Head above the trenches: Are false militant attitudes ruining food for me?

Head above the trenches: Are false militant attitudes ruining food for me?

Before I even begin and before someone clips something from the text below and takes it out of context I want to go on record as saying vegetarianism and veganism are wholesome, respectable practices and I fully support anybody’s decision to partake. I have myself tried vegetarianism to decipher if it was something that would work for me, instead deciding to take a more holistic approach to the meat I eat. I am as responsible as I can be knowing where my food has come from, use supermarkets and wholesale food as little as I can afford and eat game and free range meat provided locally via my own personal network. Veganism at it’s base is done for the right reasons and I am in no way shape or form attacking the practice or the fundamental principals on which it is built.

I am sad that I even have to go to such lengths to protect myself before writing something about food, however this is representative of the times we live in. Where opinion no longer applies to the laws of free speech and every opinion on the wrong side of the mob mentality is tossed aside as hate speech or seen as a by-product of far right sensibilities. The fact is that I believe that culturally we are in a very strange place that requires dialogue and debate, when in actual fact all we are doing is either trashing each other from either side of a twitter branded fence or like myself, sitting on top of it and trying to dodge projectiles from either side. In terms of what we consume per year in the UK the numbers are obviously quite large based on the population, below are the numbers from the September report from the ‘Department of Environmental and Rural Affairs’.

  • Cattle: Beef and veal production was 74,000 tonnes
  • Sheep: Mutton and lamb production was 25,000 tonnes
  • Pigs: Pigmeat production was 73,000 tonnes.

 

This is representative of just one month and for normal people who buy meat from a supermarket these numbers will be one of two things, staggering or unsurprising. The people who are taken back by this likely exist not considering the fact that what they eat used to be an animal and have fallen into a category of people who are very comfortable in their warm and cosy existence where everything just kind of appears before them with little to no struggle. The other camp are the realists who understand what meat is and where it comes from. I myself believe in being as much a part of the process as possible and source my own meat as much as I can relative to the current season as myself and my fiancé have a friend who is a game keeper, which is pretty handy.

At one point in my life those numbers would have shocked me and driven me to do my research sooner than I eventually did, which in turn would have driven me to read more about process and how these things work. As a meat eater I pride myself on NOT supporting factory farming as much as I possibly can given budget and availability of game or local meat as it is a practice I don’t see as sustainable or frankly have much time for. However, instead of seeing these figures and jumping straight onto Facebook or Instagram and giving someone problems for posting a picture of a steak they cooked, it made me look further into how I can minimise my reliance on this without depriving myself of something I enjoy and also increase the quality of meat that I eat. For instance the deep almost wine red colour of wild venison compared to the colour of most of the beef we have come to accept in a commercial environment is genuinely jaw dropping. I also compare this to the experience of eating pheasant for the first time having lived on roast chicken most of my life – an animal that is not a million miles away from each other in terms of species can provide a completely different experience given it’s quality of life, varied diet and existence outside of the sterilised world of factory farming.

So why is it with this in mind that when someone posts a picture of a shoot or a hunt, all they receive is a mass wave of bile and hatred as if they killed their own mother when 50% the people posting the comments have ”steak night with bae’ featured on their profile? Why is it that in 2018 a man can consume a whole chicken in one sitting in a restaurant but when they hunt their own deer they are branded a murderer? It fucking baffles me a lot of the time. I mean in one respect I feel in the UK we are a product of our environment and hunting, fishing and bush craft is essentially not a mainstream part of our culture (which in itself grieves me) seemingly exclusively reserved for the upper echelon of society while the working man eats only the cuts they can afford in their local supermarket or served when they go out to the pub. Whereas in the US, even though society seems to be turning on the hunters somewhat it is at least initially seen as the wholesome working persons way of providing for their family. I think these contrasting views are also accentuated by the history of fox hunting in Great Britain – a brutal and unacceptable practice that involves chasing down a fox with a pack of dogs and results in the fox being torn apart by them. Rather than killed ethically and quickly for food, this is all sport and was subsequently banned as recently as 2005 in England, 2003 in Scotland while still remaining a legal practice in Northern Ireland.

