Who doesn’t love a man in armour?

I don’t want to become a butcher but I do want to know the provenance of the meat I use to cook with, exactly where on the animal it comes from and the best way to handle it with respect for the animal. I won’t be buying a side of beef anytime soon (have you any idea how much a side costs?), nor, having seen the amount of work & skill that goes into it, would I be butchering one anytime soon, even if I did buy one.

Evolving to the butcher

Evolving to the butcher

So, Saturday afternoon…

Dressed in a fetching apron, an equally fetching (and surprisingly light) set of chain-mail & with my left hand (the “gripping” hand maybe, for those fans of Larry Niven’s Moties) also clad in a protective metal glove, I was ready for action.


I had more than three hours ahead of me, training (and sweating) with the hugely skilled, patient & helpful Adrian, master butcher at Franklins Farm, who was there to make sure I didn’t damage myself, the two other neophytes also being shown a few knife skills or, most importantly, the meat that we were to work on.

In that he mainly succeeded; and I even managed to make a reasonable fist of boning out, butchering & presenting some lamb during the first couple of hours.

Homeward bound lamb…

What you don’t see in these pictures is the amount of sweat that I lost, the sheer jaw-dropping amazement that anyone could, almost sight unseen, work out where these bones went and thus where to stick and (more importantly) where not to stick the knife and the effortless skill shown by Adrian when removing meat from bone — he doesn’t cut, he glides behind the meat, along the bone, pushes it aside, so that the meat almost just drops away.

I’m not quite there yet. But keeping the knife point (for it’s really only the point that you need to use when boning) sharp, sharpSHARP is key. Adrian would sharpen it after almost every occasion he cut, a couple of quick, almost casual swipes at the steel sufficing. He doesn’t push his knife into the meat, a gentle caress and it falls apart, skin (and bone) being no barrier. I soon found that a knife anything less than scalpel-sharp meant a world of pain & frustration when trying to use it to cut.

Next was a leg of pork. I’ve no photos of this work, being both hugely busy & hugely involved in watching what he did, where he cut, how he cut and being slightly more confident now, I wielded the saw, the knives with no little aplomb and eventually produced a piece of boned leg (trotter less of course), bare of skin, that, even though I say so myself, was actually not bad at all.

It actually turned into more than four hours of learning as we talked about beef and game and his 39 years in the profession. The cold-store, as well as being a great place to duck into to cool my raging brow when the heat at the cutting block got too much, also had some amazing sides and 35-day old hung joints of beef to gaze at, in mouth watering desire.


So, what did I learn? A huge amount about how meat hangs onto bones and where to cut most effectively and efficiently. A small number of little tips ‘n tricks that help speed up the butchering process and that I can use in the kitchen. Where some of the cuts of meat I buy actually come from on the beasts and what they look like before they’re laid out, wrapped and set on the counter to buy. The requirement to keep the knife sharp. And a huge respect for the art of butchery.

Oh, and most importantly, I can confidently & without fail, tie the essential butcher’s knot, without which, no joint of meat is finished.

I loved it; I hope to be going back again soon to do some work with beef which, I’m promised, will really make me sweat. I can’t recommend this course enough — if you get a chance to attend one, grab it. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s interesting. And you walk away with lots of great meat that you butchered yourself. What’s not to like?

Pitt Cue; Pork Heaven

We’d been wanting to get to eat at Pitt Cue for ages but for various reasons, until this weekend, we hadn’t managed to get through the door (at least whilst they were open — MEMO TO SELF: arriving during the staff break time really doesn’t help & only serves to frustrate the hungry potential pork-eater).

Finally, Saturday a couple of weeks ago, we managed it…

After a morning of kulcher & learning, spent wandering through, amongst other things, the “Vikings” exhibition at the British Museum (some spectacular stuff on view including a model of their 100-man invasion ship & some hugely interesting detail about this Nordic group of ruffians — did you know for example that the words “egg” and “sister” both came to the English language from this part of the world?), we strolled over to Soho, to Newburgh St. and grabbed a pair of seats at the bar.

The vibe was the same as that in The Butcher, in Amsterdam. Different country; same attention to detail and an obvious love of great meat.

This isn’t a place for those of you of the vegetarian persuasion (I wanted to spell that as perversion, can’t imagine why) to go to, but then if you’re reading this site, you’re probably not overly worried about meat (& the many gorgeous, tasty juices that seep out) and other carnivorous comestibles anyway. And if you are worried, you should probably stop reading now & go elsewhere.

Above where we sat was this great print:

Pitt Cue

Pitt Cue

The wallpaper in the toilet was also by the same designer and could well make you miss if you failed to pay attention to the business in hand…

The menus change seasonally, maybe not daily but regularly, so there’s no guarantee that what we ate will even be available anymore but even if you don’t get exactly what we had, I do guarantee, 100%, that you’ll not want for amazing mouth-watering taste experiences & smells.

