Owner of Britain’s oldest butchers, Allens of Mayfair and TV presenter, ‘Meat Mogul’ Justin Preston lends his expertise and passion for all things meat in a bid to get Britain searing to perfection this summer.
For most of us, meat is the centrepiece of every meal. Whilst what accompanies meat is also important, it doesn’t come under quite the same scrutiny as a well- marbled steak, a rare rib of beef, or that Sunday staple – an exquisitely roasted chicken.
Often friends and family become daunted by the prospect of cooking for a butcher, expecting me to be a harsh critic of all things carnivorous. The truth is, there are only a few things that make an enormous difference between the dishes you eat in a restaurant and those you enjoy significantly less at home.
We’ve all had that huge disappointment trying to replicate something we’ve enjoyed whilst eating out; investing money, time, preparation and research in a decent piece of meat, only to feel deflated when it turns out incredibly ordinary.
Sometimes people are reluctant to cook the more complex cuts of meat, but practice makes perfect. So get ready to revel in the glory of being able to sear a piece of flesh to perfection at home.
It’s All About The Butcher
I always recommend buying the best you can afford, there isn’t any substitute for great meat from a decent butcher. But unfortunately this often gets taken out of context. Buying the best you can afford doesn’t mean buying fillet or sirloin for every dish; use the expertise of your local butcher and you can save a packet, as well as getting a better end result. You may want to make the best cottage pie out there, but mincing prime steak cuts isn’t going to make that happen, and using something much more durable for cooking slowly will give you much better results.
A great butcher should take time to talk to their customers and understand what they need; it’s our job to guide you to something more appropriate. Often people say they feel slightly nervous about asking and because they don’t know, they find it easier to pick up a packet and hope for the best. Being a butcher is a trade like any other in which most train for years to gain their expertise and knowledge, and are only too happy to share that with customers. You could spend hours researching in books or on the Internet, but it’s likely you could learn far more in 10 minutes at a good local butcher if you take the time to ask.
Knowledge Is Power
There are so many underused cuts we hardly consider in domestic kitchens. Ox cheek is a great example; long loved by chefs across the land for its unctuous texture and delicately sweet flavour when braised, yet it is hardly ever sold to a retail customer. Pork neck-end; whilst much loved in commercial kitchens for its versatility, is often rejected at home because of its slightly ugly look, in favour of more expensive leg or loin.
It’s Getting Hot In Here
An important point to bear in mind is temperature; most domestic ovens vary wildly from the temperature indicated on the dial to what they actually cook at, especially on older models. It pays to get a decent meat thermometer and get the temperature just right, especially if you’re following a recipe. If you’re cooking anything in the pan, get it smoking hot; yes, literally smoking so the outside is sealed and releases the sugars to caramelise. This keeps all the important flavours and juices locked in, and then when you turn the heat down it can cook to exactly how you like it.
Another big tip is to make sure your meat is at room temperature before cooking. This is something all chefs will do; you will hardly ever see any meat go into the pan or the oven straight from the fridge in a restaurant kitchen. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out that a cold piece of meat hitting a very hot pan will instantly retract and get too tight, something you definitely want to avoid. This can take some planning, and bear in mind, whilst it’s fine to take steaks out half an hour before cooking, a decent sized joint will take a good few hours to hit the right temperature.
Something we all like to do in order to relax, resting is exactly what your meat needs too after being cooked!
I have seen so many people remove a beautiful joint from the oven, still piping hot, and start carving it immediately. This is quite possibly the worst thing you can do; all the juices run out, everything falls apart and the meat will feel tougher to eat because it’s still tense from cooking. Take the meat out of the oven 20-30 minutes before you need to serve it and leave somewhere warm but definitely not hot. It will continue to cook in the residual heat, so don’t worry if the blood running makes you think it will still be raw inside. Then, when it has cooled down and rested, you can start carving without fear of all that flavoursome juice being lost. The same goes for steaks, take out of the pan and leave somewhere warm for five minutes before putting on the plate and serving.
Finally, Be Confident!
If you stand staring at something, prodding and pushing it around, constantly opening the oven to look and look again, then you are destined for all sorts of problems. Work out what you’re going to do and stick to it.