Meat

Because of geography, interest and dumb luck, I know a good number of butchers. I also know a number of good butchers. But let me tell you about some of the things that help to make a good butcher great.

  • Understanding the customer is a great thing. But understanding on its own will not a great butcher make. 
  • Product knowledge helps when cutting steaks, yet it won’t cut the mustard in the greatness stakes.
  • Stocking the unusual is in itself unusual and is a great help.
  • Enthusiasm and passion are essential ingredients too.

When you come across all of the above, you know you are dealing with greatness.

“Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man” – what a laugh.

My British friends, for I have a few, are more against than in favour of Brexit. I also hold an anti Brexit viewpoint. Looking on from the other side of the Irish sea I am aghast at the collapse of the already low standards held by so many UK politicians who seem to be scrabbling for party or personal power, caught up in a perfect storm of self interest. Apart, that is, from the leader of the opposition who takes up position sitting on his hands. Pathetic stuff. Perhaps the olde English phrase of “Opportunity makes the man”, from the original  “Opportunity Makes the Thief” is more appropriate to the sad behaviour we see. I am also astounded at seeing so many of my generation steal the opportunity that they squandered from the next generation. History will judge and not kindly.

Many people that I meet in business are offended by what they believe to be the overuse of business jargon. But, I have a different game plan. So, let’s open the kimono and deep dive into this really tasty dish, I’ll circle back with the ingredients and I will prove that Lemon Leg of Lamb really can deliver bang for your buck. I’m often asked how I come up with the ideas for my recipes. It’s really easy. I do a bit of blue sky thinking and then have a thought shower (outside the box, of course), punch the puppy a few times and by the close of play, I have run a few ideas up the flagpole. It’s that simple. 

Butchers should love sous vide. They should be actively promoting the cooking method. They could, if they had the wit, see that the saving of their dying craft is tied to innovation. Domestic sous vide is such an innovation and could help on a path to profitability. Using sous vide, one can turn out a spectacular steak in just over an hour. I can turn out a spectacular steak in a lot less time without sous vide. Granted, the SV steak may be a bit tastier and a bit more tender. But, this is not where Sous Vide really shines.

“Why would you waste three days cooking a bit of beef?” “How can a cut like that taste good?” “Wouldn’t a nice fillet be tastier?” So go the questions. So goes the debate. I can tell you now. The debate is over. There is very little to be said. For the technical amongst you, this was beef cheeks sous vide 54/72 (129/72 American and 54ºC for 72 hours for the non technical). 

There is a lot written about food evoking childhood and other happy memories. I smile quietly to myself at the mention of a sugar sandwich or jelly and ice cream. Less pleasant feelings surface when confronted with over-cooked Brussels sprouts or boiled mutton and white sauce. Often we associate places with particular foods too. I can’t go into central Dublin without being hit with a particular memory from my teenage years. It was a dire, cold wet night. We had been into town to see a movie. I had just enough cash left to afford a bag of chips. The rest of the lads jumped a bus. I chose to trip around to Middle Abbey Street for bag fo chips. I scoffed it waiting, on Burg Quay, for the last bus. I was cold. I was wet and the crunchy chips were over-salted. I didn’t care. They were delicious. At the bottom of the bag, the fluffy potato was soaked in acrid vinegar that made me cough. I was in heaven on a cold, wet, Dublin night. Every time I cross O’Connell Bridge, that memory comes back to me.

You are probably reading this hoping it’s a software glitch in the Anova or a hacking of the Joule that has led to this culinary failure. It is technically true that an app was responsible for the issues. But in reality, it’s my own dumbass behaviour that was the problem. The app in question is WhatsApp and the issue had nothing to do with the sous vide end of the cooking. I started over two days out, planning a 48 hour cook of my short ribs. At this stage, everything went according to plan.

In an ideal world, all women would be a 10 so dress manufacturers would only need to make one size. Shopping would be a lot simpler too. Men would be happy with mid grey polyester-cotton trousers in 32” waist/ 34” leg. Retailing would be so much easier. In the same idiom, butchers could only sell mince meat and chicken breasts. Things would be so easy. But, for women, men and butchers, life is not that simple. Butchers need to offer a bit more than the top margin products that virtually sell themselves. Some try to do it by buying in a range of day-glow sauces and “adding value” by disguising the meat in these industrially produced “authentic” flavours. This may keep the wolf of competition from the door in the short term. Business logic tells me that the advantage will be eroded by supermarkets and this variety of independent butcher, like the guy trying to fit into size 32, will be under pressure again.

I love this stuff. Imagine if I had moved an apostrophe in “Idiots’” above. Then I would be saying, in a self-deprecating way, that I am an imbecile and that this is my guide to Oriental Lamb Shanks with Sauce. But, I’m not saying that. I am saying that this is a recipe which any fool, klutz or cretin has the wherewithal to prepare. If you don’t believe me or if you are still doubting your own prowess in the kitchen department, read on my friend, read on…

The sauce is a triumph. A bargain hunter’s dream come true.

I love a bargain. My big problem is what psychiatrists might call “Value driven impulse purchasing”. “Half-price menswear” – keep me out of the shop or I will buy up every pair of lavender coloured trousers and those gingham shirts that most sensible men on the planet have ignored. The “bargains” I buy usually spend a period of time in the wardrobe before being transferred to the charity-shop bag and out of my life. This behaviour is all the worse because I know that I do it. Yet seemingly, I can’t help myself. So, when I saw some lovely looking plums in the supermarket at 49c for a half kilo, you can guess what happened.

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