The lack of public land in the UK also means that hunting becomes more difficult as it is something you have to now do on someone else’s land. There is still a healthy amount of places in the UK where you can go on organised shoots or stalks but these again aren’t a mainstream option for most people who love here. Scotland being one of the few truly wild areas of our little island does attract people from abroad to experience a hunt in the highlands, a beautiful setting if nothing else to experience the raw emotion and struggle of harvesting your own food. This became stunningly apparent to most of the people in the Twittersphere this summer when Larysa Switlyk put pictures on her page of her hunting trip to the aisle of Islay with her partner. Oh my… did the people of the internet give her ‘what for’. I did what no person should ever do and clicked on as many profiles as I could to see the kind of person it takes to be so aggressive and vile to another person over something they knew little about and the answer wasn’t at all surprising.

If you are reading this with an agenda then you fully expect me to say vegans here don’t you? I thought so…but nope. It was a diverse and varied group of people of different views and lifestyles with one unified attribute. Complete ignorance.

To kill an animal in the UK or US you have to have permission to do so, either by the land owner, government or relative authority. The animals will also be consumed not just tossed off the side of a cliff or left where they dropped but were any of these questions asked? Of course not. Instead all that was thrown onto the pictures were quotes of disgust and how she should be ashamed of herself. My biggest gripe with this is the lack of questions and umping straight onto the band wagon of ‘fuck you and everything you stand for’. Why aren’t these people calling ASDA, Sainsbury’s or Wallmart murderers? Picketing the chicken aisle or tweeting how Danish bacon is an abomination? Why aren’t they committed to stopping the use of palm oil that is a leading cause of deforestation? (while still consuming peanut butter that is pumped full of it). Culturally would you have ever given a shit about it if it wasn’t on Twitter? Probably not to be fair. I believe if someone said to you in conversation ‘did you hear about that woman that hunted feral goats and stag in Scotland?’ most people would have approached it in a ‘so where is the story here?’ kind of way. The outrage only hits it’s peak when the jury on social media comes together to find their next victim to destroy. Often resulting in social execution without much in the way of a trial.

The point is there are very few issue sin this world let alone this country that as so black and white you can say ‘I AM THIS’ or ‘I AM THAT’ which seems to be a fundamental problem with todays society. Are you red or blue? are you Pro or anti Brexit? My answer, somewhat pedantically has always been ‘I’m Phil’. The only time I ever pick sides is in sport, otherwise I simply want to hear both sides and pull my own takeaways from it based on my views and opinions, not just adhere to what one team or the other is saying I should think. The problem is that for some reason this now bleeds into what we eat. Because I eat a responsibly harvested wild pheasant I am potentially classed as ‘murdering scum’ whereas the VW Golf that smashed 3 of them on the way to get their cornflakes is guilt free. Fundamentally should VW or another car manufacturer be attacked for not having Pheasant or badger safety in mind when designing the latest family saloon? Probably not lets be fair.

The problem is not their point of view necessarily but their approach to an apposing one, just as you would try to sell something to a customer a point of view can be taken or left where it stands. If I was to force someone to purchase something it would be seen as the wrong approach and an unethical way of doing business and yet when it comes having an opinion or belief, we seem to be stuck within a social juxtaposition where people seem to think telling someone to ‘fuck off and die’ will have a better result than ‘but why do you think that?’ I’m not a hundred percent sure calling someone a murderer has ever stopped anyone eating meat and I’m sure from a contrasting point of view throwing the word ‘snowflake’ at anyone ever stopped them in their beliefs either. Both sides are culpable and as guilty as each other. What creates change is open and honest dialogue about the issues that matter to you. Militant attitudes only serve to create militant groups and while the title of this article specifically referenced the left in it’s first draft (as I have certainly been attacked more regularly by people who firmly put themselves into this camp) it is worth showing my distain for people who do it the other way too. It solves nothing. It goes even further to solving absolutely nothing when either side are doing it just to resist the other rather than actually having any real belief in what they are saying.

