Hix On… Thrifty Cuts of Meat

Continuing his exclusive series of columns for the Clerkenwell Post, the chef and food writer explains why thrifty cuts of meat should be on your menu this season…

The cost of meat, especially beef, is getting higher and higher – which is down to all sorts of reasons from a farming point of view, one of them being that everyone seems to want prime cuts and there are only so many of those on the beast. A clever, well-trained butcher will be able to display and sell cheaper cuts for a fraction of the cost of some of the prime cuts that consumers and chefs always want to buy.

I’ve had butcher’s steak, known as hanger steak in the US or onglet in France, on my menus for years. It rarely gets used in this country and often gets minced up along with other cuts like the flank or bavette. These cuts may not be as tender as trendy rib-eye or sirloin but sure have a lot of flavour. I think people have forgotten about chewing – expecting every cut to just melt in the mouth – which may well please in some areas but certainly not the taste buds.

Experienced butchers, like McKanna Meats on Theobalds Road, will break down cuts like a rump into individual muscles and some of the muscles will eat like a fillet and others will need a bit more chewing. That’s why the rump steak that most butchers cut across the three main muscles can sometimes appear chewy.

Always ensure if you ask your butcher for diced meat for a pie or stew to get it from one cut or muscle so it cooks evenly. When you buy diced meat like venison for stewing, you’ll normally get the haunch or back leg diced. When you cook it and taste a piece to see if it’s done it may well appear tender, but in amongst the rest of the meat will be all of the other muscles which will take longer to cook.

At the beginning of the British lamb season in early spring, neck fillet is a great cut to grill or fry nice and pink like a rump or best end. Neck fillet is normally cut as neck chops or sold diced for slow cooking, but it has a lovely texture and is nicely marbled with flecks of fat which keep it moist during cooking.

I think people have forgotten about chewing – expecting every cut to just melt in the mouth

My grandmother used to cook a couple of ham hocks a week which would be eaten hot, straight out of the pan with parsley sauce. The rest would be eaten cold with pickles or in a sandwich. The stock and the bone would then be turned into a green split pea and ham hock broth which I still cook and serve today at home and in my restaurants. This is a great example of good old-fashioned ‘chain cooking’, where a ham hock that costs three quid can feed many mouths in a tasty and nutritious way.