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Farm to Plate

A re-education away from the monoculturally barren, back to the culinary diverse.


Over recent years meat has increasingly come under the spotlight, the fall guy for our so called ‘broken’ food system, more specifically the environmental issues tangled up within. The almost immediate reaction has seen vegan and plant based food movements swelling almost to capacity, often branded as a solution or remedy.

 

Drill down into the mechanisms driving our broken food system and the essence is distilled from simple economics of supply and demand. Demand from the consumer feeding supply by the supermarkets and other retailers. The power of this mechanism so intense that the price becomes dictated to the farmer and producer rather than by the farmer or producer. I agree… ‘broken’.

 

In an ideal world the cost of meat, in this instance, would be determined by the cost of production and the availability. Production costs being the husbandry required to produce domesticated livestock and availability being the quantity of each saleable part of the carcass as meat.

 

This is how much of our thinking behind eating meat has evolved, with the prime cuts being revered. Somewhere along the line this started to come at an unexpected, but quite predictable, cost. We as consumers neglected the cuts of meat that are more plentiful on an animal, eventually labelling them as lesser cuts and ‘thrifty’ or simply discarding them as waste.  

 

It did not take long for the food system to respond by increasing production of livestock to match our demand, creating a situation where an animal was bred for its prime cuts alone, leaving the remainder of the carcass to be sold for next to nothing outside of the food industry. An imbalance that eventually led to the current situation.

 

Rolling landscape farmland with a tree in the foreground

Much of this change occurred in and around the 1970’s. The culinary world quickly recognised this as a problem and reacted beautifully in the 1980’s with movements such as ‘Slow Food’ (1986). Many chef’s and culinary professionals within the industry followed suit in the 1990’s with the birth of phrases such as ‘Nose to Tail’ eating, most notably championed by the restaurant St John, opened in 1995 by Fergus Henderson that is still going very strong today! Sadly these movements and restaurants have not made it into the mainstream, being reserved for those in the industry or ardent enthusiasts and the culinary curious. These consumer focused efforts are not alone, top down changes such as the European Commission’s recent ‘Farm2Fork’ strategy brings legislation to the conversation. However, something is still missing, a change in ‘taste’ and attitude will go a long way!

 

While much of the world outside England still think about food in this broad manner, Britain has not welcomed the idea with open arms. A big part of the reason for this being that we have forgotten how to appreciate the textural diversity found within these other parts of an animal. Crunchy cartilage, chewy sinew and gelatinous fat are revered in most food cultures around the world, some countries very close to home, while we label these qualities as unappetising or unpalatable. Cuts of meat containing connective tissue and fat have become secondary parts of the animal.

 

There is a popular misconception that it takes skill or complex processes to get the best from these parts of the animal, causing many to favour the simple and easily to cook prime cuts.

 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is no secret that fat brings flavour. As heat breaks down cartilage and sinew, gelatinous tissue and fat melts, flowing through muscle fibres delivering moisture and flavour as it goes. This makes these cuts of meat tender, juicy and overflowing with flavour. This makes cooking and preparing these parts of the animal very forgiving, requiring very little by way of process or skill.

 

So called prime cuts lack both fat and connective tissue, instead being very lean pure muscle. The consequence of this is that they are prone to drying out and becoming tough if not handled with skill and attention. Prime cuts are notoriously very hard to cook well. It is curious then that these cuts of meat are championed above all other parts of an animal.

 

rolling farmland landscape image

Perhaps a re-education to a way of thinking akin to those born in the early part of last century would bring an appetite for change and a taste for appreciating more of an animal. Many have faith that this would bring sustainability and balance to our food system. Alongside this, many ancient farming techniques are being reinvented with increased knowledge that delvs into the nuance, regenerative farming and biodiversity being the most prevalent. These come together to for a powerful agent for change where all the hard work has been done, all we as consumers need to do is jump on board. Gain an appetite for culinary diversity.


Honesty Cookery School has brought their flavour to this story, inviting Street Croft Farm to share in this reinvigorated initiative. Introducing their Farm to Plate initiative.

 

The part I am plying in this is that of the chef, tasked with creating a menu to champion the produce of Street Croft farm, namely lamb, accompanied by the school’s allotment produce. While it would be very straightforward, and perhaps the obvious choice, to create culinary delights straight out of my restaurant and fine dining heritage, this would play into the hands of prime cuts. This would be a missed opportunity in championing the very ethos behind this, and many other similar initiatives.


The menu for this event

Bearing this in mind, I am going to reintroduce a few well know techniques and less popular cuts of meat.

 

Mince. Mince has become the playground for perceived scraps, offcuts and waste, reinvigorating the unwanted and unused. The irony is that the most commonly used parts of the animal for ‘mince’ were not initially destined for this preparation. Take ‘Steak Tartar’ for example. A delicious and much sought after dish made by finely chopping or mincing a fillet before seasoning with strong, punchy and vibrant ingredients such as mustard, capers, vinegar, raw onion and an egg yolk . Completely delicious, but why? Filet steak is a pure lean muscle devoid of fat or connective tissue. A part of the animal that does very little work so receives limited essential blood flow and does not become stressed at any point during the animal’s life. This is a very hard cut to cook well, reserved for the skilled and most ardent cook. Get it wrong and within a moment the meat changes from delicate and refined to tough, dry and devoid of flavour. Steak Tartare is the perfect answer, mincing retains the delicate texture that is destroyed by cooking because there is no fat or connective tissue. Seasoning with very punchy ingredients elevates the relatively bland flavour and texture to something more exciting. Finish off with an egg yolk to bring the soft melt in the mouth quality that connective tissue provides in other cuts of meat. Steak Tartare is so delicious because the preparation brings all the qualities found in the less popular cuts of meat… great flavour and texture.


a close up picture of minced meat

Mincing is simply a tenderising process, a way of making challenging textures more palatable, not reserved for simply reinvigorating waste. It is also a way of reducing the longer cooking times required to break down connective tissue and release that unctuous flavour and melt in the mouth texture.