And so, to the chase:

My choice, on the right, is delicious roundels of pig’s head sausage, succulent, firm, rich, accompanied by a sharp, crunchy, bread & butter pickle and a side of peppered mash, in the centre of which sat a heart-warming mound of bone-marrow. Next to it is the first (or maybe second) of the picklebacks (a shot of rough whiskey chased with a shot of pickle-juice) and a great London brewery pale ale. Finally, on the left hand side Val managed to nearly finish her pulled pork “inna bun” with a fantastic green chilli slaw.

I though that’d be enough but having attained pork nirvana, the guy behind the counter easily managed to convince me (nothing to do with an excess of picklebacks, no Sir, not me) that an additional side of duck sausage with pickled cherries on top should also be tried. He was right. It was great. I forget to take a shot of this — I was too busy eating — so shoot me.

Their bourbon choices are rightly legendary:

© Nina Fitton 2014

Bourbon baby, bourbon.

I could have carried on eating & drinking all afternoon and into the next day, to be honest but, deciding to make this a regular stop, managed (unusually for me) to exercise some small measure of restraint, saving the rest of that goodness for the next visit.

I bought their cook-book some time back (although I’ve only managed to get around to cooking their baked beans so far). You should too. As it says on the back “…we both left the place feeling like the little baby Jesus had hand fed us personally”. The (otherwise anonymous) Bert wasn’t wrong…

Pitt Cue Cookbook

Pitt Cue Cookbook

Friendly fabulousness from Franklins Farm

Having just discovered a great new butcher, Adrian at Franklins Farm, near Sandy, this was the result. A superbly juicy rendering of their Gloucester Old Spot pork:

Pork Braised in Sherry with Tomatoes and Chorizo

Pork Braised in Sherry with Tomatoes and Chorizo

Pork Braised in Sherry with Tomatoes and Chorizo

Chop the pork into largish cubes, remove the skin (if you wish, I didn’t) from the chorizo and slice it into thinnish rounds.

Then heat one tablespoon of the oil in a casserole over a high heat and, when really hot, add a few of the cubes of meat to brown well on all sides.

Remove them to a warm plate then continue to brown the rest of the meat in small batches, adding a little more oil as required.

Now add the rest of the oil and brown the onions (for about 6 minutes), before adding the garlic and cooking for another minute.

Return the meat to the casserole & stir in the flour to soak up the juices, then add the chorizo followed by the tomatoes, sherry and sherry vinegar. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle in the thyme and bay leaves then give everything a good stir. Lastly bring the casserole up to a gentle simmer, put the lid on and transfer it to the centre of the oven to cook for 1½ hours.

When the time is up, add the sliced peppers and the olives (left whole), give it all one good stir, cover again then leave it to carry on cooking for another ½ hour or until the peppers are tender.

Serve with new potatoes and, at this time of year, young broad beans or fresh shelled peas.

 2 lb (900 g) piece trimmed shoulder of pork
 8 oz (225 g) Iberico chorizo sausage
 2 tablespoons olive oil
 2 medium onions, thickly sliced
 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
 1 rounded tablespoon plain flour
 1 lb (450 g) ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or 1 x 14oz (450 g) tin of chopped tomatoes
 10 fl oz (275 ml) dry sherry, preferably a manzanilla
 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
 A few sprigs of fresh thyme
 2 bay leaves
 2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into thick chunks (approx. 2 x 1½ inches, 5 x 4 cm)
 3 oz (75 g) mixed green and black olives, pitted
 salt and freshly milled black pepper
 Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1, 275F, 140C.

The MAD-ness of “Carne e Spirito” and Dario Cecchini

“The poetry of butchery.”
“This is an ancient art.”
“Respect the animal.”

This man loves meat. He loves the craft (for craft it definitely is) of butchery. He loves the animals that he butchers and then serves in his restaurants in Panzano. And to hear him speak, albeit filtered through the translation into English from the more melodic sounding Italian, is to understand a little about the poetry of what he does [in case you hadn’t guessed, I too love pigs & butchers, so have no qualms about referring to them & poetry in the same breath].

© Homme magazine, Greece 2014

© Homme magazine, Greece 2014

Obliged, by the death of his father in 1976, to take over the family business and become the 9th generation of the Cecchini’s to work this trade in the village, he became a reluctant butcher; until this sudden change of direction, he’d been studying to become a vet at the University of Pisa.

You wouldn’t know that today; now he has a stripped down, movie-star quality to him — now this man dominates the stage at the MAD food conference in Copenhagen in front of 500 fellow chefs from around the world, quoting Dante whilst cutting into the pig & cleaning his hands of the blood, shit and innards from what looks like an Oxford & Sandy sow.

Dario and the guts © MADfoods 2014

Dario and the guts © MADfoods 2014

This is a 26 minute long rhapsody on meat, butchery & life. It’s well worth 26 minutes of your time. Watch it. Now.