ended up with a fantastic array of the different cuts from the saddle. The amount of meat from just half of one cow is astounding and we hadn’t even touched on shin, leg, cheek, tail etc..

We then sat down to a magnificent roast rib of beef accompanied by a delicious garlic potato dauphinoise and copious amounts of red wine. All followed by a huge chocolate bread and butter pudding.

I left the evening, laden with my extravagant cut of beef and richer in the knowledge of my ameliorated butchery skills and beef know-how. I would recommend this evening to any meat lover as a fantastic learning and eating experience. I will most certainly be attending their Pig and Lamb classes.

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