I absolutely adore food. That’s why I have this blog, it’s why I choose to use my spare time writing about it and why I spend the rest of my free time thinking about it or cooking it. This joy that I find in consuming the fuel I need to be alive is a basic and wholesome practice, that has existed since the birth of fire gave us the ability to change the form of raw ingredients to create new and exciting oral experiences. If you are to try and dampen that with aggression or hatred rather than a long form conversation then I have little to no interest in speaking to you. You personally are not the problem. Your approach is and if you fix it you may make more progress in convincing people to change something. Whether you are a hunter speaking to a vegetarian (who often share similar reasons for doing what they do!!!) or a pescetarian telling your chicken farmer associate the benefits of a fish heavy diet there are always certain sensibilities you will share because of something that gets lost in translation… we are all people. Personalities with billions of differences and similarities alike. How do we even scratch the surface if we are telling each other to get fucked all the time because of what we eat for dinner?

Take religion as a very broad example. Does picking a faith and shouting things at the others ever achieve anything apart from causing pain to both sides? no not really. Check the daily news for details… and how many people are newly recruited to a religion by someone knocking on a door during dinner after a hard days work? I would hazard a guess at not many. But how many change religions and beliefs based on sensible, appropriate conversations or simply having access to the information available to that person when they need it? I would put my mortgage on that being a much higher number. A perfect example of this was during one of Steve Rinella’s book readings around 6 years ago (one of my absolute heroes) where there was a comment thrown at him by a vegan gentleman and Steve had what I class as one of the more beautiful conversations on YouTube. Both showed compassion to each other and they bother agreed to meet in the middle and hear each other out. Isn’t that the way we should always do it? Check it out below.

 

So in summary, yes, I think modern food related culture and my own enjoyment is somewhat ruined by all the in fighting. I like to enjoy the process of finding, planning, preparing and cooking my food but often find myself being told I am in the wrong in one way or the other by either ‘side’. I would like to make a plea to my Vegan, Vegetarian, Meat eating, fish catching friends and readers alike – I implore you to think about the ways we approach communication. There are so many important issues we could discuss if we actually spoke openly rather than shutting ourselves in boxes just to achieve more likes and retweets than the last guy because you ‘shut that guy down’. We all need to be better at it and for all the points you feel your scoring nobody wins at the end. After all is said and done this is simply my thought process put into writing which some of you may disagree with… and that’s fine. It’s just how we deal with the next part that matters.

 

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Burger science – What makes the perfect burger?

Burger science – What makes the perfect burger?

I have been meaning to write this for some time however work has been somewhat hectic in light of a recent role change, luckily I am staying away tonight and there are limited distractions now I have finished my daily follow ups. So for the first time in what seems like forever I am able to pontificate about one of the biggest problems in our society. An issue so controversial it divides people daily, creates arguments among friends, family and even work colleagues. When looking at this conundrum objectively even Brexit seems easier to solve… at least that has a rough timeline. This particular argument is timeless and could go on forever – but for today I am wading in with a keenly placed size 8.5 to cut through the confusion and give clarity to anyone reading this post…

What makes the perfect burger?

I know. Heavy right?…

Is it multiple patties? exotic additional toppings? certain types of bread or 4 different types of cheese? Well I have a theory about this but I am going to tackle it by looking at the common problems that I feel ruin a burger and then tie it up with a solution. There are a few things that royally ruin any marriage of bread and meat and to me it feels so simple! So the most common ways to ruin your burger are…

  • Shit bread

There is nothing worse than ordering a burger and receiving it in the wrong vessel. It can define the experience just as much as the meat or cheese, while also being able to cancel out any positives those two essential pillars might bring to the meal. The most common bread faux pas is a style that is too tough or structurally solid, meaning when you bite it, all of the contents just fly out onto the plate or into the paper if your a hipster king at a food truck. You cannot reinvent the wheel with shit bread so just accept that brioche buns were made for a reason. There are exceptions to the rule, as with the right meat and cheese combo a fresh pretzel roll or toasted wholemeal roll can be a beast of a beef holder but generally the brioche reigns supreme. Oh and if it’s in a wrap it’s not a burger. Not having it.

Solution: Stop trying to be niche and use French bread etc. It doesn’t work. Softer breads create better burgers.   

 

 

  • More than 2 type of cheese

I will accept 2 applications of the same cheese but if you are served or are considering putting multiple type of cheese on one burger your making a mistake. Especially if they just don’t go together in texture or in taste such as brie and cheddar. Not only will you ruin the stability of the upper part of your burger but you will also be setting yourself up for an overly messy catastrophe that doesn’t really know what it’s going for. Now I like a messy burger like anyone does as when its good. It’s good. BUT if it’s sliding all over the place and becoming a case of annoying rather than enjoying, you have a problem. The taste of confusion is not pleasurable. Oh and stop using raw cheddar. I asked for a burger not a cheese sandwich with a hot beef add on. MELT IT AT THE VERY LEAST. Match your cheese to the meat and topping combo.

