When recipes push our carving skills to the limit, there’s no need to say “if you can’t handle the meat, get out the kitchen” because a Butcher can always lend a hand. Butchers are certainly a fantastic way to shop local; they’re an incredible useful bunch with experience and skill and they create an exceptional personal experience that can’t be mimicked by chains. However, things may not always be as perfect as they seem – this week, we’re passing the inkwell to Louis Hessey-Antell, blogger over at Damsons In Distress who has a bone or two to pick with some of Bristol’s Butchers…
“If you don’t fancy doing this yourself, just ask your butcher.” How many times have you read a precursor to a recipe, or watched a confidently poised TV chef saying these words without a hint of irony? “If you don’t want to bother chopping the oxtail…”, “jointing a rabbit can be quite fiddly, so….”, “Pork ribs have this tough membrane on the back which your…..” and my recent favourite: “If you don’t know how to debone a whole duck….”Good, blooming luck- in most cases anyway.
Firstly, let me exclude the innocent with a few personal favourite butchers of mine: Source, Sheepdrove, Ruby and White, Clifton Village, with honourable mentions of Murray’s and DJ Meats. That’s me done but please increase the list with your own heroes in the comments below! These guys are actual butchers; they know their craft, and whether it be because of age-old honour or the recent revolution in British produce, I can recommend their various skills without hesitation. Now, with the small talk over with, let’s get to work.
I’m aware of how snobby I am about to come across, but I’m willing to do that to myself in order to confront the awkward elephant in the room. Here’s the deal; the chances are that your local butchers are hacks, or close to it. I know this because I live in a thriving area in Bristol, and mine are. If you were to consult a site like Trip Advisor, on the other hand, you wouldn’t know it. Hundreds of five star reviews are showered upon an establishment that, I know for a fact, is close to charlatanism in its service. The chicken is half-frozen, the sausages are pale school dinner types, anything in plastic is all bone and gristle, the bacon cannot be bought by the single rasher, and I’ve heard many rumours that certain meats are not what the packaging claims. Turns out the positivity comes in the form of ‘ten burgers for a fiver!’ and ‘big pack of bacon and sausages- really cheap!’ In the interest of self-preservation, I certainly won’t name the place in mind!
It doesn’t stop there. As far as I know, every Bristol based meatery is full of stand up guys with nothing but honest passion running through them like words through rock. This doesn’t completely spare them my condemnation, though. If you have a building to yourselves, a direct line to suppliers, the initial interest in butchery, and a decent brain in your head, I don’t understand why you would not learn how to properly joint poultry, or how not to slice right into the flesh when scoring a piece of belly pork. Don’t these people ever read a cookery book, or watch a Roux Brothers Youtube video? I’m not asking every single apprentice to be taught how to de-bone a pig’s trotter in under thirty seconds; I’m simply imploring all butchers to at least aspire to what a half-decent place would refer to as ‘the basics’.
So that’s my fulmination over. You may have noticed that I didn’t give any substantial construction within my criticisms. Why? Because I’m not a qualified butcher. If the current stagnation in the high street end of the meat business continues, however, I will probably have to become one – albeit in the comfort of my own kitchen. It may also appear that the supermarkets escaped my daggers. Why? I think that their embrace of mediocrity is pretty much self-evident and well documented. Believe it or not, it takes a much braver part of me to slate the rosy faced jolly fellow round the corner, than it does to throw punches at the big boys.
Louis Hessey-Antel is a Bristolian by birth. In his short life, his fondest memory of the city is gigging, but more recently his mind has been blown by the power of The Ox. And this is the focus of his blog, Damson In Distress: the importance of food & serving it just right, with a special interest in diving into recipes & reviewing restaurants that are doing it right. He’s also a bit of a film addict (with a bit of an obsession with Raging Bull & Apocalypse Now) & has a short film releasing soon called The Art Trail.