Cuts come full circle for butchers

Tasty cuts: Wayne Baker with the cheaper cuts of meat many customers are returning to: chuck steak, neck of lamb and shin beef.
Tasty cuts: Wayne Baker with the cheaper cuts of meat many customers are returning to: chuck steak, neck of lamb and shin beef.
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Cow heel stew...

It brings back fond memories for Wayne Barker.

It was a favourite when he was a lad – along with slow-braised ox tail and a nice bit of shin beef. Dad was a butcher and knew all the shortcuts to feeding the family well.

Peter Barker’s little shop on Chaucer Road also kept many a Parson Cross housewife on budget. But when the supermarket giants carved off trade from independent butchers, he packed away his knives and went to the steelworks.

Decades on from those hearty childhood teas, Wayne is now the man behind the meat counter, recommending the very same traditional cuts his old dad used to do – and old-fashioned cookery techniques that turn cheap cuts to tender succulence.

“It’s gone full-circle,” says Wayne, Hillsborough Barracks shop manager for the respected John Crawshaw’s chain, who source lamb, beef and chicken from farms in a 30-mile radius of their Stocksbridge shop and boning plant. “There’s been a move back to the ‘cheap but tasty’ traditional cuts that my dad’s generation of butchers sold.

“The recession is fuelling it. People are trying to cut their food shopping bills,” he says in National Butchers’ Week. “But celebrity cooks are also making people think out of the box. People are keen to cook from scratch again and they are up for experimenting.”

It’s great news for local butchers. “Our customers like to ask advice. They want our recommendations on cuts and what to do with them. We’re always saving people money,” says Wayne, 40.

Fancy a lamb hotpot? Why go for a kilo of diced lamb at £9.10 when neck of lamb, long a favourite with older customers but now being snapped up by younger shoppers, is £3.70 a kilo. It involves a bit more time in preparation, but it’s delicious, says Wayne.

He heartily recommends ox cheek at £3.98 a kilo over best braising steak at £7.10; “lovely and tasty, but as it’s the beast’s most-used muscle you have to cook it low and slow,” he advises.

He and his team talk braising and casseroling times with customers and recommend folk get their slow-cookers out again to get maximum flavour and sweetness from cheap cuts like chuck and shin – meats it was hard to sell a couple of years ago.

Demand for trotters is slowly increasing, but it’s belly pork folk are plumping for. “Slow-roasted, it melts in your mouth,’ says Wayne, a butcher from the age of 16.

He joined John Crawshaw’s 16 years ago and, a few years back, he was delighted to welcome a familiar old hand to the team... his dad Peter had retired from Tinsley Wire and yearned to be a butcher again. One day a week, he works at the Chapeltown shop.