Solution: 1 type of cheese based on the other contents. Fast melting creamy cheese such as American, Monterey Jack, blue or Brie for your average burger, spiced cheese for a beef/ pork spiced patty, rarely use cheddar unless it’s melted to the top bun but just make a decision and stick to it. Commit to your cheese choice.

  • Open burgers

….

Solution: Stop.

  • Overcomplicating your patty

I learned this pretty early on while I was competing in Battle of the burgers way back in 2013. Over seasoning or over spicing can be a weight that your burger simply can’t break free from and it’s strongest properties will simply not be able to come to the surface. My personal mistake was over spicing a lamb burger which I still believe to this day is the only reason I didn’t hit first place and it bugs me to this day. If your patty is made from lamb, beef, pork or a mixture of meat you need to be able to taste that within it, not just a handful of paprika you threw into the mix last minute or a double shot of harissa you tried to get clever with. If I am using 500g of meat I will only add a tablespoon of additional flavourings maximum, not including salt and pepper. I also have a secret binding agent to guarantee a great, juicy burger even after freezing and defrosting in sausage meat. However you obviously wouldn’t want to be cooking them medium rare!

Solution: Keep your seasoning simple. Don’t get excited and pour in your spice cabinet. A dash will do and a hint won’t hinder… but a shit load will ruin your burger.

  • Overloading toppings

Very similar to the multiple cheese issue is banging everything you have left in the pantry on top of the burger and sending it out looking like someone has already started chewing it or just spooned out the U-bend of a sink. There is a limit to a topping line up in my opinion and it’s 2. One additional meat and a none meat option. For example: Bacon and pickles to add contrast, balsamic onions and slices of cooked chorizo, freshly sliced chilies and pulled pork, a runny egg and crispy onions… you get the idea.

Solution: Slow down a bit and just give it some thought. Which additions work well and pull it all together ?

 

The simple way of summarising it is the best way to make your burger to best it can be is to keep it simple. The science is simple and it gives us an easy to understand formula to follow which is:

 

Soft but well structured bread

PLUS

Well balanced and seasoned patty

PLUS

One type of cheese

PLUS

A maximum of 2 topping. One meat and one none meat

OPTIONAL

1 sauce

=

A perfect burger

 

 

So just keep it simple and you can’t go wrong! It isn’t a complicated problem to solve just don’t get too clever or ambitious as the star of the burger is the burger in it’s entirety. Keep this in mind and you can create true harmony between bread, calm between cob and won’t fall into a trap in a bap.

Rub ya’self up – Returning to Rub, Birmingham

Rub ya’self up – Returning to Rub, Birmingham

It has been a while since I have been this active on the blog let alone been in touch with my good friends at Rub Smokehouse, Birmingham, but I must say they have caught my eye of late on social media. They have recently launched a super saver menu to rival the mainstream fast food chains in terms of their value and quality while also going viral yet again with what I believe was the worlds biggest chicken nugget. Nugzilla is real.

I have made no secret that I have always been a proponent of Rub’s unapologetic spirit and the fact that the heart of the business seems to be very much worn on their sleeves. The jovial nature of their attitude towards food bleeds into their model of spreading their message on social media with things like this but ultimately they still have good food at their core. While Nugzilla and the challenge options in that sort of wheel house don’t necessarily appeal to me personally, it gets bums on seats and gives them a platform to show off the sorts of things I ate on Friday. I literally got into cooking traditional BBQ because of Rub Smokehouse and watching Brian Mujati’s YouTube channel so these guys have really imprinted on my development as writer and a cook, so it was a pleasure to be hosted by them again on Friday evening (06/07/18).

