Offal returns to Britain’s kitchens

Demand grows for ‘forgotten’ cuts of meat as chic restaurants and tighter budgets encourage the public to experiment

For the more adventurous restaurant-goer, the return of offal, marrow and other once forgotten cuts of meats to the menu is nothing new. It is almost 20 years since Fergus Henderson, the pioneer and epitome of nose-to-tail dining, opened his flagship London restaurant, St John. But now, it seems, the fashion has reached the domestic kitchen.

Waitrose announced this week that it is to sell beef bone marrow in all its stores for the first time, and other supermarkets are reporting an expanded range of more exotic butchery products, and significantly increased sales for once niche delicacies such as pig’s cheeks and oxtails.

The change, it says, seems driven by a pair of complementary and self-contradictory factors: people trying such delicacies in often expensive restaurants and realising that such dishes, if cooked at home, can be an economical treat.

“For a fraction of the price of the best steaks, you can get just as much goodness and flavour in the cheaper cuts. It’s all about cooking them right,” said Roy Craven, head of butchery at Morrisons, which has seen sales of oxtail rise 14% year on year and recently began selling pig’s cheeks and trotters alongside existing offerings of tripe, shin beef and beef skirt.

“People are getting more experimental,” said Craven. “Some of the old cuts that we couldn’t sell a few years ago – and we did try – we now offer. I think there’s an element of people being influenced by celebrity chefs and the restaurants in London, and people trying to save money.”

Morrisons butchers its own animals and claims to be the only supermarket to sell heart, liver and kidney in its beef, lamb and pork varieties.

Such traditional butchery offerings sell well beyond the chain’s northern heartland, Craven added: “We were amazed at the demand for oxtail and beef bones when we expanded into London.”

Some of that, he surmises, is the city’s ethnic mix, with customers coming from culinary backgrounds who “know how to put on a big pan to bubble away all day long”.

Sainsbury’s reports a similar situation, with its meat counters offering ox cheek, and sales of lamb hearts up 116% in the past year. A taste for more exotic meats has, inevitably, also reached the posher end of ready meals, with Marks & Spencer saying a new slow-cooked beef shin dish sold 40% better than anticipated.

The chain is sending its autumnal selection of game offerings to more stores this year, including an expanded selection of rabbit products and, for the first time, wood pigeon. Among the bestsellers is a rabbit and pheasant casserole mix described, inevitably, as “hopping off the shelves”.

While a ready meal or even a casserole mix shouldn’t flummox the less experienced domestic cook, those carrying home a bag of tripe or beef skirt for the first time might be forgiven for nerves. Conscious of that, Morrisons has begun training its meat counter staff in the best ways to cook less common cuts.

Jacob Kenedy, chef at the much-lauded Bocca di Lupo restaurant in London, whose dedication to the more carnivorous aspects of Italian cooking includes the likes of sanguinaccio, a dessert made from chocolate and pig’s blood, concedes that some expertise can be useful: “As with anything, you need to know what you’re doing with them. Most of them are reasonably straightforward, but they’ve each got their knack.”

Kenedy – who says he always plainly labels blood or innards dishes on his menus to avoid diners getting a shock – said he too had noticed an appetite for “the darker and more mysterious things on my menu”. He said: “Definitely not everyone orders them, and there’s still a large chunk of the population, and there always will be, who won’t touch them. But there’s also a good sector who will order them precisely because of what they are, either because they love it or because they like the experience of something new. For some of them I think it’s like being dared to stick your tongue on a frozen lamppost, it’s something a bit gross but they want to try.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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