The savvy shopper: meat

Categories: Expert guidance

Regular columnist Ed Smith explores cheap but crowd-pleasing cuts of meat

One of the advantages of Market shopping is that you can source unusual and economical cuts of meat. Let me expand a little.

I was surprised a few weeks ago when I was unable to find pork belly in any of my three local supermarkets. These days belly is a well-known and popular cut of meat, so it seemed odd not to see it among the many boxes in the tungsten lit cold sections. Compare that to Borough, where pork bellies are as commonplace as sirloin steaks and lamb legs! The Market is a meat-lover’s nirvana.

If you scan the price per kilo markers on Borough’s meat counters you’ll notice, of course, that some things will dent the wallet more than others. Yet you can be confident that everything is good value: the quality is top end; the service and knowledge of the butchers incomparable to a supermarket.

Treat meats
The more expensive cuts are what I call treat meats. What constitutes a ‘treat’ is subjective. In any event, there’s plenty of scope to buy cheaper cuts and they’re often the ones that end up as the most successful and crowd-pleasing dishes.

I’ve heard some people suggest that only adventurous cooks can take advantage of the lower priced and more unusual items on offer. Things like trotters, liver, chicken hearts, onglet and bavette steak stand out and I’m sure not everyone has the confidence to give them a go.

However, there’s definitely something for everyone at the lower end of the price spectrum. In fact, I’d say that many of the Market’s lower priced meats are best cooked slowly and in bulk. Which means there’s no need to be afraid of trying them out and they’ll feed plenty of people too.

Death row meal
Mutton shoulder is among the most incredible tasting bits of animal that you can buy; if you braised a whole shoulder at 130C for 7 hours, you’d be well on the way to cooking my death row meal. Beef shin is similarly priced. Cook a whole shin for the same amount of time or chunk it up, perhaps with soy, mirin, chilli, lemongrass and ginger, for an incredible Asian-flavoured dish.

You can buy a lamb belly for about £5 and feed four people easily enough. As with the other cuts, braise it slowly for 3 hours with plenty of aromatic vegetables, then either eat straight away, or allow to cool and cook at high temperature till crisp for a cheap Sunday roast.

On a recent trip, I spied a pack priced at £9/kg. One oxtail is usually 1-1.5kg and will feed at least four people in a broth that’s packed out with vegetables and dumplings.

A no-brainer
You’d stretch the oxtail further if you made something like a Vietnamese pho (noodle soup) instead. It’s such a fantastic tasting meat that buying this was a no brainer; if you see oxtail next time you’re wandering round Borough Market, I suggest you take some home too.

You could, if you wish, cook the oxtail as I did and create a rich broth with herb dumplings. Depending on how your back pocket is feeling, a large glass of red wine or stout will enhance your casserole. But I often cook oxtail (or other beef) with just a couple of quartered beetroots, as these add colour, sweetness, richness and depth in a not dissimilar way to those alcohols.

There’s no need to buy beef stock to go with it, the oxtail adds enough beefiness—though if you’ve some chicken stock in the freezer, or a stock cube on the shelf that’ll help. Other than that, just throw in some root veg and herbs (much better value bought from the Market than a supermarket) and simmer slowly for about three hours.

Eat with steamed greens and a crunchy on the outside, fluffy within jacket potato to complete a delicious and relatively frugal feast. I made some herby dumplings to go on top of mine—it’s good to make sure those herbs get used up.