Squeamish folk, look away. If you prefer your meats to come to you ready dressed on a plate, stop reading and if you’re vegetarian, well what on earth are you even reading this for? As all who know me will attest to, I have no squeamish gene at all, perhaps it’s my Asian heritage, but there are very few instances where I think eww, gross. And so when an opportunity came up to visit the Ginger Pig and undertake one of their famed butchery classes, I positively jumped on the chance. This was met with some bewilderment when I told people where I was going, but as far as I was concerned, a total no-brainer.
I confess, I’ve never really considered buying my meat from the local butcher. It’s not that I don’t want to, I’ve just never thought about it. Like so many, I simply sling a couple of plastic-wrapped packs into the trolley while doing the supermarket whiz around. But if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that your butcher can teach you something that the instructions that come ‘neath the plastic wrap simply cannot.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m here to learn how to work my knife around a giant carcass of meat. Corporate classes (where I was) are held in Askew Rd in Shepherd’s Bush (Middle of NOWHERE if you live in East London as I do) or more central Marylebone for the other punters.
It’s a simple enough setup. You arrive to some unflattering khaki overalls and some vino (only one glass mind, we’ll be handling some pretty sharp knives soon). There are some meaty, flaky sausage rolls to snack on and large pieces of pork crackling, which unfortunately whilst making small talk with others, I mistake to be corn chips and put a very large piece in my mouth. Delicious but that was probably my fat content for the year, much less to be consumed in one mouthful.
But that’s enough small chat, we get stuck in. We gather around a carcass, split from head to end so that what you see in front of you is a large slab, weighing about 30+ kg. I don’t think I’ll try to lift that then. For the next hour or so, we learn about how the pig goes from the shape we see on the slab in front of us to the chops most commonly seen in the shops. Pork, like seafood, does not age well. You want to be buying fresh, as fresh as you can get.
Ginger Pig source their meats from farms in Yorkshire, the animals are grass-fed and left to roam free. You get what you put in we’re told, if you feed the animals rubbish, the meat will correspondingly taste like rubbish.
The butcher asks for volunteers to help identify the parts of a pig and identify with the cuts we most commonly associate with. Thankfully, we have a farmers’ daughter in our group as she gets full marks, if I was doing the job, I’d get a grand total of 2. Shocking. This alone shows how little I know about where my meat comes from and I make a resolution to not only go to a butcher more often, but talk to them and learn about what I’m eating and how best to cook it.
As we’re going through each cut, we’re encouraging to feel the cuts, understand the different textures, weights, where it’s come from and how best to cook it. Typically the rear end is used for sausage meat, being naturally higher in fat, the front ends should be cooked slowly to get the most flavour out of the meat. As we’re going through the cuts, they keep taking them away to cook them in different ways and bring out to us to try – we’re being shown some interesting skills and also snacking on plenty of pork on the way.
Theory lesson finally over, it’s time for us to have a go. There’s a vast expanse of butchers blocks all set out with knives that could probably take off my fingers pretty easily, hunks of pork loin complete with rib end and we’re taught how to separate the loin from the rib, decide how much fat we want to keep on and put the whole thing together again with the aid of some knots (the hardest part of all).
It’s immensely satisfying to be cutting my own meat and creating my own joint. Marinades are on offer in anyone is interested and I liberally douse mine with olive oil, fennel seeds and garlic. When it comes to cooking this bad boy, the vampires will keep away for a country mile. I’m finished de-ribbing mine in record service and win the butchers award for best job done (not a real award, just a pat on the back). The knotting however almost proves to be the undoing of me, simple looking but involves a complicated dance with a piece of string.
Once we’re all tidied up and in my case, scrubbed all the garlic out of my fingers, it’s time for dinner. While we’ve been busy butchering, the chefs have been hard at work and we’re served up potatoes dauphinoise, slabs (yep, slabs) of perfect pork and steamed greens washed down with wine of your choice and fruitcake for afters. After snacking on meat for hte entire evening, it’s impossible to finish up the meal much less attempt the dessert but they are ever so generous and offer to pack up the cake to take home and even throw in a spare to take home to Hubby.
I also get to take home my finished result of Rolled Loin of Pork, comfortably worth about £45 and able to feed around 8 for a slap up meal. There isn’t any chance of me cooking this any time soon so it’s waiting in the freezer at home for a gathering of friends to do it justice.