Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Barbecoa butchery: making the cut

Christopher Hitchens once listed the four most overrated things in the world. I'm not going to list them, because I'm pretty sure my mother reads this blog, but Champagne was among them. If Hitchens were still alive I'd challenge him on why picnics are so rubbish, and also ask him what he thought of fillet steak.

To me, fillet is the Champagne of meat. Everyone aspires to it, everyone pays through the nose for it, and everyone is disappointed by it. There's so little flavour to it, and so little bite. You have to add sauce just to make it palatable beyond 6oz. A good steak doesn't need a dressing, just salt, pepper and a griddle as hot as the sun.

The butchers at Barbecoa would agree with me. Though they will still happily sell you a fillet, they'd much rather sell you their truly, bogglingly wonderful Apl rib-eye - aged for so long, and so perfectly that the rind produces an almost stilton-esque tang better than any steak sauce.

I should declare here that I work for the man who owns Barbecoa, which is why I will never review the restaurant. However, the things I learnt at a demonstration at the attached butchery was so eye opening that to not spread the good news to my mother and some spammers would be remiss of me. Their courses are instructional, entertaining, and educational. You also get to walk away with a truckload of free meat, and a much clearer idea of how to cook it.

So - next time you are in a restaurant, or picking a steak off the shelf in your local butchers or supermarket, remember these five key lessons, all courtesy of Barbecoa.

The flavour is in the fat
Fillet is great - its texture is to die for, but if you want flavour you need rind, you need marbling. In short, you need a bit of white in the red. The steaks Barbecoa stocks would be rejected by supermarkets, because they want as low a fat content as possible. But they lose flavour this way, and if you're buying good-quality beef from an animal that led a happy, stress-free life, the steak with still be tender and moist.

A good steak needs nothing but seasoning
If you try Barbecoa's Apl rib-eye you'll see that the flavour of well-aged, well-reared beef renders peppercorn sauce entirely redundant. Season heavily, whip it with a rosemary brush if you must, but if you've spent the money, let the meaty flavours breath.

Cooking with flames changes everything
Through writing the new Barbecoa website I have learnt that modern cooking methods are a convenience. The more natural your method, the more natural flavours you'll get. Cook it on the barbecue, in a screaming hot, smoking saucepan or griddle - if you have one, try roasting a 1kg rib-eye for 15-20mins.

All cuts are delicious if you know how to cook it
If you read the Italian (May) edition of Jamie Magazine you'll find a piece by Dario Cecchini, one of the most famous butchers in the world. While he doesn't goes as far as nose to tail eating, he believes that every piece of meat thrown away is a game lost. All cuts can be made into delicious meals if you know how to cook them. If you threw a shin of beef onto a griddle, or even straight in the oven you'd get a tough, stringy piece of meat no one wants to tackle. Stuff it full of marrow, garlic and rosemary, then roast it in a casserole dish with some wine, balsamic and shallots and in a few hours you will have one of the most beautiful roast meats nature can provide.

Butchery is an art
We watched in awe as three butchers took razor sharp knives to what was, effectively, still a cow. Within two hours was an entire butchers counter of red meat, cut, trimmed and ready to be sold. They cut through it like they were reading a map - picking the easiest roots, avoiding pitfalls and bumps in the road. They made it look so easy. Commercial butchery must feed the masses, but for a special piece of meat, your local butcher should always be your first port of call.

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