29 MARCH 1963, Page 41

Consuming Interest

The Very Best Butchery


Thin flank, square-cut, in one block from the forequarter of the animal was the cut in ques- tion; it is the one often used by the French for their pot-au-feu because the meat is moist, well- flavoured, cuts well, and doesn't turn stringy. Eaten hot with gros sel and freshly cooked car- rots, it is delicious plain food but doesn't go very far; left to get cold, it 'can be sliced as thin as a card to make an hors erceuvre on the lines of that salade de muscat' de &rut (ox muzzle), an even cheaper dish, which can be bought ready-made at nearly every charcuterie in France. The dress- ing is a vinaigrette thick with chopped shallots and green with parsley, mustard-flavoured and possibly with the addition of a few capers or gherkins. Very favourite food of mine; a little dish with much character, uncloying and adaptable. At what secret butcher's shop then, what Soho, North End Road or Brixton Market hide-out does one find any cut at all of the best Scotch beef at Is. 6d. a pound? None, alas, that 1 know of. To buy a cheap cut of meat truly cheaply, because truly cheaply means truly well cut, you still have to go to Harrods. (If anyone knows of butchers paying the same attention to cheap cuts as they do to prime ones, I wish they would let me know.) Not all the careful and patient cook- ing in the world could have produced that dish for me as economically had the piece of flank been clumsily divided from the carcase with an undue proportion of bone and gristle or of fat to lean, or in a ragged shape. An extra pound or more of meat would have been necessary to make a dish to feed the same number of people.

When the butchers blame the housewives for their lack of enterprise about meat cookery, for their monotonous demands for roasting and grilling cuts, for their ignorance of the proper methods of cooking the cheaper ones, it doesn't seem to have occurred to them that they them- selves are doing little to induce customers to buy their cheaper joints. In many affluent districts the butchers don't even bother to buy the fore-ends of the carcases. Ask for a piece of knuckle of veal or blade-bone of pork from such a butcher and ten to one he will tell you there is no de- mand for such cuts. What he really means is that he hasn't the staff trained to cut and present the cheaper meat in such a manner that it tempts the customer to buy it, and proves, when she gets it home, an economical proposition in time as well as money. If the housewife has to hack away at her piece of cheap stewing meat, trim- ming off fat and gristle, a third of what she has bought will probably end up on pussy's plate. Next time, it'll be back to the oven joint or the steak for frying. These may not be up to much either, but they'll be no worse value than the cheaper cuts and less trouble.


Seven years it is now, almost to the day, since Mr. E. W. Ducat, master-butcher and Harrods' head meat buyer, saw his own labours of learn- ing after thirty years in the business—the methods of French meat-cutting and trimming, his year- long tuition of his staff in the same methods and all the attendant troubles and worries of organis- ing a new department (backed, it is true, and as the envious are quick to point out, by all the re- sources of a great store; but how imaginative it was of the directors to see the point of Mr. Ducat's scheme)—bear fruit in the opening of the now famous boucherie counter.

During those seven years, and despite the pro- phecies of doom from his own colleagues in Smithfield and a derisive article in the Meat Trades Journal following the publicity the ven- ture received in the national press, many butchers and some buyers for large concerns such as supermarkets and chain stores have understood the advantages of selling small joints trimmed of excess fat, of gristle, of sinew, and in fact of all waste, so that the customer knows exactly what she is buying. It is in a sense the equivalent of selling poultry ready-plucked, drawn and trussed, except that where meat is concerned it is an in- finitely skilled and complex craft, involving knowledge and techniques very different from those understood by the average English butcher.

In view of the training required, develop- ments cannot be other than extremely slow; pre- sentation of the cheaper and very cheap cuts with the same meticulous care as is beginning to be accorded the prime cuts is, except at Harrods, scarcely known in this country. It will come, it must, if the butchers are to make economic sense out of their business. There are, to be sure, tenderising machines which bash the sinews out of second- and third-grade cuts so that the meat can be grilled; maybe it can, but the life has gone out of it. That kind of packaging, for packaging it is, can be no more satisfactory than pork chops or steaks unevenly cut and sweating it out in cardboard trays and poly- thene.

Every cookery teacher and student in the land, every caterer and butcher, every meat buyer, every aspiring cook and every individual in- terested in getting value for housekeeping money, and for whom it is a practical possibility, will surely find it worth while taking a long look at the meat counters organised by Mr. Ducat, and especially so during the period from April 2 to April 4, when there will be a special display of the different cuts and joints, English, French, and some American and Canadian-inspired which Mr. Ducat, never a man to rest on his laurels, has recently been developing, particularly with a view to raising the status of shoulder cuts of beef from stewing meat to braising or even slow- roasting joints. On show will also be carcases of some of the finest meat animals in the country. If previous Harrods' meat displays are anything to go by, no one will come away unconvinced that a piece of breast of lamb at 9d. a pound, flank of beef at Is. 6d., or a thick roll of top-rib for braising at 4s. 6d. can and should look as entic- ing as spiced silverside at 8s. 6d. or eye of sirloin or contre-filet at 12s. Properly treated, they taste as good as they look; and as Peggie Beaton says in Meat at Any Price,* her quite admirable trans- lation and adaptation of Ninette Lyon's Viande a Tout Prix, if the cheaper cuts of meat are not so tender or juicy as those of the highest quality, that is not to say they are not just as nourishing; moreover, as Mrs. Beaton points out, the finest meat, badly cooked, can turn into shoe leather without the butcher being in any way to blame. The italics are mine, because while the thought may not be very new and while the butchers have a good deal to answer for in the way of badly- cut meat, second-grade joints sold indiscrimin- ately for roasting, veal escalopes at 12s. a pound cut straight across the leg regardless of seams which cause the meat to buckle and toughen when subjected to heat (and all the bashing in the world won't prevent them in the circum- stances from returning to their natural shape) and many other such faults, the customer can also be wrong.

As Mrs. Beaton implies, it is a fact of life that a woman who reasonably enough blames her- self, her recipe, her pan, her oven when some- thing such as a soufflé, an omelette, a vegetable dish, or a pudding goes wrong, instinctively turns and rends her butcher when her meat dish is a failure. This little book may help to even matters out, to create a fifty-fifty exchange of under- - standing between butcher and customer. Mrs. Beaton has drawn up a highly useful table of French cuts and their nearest English equivalents (with, as is only right and proper, due acknow- ledgement to Mr. Ducat of Harrods) plus a more detailed one of common English cuts, explaining from which part of the animal in question each joint comes, what are its characteristics (i.e. juicy, gelatinous, fibrous, bony, lean, fat, coarse- grained, muscular, etc.), whether it is expensive, medium-priced or cheap and with suggestions as to the appropriate ways of cooking each cut. Recipes are also graded according to category— * Faber, 21s. expensive, moderately expensive, economical, very economical, left-overs and so on. If the illustrations of meat animals (which make the English edition much more valuable than the original) showing their skeletal structure and the position of each joint were to be enlarged, pub- lished separately as sheets and pinned up in every kitchen, a great deal of confusion about household meat-buying might be dispelled. Butchers don't always remember that names and the provenance of cuts can be most misleading to people who see meat only walking about on four legs or in joints on the slab; and customers have to bear in mind that butchers see meat animals as whole carcases to be cut and sold, as far as is compatible with the creature's anatomy, to the best advantage.