Take a butcher’s: Do you know your way around what you’re eating?

Meat-eaters know how great it tastes on a plate, but how many of us know our way around a cow or a lamb? Diana Pilkington gets to know the cuts during a crash course in butchery,

I admit it, I love red meat. But I don’t think I’m alone in being a bit clueless about how a juicy sirloin steak or comforting Sunday roast correspond to the animals they start out as.

With this in mind, I take a trip to the Donald Russell butchery in Aberdeenshire, proud holder of a Royal Warrant, for a tour of the premises and a crash course in butchery skills.

Led by the aptly-named Steve Lamb, I wander through the ice-cold maturation room, where hundreds of headless carcasses hang side by side. Beef is typically hung for around 28 days to give it maximum flavour, and lamb, which I learn is anatomically very similar to a cow, is hung for up to 10 days.

In the demonstration room, I watch as butcher Dave Bergin uses a saw and various knives to break down the “roasting” (a side of beef) into the four main cuts of rib, sirloin, fillet and rump.

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It is quite a transformation, and what starts out as a generous, multi-coloured bit of fillet, for example, is trimmed down into a sleek piece of pure red meat that resembles a fish to look at.

Next is the fun part. With my left hand encased in a chainmail glove, I have a go at cutting these newly-butchered slabs into steaks. It’s satisfying to sink the knife in, but my task - to chop them to an optimum 220 grams - is not easy.

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Despite a growing interest from the public in butchery, the team at Donald Russell tell me that they have struggled to find young apprentices to go into the trade.

“Nobody wants to get up at 4.30am to come to a cold factory and cut up steaks,” admits Grant, who has done the job for 20 years. “But it’s given me a good life.”

Here are some meaty recipes for you to try at home:

Slow-cooked beef with gnocchi

(Serves 4)

450g lean boneless shin or chuck steak, cut into 2.5cm cubes

Salt and freshly milled black pepper

�tsp cayenne pepper

1tsp paprika

2tbsp sunflower oil

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

200ml good, hot vegetable stock

1 cinnamon stick, halved

1tbsp light brown sugar

1tbsp tomato puree

1 x 400g pack fresh gnocchi

2tbsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, to garnish

Place the beef in a large plastic food bag. Add the seasoning, cayenne and paprika; seal, shake well to coat the beef in the spices.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Cook the beef for 4-5 minutes in batches until brown on all sides. Transfer to a 1.7l/3pint heatproof casserole pot.

In the same frying pan, cook the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Spoon into the casserole pot.

Add the tomatoes and stock, cinnamon, sugar and tomato puree. Bring this to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 2-2� hours.

Add the gnocchi 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Garnish with the parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Recipe from www.simplybeefandlamb.com

Slow-cooked Shoulder of lamb

(Serves 6)

1 whole shoulder of lamb (1.75kg)

Salt and pepper

2tsp olive oil

20g butter

250g mushrooms

1 onion (chopped)

4 cloves of garlic (sliced)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

6 sprigs fresh or dried lavender

5 tomatoes (cut into wedges)

125ml white wine

250ml chicken or beef stock

Allow the meat to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 140�C/285�F/Gas Season the lamb shoulder with salt and pepper.

Preheat a large, flame-proof braising pan. Add oil and butter and brown the meat on all sides until nicely caramelized. Remove the meat from the pan and leave to the side. Add mushrooms, onions and garlic and braise for 5-8 minutes. Return the meat to the pan. Add all the remaining ingredients to the pan and bring to the boil. Cover with the lid and place into the oven and cook for 2� - 3 hours. After 2� hours test the meat. It should be tender and sticky.

When the meat is tender remove the pan from oven. Place the lamb on a warm serving platter and allow to rest for up to 20 minutes. Remove the remaining pan ingredients and arrange around the meat for a nice presentation. Use the delicious juices to make a gravy.

To serve carve the meat straight from the bone and arrange on preheated plates. Serve with green beans and potato gratin.

Recipe from Donald Russell (www.donaldrussell.com)

Spiced rib of beef with red wine gravy

(Serves 8-10)

Cooking time:

Rare: 20 minutes per 450g/1lb plus 20 minutes

Medium: 25 minutes per 450g/1lb plus 25 minutes

Well done: 30 minutes per 450g/1lb plus 30 minutes

1 x 2.7kg lean boneless rib of beef, sirloin or traditional rump roast

Salt and freshly milled black pepper

2tsp ground allspice

2tsp ground mace

1tsp ground nutmeg

40g light soft brown sugar

3tbsp port

For the red wine gravy:

1tbsp plain flour

300ml good, hot beef stock

300ml good red wine

Preheat the oven to 180-190�C.

In a small bowl mix the spices and sugar together. Place the joint on a chopping board; make several slashes over the surface of the joint, taking care not to cut the butcher’s string or elasticated meat bands and season. Coat on both sides with the spice mixture. Place the joint on a rack in a roasting tin and open roast for the preferred, calculated cooking time. Cover with foil if browning too quickly.

Ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, remove the joint from the oven and brush with the port. Return to the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.

Remove the beef from the oven, cover and leave to rest for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, to make the gravy; spoon off any excess fat from the roasting tin and discard. Place the tin over a medium heat and sprinkle with the flour. Stir well with a small whisk or spoon, add a little stock and stir again, scraping the base of the pan to release any rich, beefy sediment.

Add the remaining stock, wine and any meat juices from the platter. Adjust the seasoning, if required and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally or until reduced to a well-flavoured gravy. Strain before serving.

Garnish the beef with fresh rosemary leaves and serve with seasonal vegetables and the gravy.

Recipe from www.simplybeefandlamb.com

For more information on Donald Russell, visit www.donaldrussell.com

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