Upon arrival I was greeted by the smell of the art of meat alchemy and a really accommodating member of staff, (apologies for not remembering your name) seated at my table and was given 5 minutes to mull over the menu. I decided I wanted to go out like William Wallace and get Hung Drawn and Quartered, which as pictured below, is a platter of smokehouse treats and American inspired sides. To start at the top we have baby back ribs, pulled pork, Brisket, BBQ chicken with white Alabama BBQ sauce and Buffalo wings that’s are served with sides of onion rings, corn on the cob, corn dogs, fries and red slaw. Quite the list right? this can all be yours for £36 to feed two people or £68 for four, which when you break it down is actually very reasonable per person for the amount of food you actually get presented with while also seeing what their food is all about across the board.

It’s also worth noting I upgraded the fries to the ‘poutine’ option (gravy and cheese) which were really a really nice touch and not something you see very often on a British menu.

As ever for me my experience eating this was consistent and thoroughly enjoyable. I am a self confessed burgerholic but when it comes to a place like Rub I need some smoke rings and wings in my life. The brisket was moist while still retaining a healthy bark on the outside that ran into a vibrant pink smoke ring, the chicken and the buffalo wings were a flavoursome punch that packed the odd bit of crackling spice and the pulled pork was an equal partner in the dish as sometimes PP can get lost amongst the bold flavours of a smoked variety dish but it stood up well and in being served dry, retained it’s ‘porkyness’ rather than it just being about the sauce it was in.

One thing I have always struggled to get right on a wood fired smoker is the humble rib. A relatively cheap cut of meat that can be make or break for a cook if they don’t treat it with enough care. It has taken me a long time to be able to get up to a standard where I am even remotely happy with my own rib cooks (I can’t begin to tell you how many racks of ribs I have eaten while simultaneously pissed off about shoulda, woulda, coulda elements on the days grilling) but Rub are really consistent. Every time I have eaten their ribs I get the same effect. I get enough stability where I can pick them up without complete disintegration, enough give that I can pull the bone clean out of the rack or in this case just pull through it with a fork like I’m eating a cake, which in itself has always really impressed me. Something I learned very early on is that you can tell the quality of a smokehouse by how their ribs behave and Rubs ribs were very well behaved little guys.

It really does showcase the size of the dish when I haven’t even touched on the sides yet by this point of the post, however I don’t want to take any shine away from them. I have maybe had corndogs twice in my life as again very much like the poutine, they aren’t really something that has broken into the British culinary lexicon that often. A good example of the American carnival ‘anything on a stick’ attitude, the corn dog offers it’s participants a frankfurter that is deep fried in batter to create a breaded meat rocket on a wooden stick. Rub’s take on the corn dog is fluffy and almost decadent in it’s own way while also offering you some real variance away from the rest of the dish without being odd. It is certainly at home here but just allows you to go somewhere else for a quick minute… which is nice.

Poutine was very pleasant and the gravy just helps you continue on when you start to hit a wall in the third quarter of the platter. Trust the process as Joel Embiid says or in this case just trust the poutine. Onion rings were probably up there with my top 5 onions rings as they were full and fluffy unlike some the scraggly shit I have been served elsewhere in the past. Slaw was refreshing against the heavy nature of the meat and the corn was… yellow. Because I haven’t eaten it yet… because the meal beat me and I essentially brought home an entire further meals worth like I always do when I go to Rub.

We are a few years down the line since my first visit and it is good to see Rub still pumping in it’s original vein. The spirit has not died and neither has the quality of the food. They embrace challenges and change and even enforce some of their own by trying to ‘break the internet’ and some may criticise that or think it to be at the behest of the quality of their actual product, but it isn’t. Which has always really impressed me. We are in the age of social media where even your local butcher is putting something rogue on their A boards in the hope you will tweet it and it will drive more business (or in some cases on Mumsnet or Reddit and you get chased out of business..), Rub has embraced that and built a reputation around big, bold, brash statements and an experience that anybody with an ounce of adventure in them wants to be a part of. It’s always been a interesting ride watching how they develop and long may it continue. Birmingham loves you so just keep doing you, as it’s still working.

 

FLASH BACK FRIDAY: Bayeux Burger

FLASH BACK FRIDAY: Bayeux Burger

 

Happy Friday all – Being as the majority of my domestic readers will be snowed in, here is something for you to chew on and warm your cockles… a few years ago I wrote this recipe and to this day stands as my favourite burger design I have ever come up with. Go to your local co-op and get some bits in, give it a go this weekend and I’m sure it will cheer you right up. Serve with fat wedges of roasted sweet potato or just go mad with a pile of fries, just don’t forget the Dijon mustard.