 

Minced neck fillet of lamb will be made into scotch eggs. Neck of lamb does a lot of work throughout the animals’ life, pumped full of nutrients gathered from it’s diet. The result is a very full flavoured cut of meat with just enough fat and sinew to give a soft moist texture. What is delightful about a neck cut is there is very little marbling of fat and connective tissue largely lies around the muscle making this cut very palatable. Paired with an egg from the farm’s chickens and a beetroot ketchup, this cut of meat can really shine.

 

a woodland campfire burning with kettle sitting next to it

Fire. Using wood and charcoal as the fuel for cooking has been part of culinary heritage since the very beginning, with many cultures around the world still embracing the flavour and texture this method of cooking delivers. While cooking with fire is a delightful process there are a few drawbacks. The cooking environment is a very dry heat, and at times fierce, with further drying effect delivered by smoke. While delicious for some cuts of meat others struggle to remain tender, often drying out regardless of how perfectly cooked they are. These are the prime cuts. Lean and devoid of any connective tissue. Ironic then that throwing a steak on the BBQ is so popular.

 

While fat is helpful in retaining moisture and delivering flavour, too much in this intense dry environment can be challenging. High scorching heat causes fat to melt very quickly and potentially ignite as it streams out of the meat. I am sure the ‘flaming’ BBQ is familiar to most of us. This makes the other BBQ favourites, sausages and burgers, challenging to cook over fire as typically these products are simply the fatty cartilaginous trimmings. The same can be said for cuts with large strips of fat running around the muscle, rump and loin chops being another favourite prime cut often destined for the BBQ. Ultimately these are all challenging to cook as the fat and connective tissue is in the wrong place or in the wrong quantities for straightforward easy coking.

 

There are some cuts of meat that thrive over fire, these are largely the secondary or cheaper cuts. Laden with intermuscular fat marbling and gelatinous connective tissue, cuts such as leg, shoulder and rump are ideal. Leg of lamb is a Sunday Roast favourite, more often than not simply roasted whole for a few hours. While this is undoubtedly a personal favourite, the leg has much more to offer and can stretch much further than one meal.

 

Butterflying to remove the bone then muscular dissection reveals joints of meat that lend themselves to cooking like a steak. Leg of lamb steaks are made for cooking over fire with lots of flavour and a delightfully firm but giving texture, they have the perfect ratio of intermuscular connective tissue and fat to muscle. Served with a fresh punchy slaw of blistered lettuce and spring onions, seasoned with fragrant bitter yarrow.


a leg of lamb ready for the oven sitting on a chopping board

While thinking differently about cooking techniques can help to re-educate our pallets, reintroducing ourselves to parts of the animal that have become stereotyped as unappetising is far more influential to embracing the nose to tail eating that champions farm to plate thinking about food. Much of this stereotype has come from challenging textures and flavours. Cuts with a strong meaty flavour or bouncy texture that used to be prized are now very unfashionable, for us Brits at any rate. These are qualities that have become unappetising largely due to the knowledge of how to prepare and cook them being lost through the generations, mingled with food fashions leaning towards the glamorous. However, with a little thought and very basic skills, these cuts are truly delightful!

 

Breast of lamb. This cut lies around the lower section of the ribs, incorporating the belly. A cut revered by many other food cultures, yet in Britain this has become a throw away cut… literally! Understandably the texture is gelatinous with a large proportion of connective tissue running through, and around, a rather small amount of muscle.

 

Preparing a piece of meat with these qualities is straightforward, low and slow. Time for everything to melt and come together in unctuous deliciousness. Cooked on the bone for maximum flavour, braise for a few hours with plenty of aromatics, stock and wine. Then cool before portioning and cooking over a high heat to crispen up the edges. Served with a fiery garlic mayonnaise laden with fragrant elderflower vinegar. The result is far from ‘throw away’ with a rich but understated flavour and soft melt in the mouth texture.

 

Heart. Offal has increasingly become disregarded as good eating, favoured only by those ‘less squeamish’ over more recent years. The thought of where it comes from and what its job is quite understandably brings mixed reactions. Push this aside and offal brings a whole new world of flavour and texture to the dining experience. Heart is a good place to start as it is a very lean well worked muscle that has more in common with a prime cut steak than it does offal. Simple to prepare and easy to cook with a strong meaty flavour.

 

Low and slow or fast and furious is the name of the game when it comes to cooking heart. While stuffing and slow braising is the most popular, quick frying as one would a fillet steak is a delightful way to enjoy this meat. With a well-rounded yet strong flavour, heart can take a lot of seasoning and punchy flavours making it ideal for those more squeamish first-time offal explorers.

 

Cooked medium then served in slices with a light pickle, fresh chilli and plenty of herbs, accompanied by a cooling yoghurt dressing.


a curious lamb in a field looking at the camera

My hope for this menu, and event as a whole, is to reinvigorate curiosity for culinary diversity that lends its support to those passionate souls devoting time and effort in cultivating and rearing our food.


Heritage | Environment | Craft



 

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