Supermarket pre-packaged cuts might be less scary, but if you dare to enter the butchers' you'll be rewarded, says Rebecca Smith.
Every time I write a recipe based around meat, I feel the need to stress the importance of buying it from your local butcher. I wax lyrical about the superior quality, the value of provenance, the knowledge, care and skill - things that simply can't be found in the over-sanitised bleakness of a supermarket aisle.
And yet, supermarket meat still attracts many. I realise of course that not all of us have the good fortune to live near a butcher, and even if we did, many people's pockets aren't disposed to buying the choicest cuts to feed nightly to fractious children or an indifferent spouse. Supermarkets provide good value for money with convenience and choice. This is our reasoning. But which reputable butcher wouldn't cut your meat exactly how you want it? Source something obscure for you with a little warning? Throw in a couple of titbits for no extra cost? The personal service you find in a butchers' is second to none, and the flavour of the meat will never be exceeded by a supermarket.
The other day I got talking to one of the butchers in Borough Market's incomparable Ginger Pig. We were discussing the supermarket problem and he brought up an interesting point. 'Most people are a bit scared to come in here', he said. I pondered this for a second, and a note began to ring true. Maybe people are scared to come in. Maybe they see the rows of immaculate cuts, the unidentifiable bones and frankly, terrifying offal, and decide that trimmed, pre-packed lamb rack that in no way resembles anything Bo-Peep might have lost is for them. Maybe they're worried about saying the wrong thing. Asking for some of that lovely pork fillet, which in fact turns out to be lamb neck. Maybe they don't like the faint clinical smell of blood and sawdust. Whatever it is, it's a dreadful pity.
Butchers' shops are inextricably woven into our heritage. They are invariably run by people of enormous knowledge and skill, most of whom have one of the best senses of humour you'll come across. They respect where their produce has come from, and are dedicated to making sure that no part of an animal has died in vain. They are GOOD value for money. They're usually wonderful cooks, and with just the slightest encouragement will share their knowledge with you gladly, without a hint of condescension or sarcasm. Try getting that in your local supermarket.
And wouldn't you rather take home a cheaper cut of well reared, fabulous beef, complete with a couple of bones for the dog and a recipe suggestion, than a vac-packed piece of unremarkable fillet, from the bovine equivalent of the Unknown Soldier?