Beer matches: A cold Camden Helles, a bold Belgian such as La Chouffe or a beast of an IPA like ‘Go to IPA’ by Stone.

 

To make four burgers….

Ingredients:

  • 350G ground beef
  • 2 95% pork Sausages, removed from skins
  • 1 teaspoon dried Tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon herb de provence
  • A jar of large sliced pickles
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 150g wedge of Pont l’eveque cheese (or Brie) sliced into thick pieces
  • 2 finely sliced red onions
  • 1 single measure of Calvados (or good brandy if you cant get it)
  • 4 brioche burger buns
  • 4 teaspoons of Aioli or just add minced garlic to your favourite mayonnaise
  • Olive oil for frying

Method:

  1. Add the beef and sausage meat to a bowl with the Tarragon, Herb de provence and season well with the salt and pepper. Mix well to form a patty mix with an even consistency.
  2. Split into four even balls of meat mix. Roll, pat and press them into four burgers. (Quick tip: Size them to the buns!) Cover with some cling film and leave them in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  3. Remove them from the fridge and preheat a griddle pan on a medium heat, lightly oil both sides of the burgers and place onto the pan. Cook for 3 minutes.
  4. In a preheated frying pan on a medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil and the onions. Season well and stir regularly until translucent and soft. Should take roughly the same time as the one side of the burger.
  5. Turn the burgers in the griddle and cook for a further 3 minutes.
  6. Turn the heat up on the onions and add the Calvados. This will simmer down really quickly, lower the heat again and leave them ticking over on a low heat stirring regularly.
  7. Turn the burger once again and add at least two large slices of cheese across the top of the burger, cover if you can and add a touch of water to create some steam. Don’t cook for longer than another minute or so as the cheese wont take much melting. Rest the burgers in a warm place for a few minutes.
  8. On the bottom part of each bun, spread the aioli and place onto the bun, cross two of the pickle halves across the cheese and top with a spoonful of the onions.
  9. Cap with the other half of the bun and serve with herby roast potatoes or sweet potato fries for a treat.

There we have it… the Bayeux burger. An oral tapestry of contrasting flavours and my own little dedication to a great part of the world.

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Meat. Do it right.

I have something that has been bothering me for years now, something that seems so trivial to most people that it would come across as a none issue if not brought to the table with a little context. This particular gripe is the incredibly average but irritatingly widespread, supermarket meat.

Now I know this is a sweeping generalisation and that is one thing I don’t like to do, but the quality and level of complacency that people are willing to accept is unfathomable. My granddad worked at a butcher shop in Wolverhampton in his later years and seeing the level of skill and care taken by Graham and Alan has always stuck with me. In supplying the local area with fresh, good quality cuts of meat they were conducting a dying service and I never realised until I got a bit older. Our system doesn’t seem to support the level of demand we have put onto it and this provides the supermarket and its ‘one stop shop’ approach an opportunity to throw plastic boxes of mass produced cack at every Tom, Dick and Harry that walk through their doors.

Image result for diced venison

Now this is a vicious circle really because the more supermarkets that pop up, the more local butchers that fall flat on their faces and years of experience and knowledge goes down the pan. It infuriates me as you have no idea the level of artistry and experience it takes to make the most of an animal in the way a real butcher can. Sainsbury’s will never give you the option to take home the type of meat you want, you have to make do with what they had. I remember a time a few months ago when I lived at my old house, there wasn’t a local butcher and I wanted to make BBQ pork ribs. Naturally I went to the nearest supermarket to fetch a rack as I knew I had seen them before, however, when I got there I was told that they hadn’t put them out today because they had been sent more pork steaks and they had to sell them. I can kind of understand this to a certain extent but when I asked them to go and try to find me some out I was told ‘No, unfortunately not as they will be at the bottom of a container somewhere’. It took me a week to actually get some ribs and the amount of shiners on them easily qualified them to sit in a sodding jewellers window. (For those who don’t know a shiner is when the rib is cut too close to the bone and the bone penetrates the meat… I am talking at least half of the entire rack was showing bones. dire.) Not only this but not too long ago I was in there getting some bread after work and saw an elderly customer at the meat counter who asked for 800g of fresh mince. One would assume that she is asking this so she doesn’t have to simply settle for the mildly greying brain fart excuse for beef mince sitting on the shelves. What she got however was exactly that. The guy only had 100g or so to hand so he told her he would go and get some more… he went to the shelf, got 2 packs of the aforementioned mince and simply emptied out onto the scale.

The supermarket butchers counter is a front. It presents the illusion of freshness and the real butchery experience when in actual fact it is just the same stuff that is served on the shelves. It just has a man in a hat.

I recently moved house and now live in a village with possibly one of the best butchers I have ever used and the contrast is just on another level. On my first full day living here I went in and had a chat with them to feel out what I was dealing with and to see what was available to me. I had a laundry list of cuts I wanted to know if I could get my hands on that I have struggled for in recent months…. Beef short ribs, whole brisket, game birds and venison steaks, all of which were greeted with a wry smile and a definitive yes. I left with 500g a freshly diced venison to get me going. Now if you can tell me a single supermarket that offers that kind of offering with the quality of product I received I will go out into the currently snow filled streets stark bollock naked and do a Chris Ashton swan dive into my neighbours garden. Not going to happen.

The moral of the story is this. There are some truly talented, under appreciated masters out there and they are being wasted. I was guilty of it as most of us are but we need to stand up and realise that they need our support. Every time I turn on the TV or radio people are talking about supporting local business and yet at every turn we seem to be able to avoid the butcher or the green grocer as an inclusion. I do not give a single shiny toss about another t-shirt company starting in Wolverhampton or a crowd funded start up to develop apps down the road. I care about the kind of sustainably sourced meat and poultry supplied by Astons butchers, Coven, South Staffordshire, WV9 5DB. I may have been a bit harsh on the supermarkets, not all of it is that bad…  but compare the beef or lamb you get there to a cut of native bred livestock that was looked after locally and hand picked to give you the very best experience possible… go to somebody who cares about what they are giving you and not just how much of it they can sell. Your local butcher cares about you coming back through the door and your satisfaction is a priority, not just the yearly profit differentials of 160 different stores.

There is an Astons near you somewhere. Find them. Support them. Enjoy them. Before it’s too late.

 

Wayland’s Yard Christmas Festival

Wayland’s Yard Christmas Festival

It turns out it has been so long since I last wrote anything on here that I had totally forgot my password. The last 6 months have been borderline ridiculous and I have had so much on that the blog has had to take a back seat. To give you a brief idea of just how busy I have been… work has been all consuming, I have sold a house, moved out of said house, moved back in with my parents and subsequently bought and moved into a new house… which has left me precious little time to sit down and do anything, let alone pontificate about food and drink.

I am looking to right the wrongs of the recent past and get back on the proverbial horse with a hell of a lot in the pipeline to get things moving again, but first and foremost there is a looming yule like presence breaching the horizon. I can hear nothing but Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra in the shops which means one thing and one thing only… Christmas is here. Strangely though, the day that it really dawned on me just how close the big day is, I had an incredibly well timed email from literally my favourite spot in Worcester… Wayland’s Yard. If you don’t know who Wayland’s Yard are, I covered their launch heavily last year and was really impressed with their local attitude and concentration on building an amazing culture that equates to equally amazing food and wonderful coffee. Sam, the man behind the yard, has been kind enough to invite me to their Christmas Festival and Craft Market which promises to be a festive celebration with their beautifully presented coffee flowing throughout the weekend, complimented by mulled wine, mince pies, and again…their genuinely good food. If you are an existing subscriber of the blog you know how I feel about their food. so I can’t wait to get back there and get involved with the guys.

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Polly from Wayland’s Yard got in touch and said:

After our first anniversary in October and some successful Yard Parties over the Summer, we thought it was time to celebrate Christmas the Wayland’s way. Everything we do is about championing local produce, business and people – that’s why our Christmas Festival is going to give over 40 local crafters/business people the platform to sell their gifts to people just in time for Christmas. Add to this local musicians, a choir, mince pies, mulled cider and our usual food offering and we think we’ve got a pretty decent recipe for a party!!

I think everybody who loves what this blog is about loves the idea of a successful local business supporting other local business to give people something unique for the festive season.  So lets get down there and support them and get festive in the Yard!

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If you want to attend.. clear your calendars on the 16th/17th December, WY is located at number 6 Foregate street, near the train station and the party gets started from 11am to 6pm on Saturday and 11am to 5pm on Sunday.

 

I can’t wait! See you there for some Proper coffee… and proper food.

How to smoke… the easy version Part 1: Buying your smoker

How to smoke… the easy version Part 1: Buying your smoker

Using a smoker and smoking your own food can be a nightmare of a task to get round for the first timer. It is super easy to google ‘Smoking food’ and disappear down about 4 or 5 different rabbits holes simultaneously. Electric smokers, coal fires, offset, upright, chamber smokers, smoker box, liquid smoke (don’t.) the list goes on. With this article I am aiming to simplify it a little bit for you if you were looking to get started as at it’s core… it’s fairly straight forward. Two main areas are vital for success, managing and understanding your pit and timing. Get these two aspects down and you are going to get at the very least, results you can be happy with.

First of all it’s about buying a smoker that suits you. For beginners I would advise not spending too much as you don’t need to spend around £1000 on a unit that you might not actually like using. I bought my offset smoker for £80 and there are a variety of ways you can modify your cheaper unit to get the results of a smoker worth 5 or 6 times its value, but I will go into more detail on this at a later date. There are plenty of places jumping on the bandwagon and selling upright and offset smokers which is great for anybody looking to get going as you can go to your local Range or garden centre and pick up a fairly functional unit for under £100 like I did.

So to bust some serious amounts of jargon and give you two easy to digest recommendation I will explain it as best I can! So if you are asking yourself, what should I buy? why? how do I decide? Hopefully this will help you come to a decision and get you started.

Upright smoker/ Water smoker

So I haven’t actually got one of these (at the moment) but it’s on order and I am well versed enough in how to use one so bare with me. These smokers rely more of providing a levelled environment for your food with a steam element that should keep your food moist throughout the cooking process while still giving it a great platform for the smoke to penetrate the food.

Construction: Usually these smokers consist of two levels of cooking grates, a level for a water pan and then finally at the bottom your coal basket. Sometimes they will have hooks in the lid if they are big enough to hang meat from and utilise the space better.

Function: Lighting the coals/ wood chunks in the basket will heat up the water pan and create steam that will engulf the food and add an element of moisture not present in all smoker types, so a great option for those worried about drying their food out. A temperature gauge is usually located at the tip of the lid for central heat reading and an air flow valve at the bottom of the unit, aligned with the coal basket.

Beginner rating 0/5:

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Offset smoker

Old faithful. I have been using my offset smoker for just over a year now and it has been an interesting learning curve but I can now get some brilliant results from this pit and it is literally my prized possession. Controlling and managing your fire is paramount in an offset as it is in any smoker but get it wrong and you will have a lot of wasted food. It is all about creating a levelled heat that can spread across the chamber gradually rather than a huge blast at 300+ degrees that just dies a death really quickly, which can be challenging to begin with but aside from this, it is a great way to get started.

Construction: A large main chamber for cooking with one or two grills, lined up next to a fire box and a chimney at opposite ends of the cooking chamber. Airflow valves will be located on the fire box as well as a cap on top of the chimney to allow you to control the heat via the air through flow. A temp gauge is more often than not located further towards the chimney rather than in the middle of the actual cooking chamber, which pissed me right off so I added another one pretty easily (£15 from Ebay delivered) and now I get much better readings. Usually you will have a good solid frame with two legs and a few wheels to help you in moving the unit around.

Function: Adding your pre lit coals to your fire box and closing the door will provide you with a good enclosed cooking environment, this will gently smoke and caress your food with indirect heat from one side, so rotation meat during a cook can be essential for good results. Closing and opening your valves to adjust the temperature is also essential as I alluded to above. In its purest form it is pretty straight forward in its function really! Sometimes a water pan can be added near the entrance of the firebox but I have found this isn’t as effective as in an upright smoker. Lining the bottom of the unit with foil is advised for simplifying cleaning up any excess fat.

Beginner rating 0/5:

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Hopefully, this makes it a little bit easier to understand WHAT you are actually looking at when shopping for your pit. In the next part I will cover what kit you need to get started, then how to actually use an offset smoker in more detail and how to manage your fire to get the best results… so make sure you subscribe and keep your ear to the ground. Next chapter will be up next week!

Phil.