THE HEAD:In Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes his mother cooks a pig head on Christmas day because it is all they can afford. Today, it remains one of the cheapest cuts of pork you can buy. It needs long slow cooking, either by brining and boiling, or roasting. The best meat of the head is in the cheeks (which you can buy separately from any good butcher) which have a delicious gelatinous texture. They braise well in rich stews and are easy to prepare.
THE SHOULDER:The most versatile of pork cuts, shoulder is an excellent choice for anyone wanting to create multiple meals on a tight budget. Often referred to as Boston Butt, it slow roasts down into melting strands, perfect for pulled pork recipes and roasted centrepieces with crackling. It's good fat content makes for excellent mince - sausages and meatballs etc. It also braises well into stews and casseroles for hearty winter meals.
THE RACK:The rack is your traditional Sunday roast. Cooked bone in or out it cal be stuffed and rolled or cut into chops for pan frying of grilling.
THE LOIN:From the loin we get chops, cutlets, fillet (aka tenderloin), medallions, back bacon and butterfly steaks. Some of the leanest meat on a pig once the fat is removed, loin meat is an excellent vehicle for flavour and cooks well from roasting, frying and grilling.
THE LEG:The leg is generally cured and made into hams, eaten mainly around Christmas time or sold in slices for sandwiches. It also yields the rump (familiar as a popular roasting cut as well as thick tender steaks suitable for barbecuing and pan frying). The leg can also be broken down into the knuckle (popular in Germany and Eastern Europe and often braised slowly), silverside and topside.
THE BELLY:Pork belly is the fattiest and tastiest cuts of pork and suited to long slow roasting if you're buying a whole piece, making for wonderful succulent sticky pork dishes. Cut into strips it is generally grilled or made into pancetta or streaky bacon. The belly also yields spare ribs which are delicious when marinated and barbecued to get that charred flavour into them.
THE TROTTERS:Not something the everyday cook pops into their shopping basket each week, pigs trotters are actually a useful cut to learn how to use. Placed into stews they have what Fergus Henderson calls a "calming influence" on meat, releasing fatty gelatine into the cooking liquid allowing other meats to relax in the heat. They also serve to thicken sauces. Trotters can also make impressive, although finicky, dishes. They can be boned out and stuffed or boiled and made into wonderfully gelatinous terrines.
The neck is one of the cheapest cuts of lamb you can buy. I have found it in good supermarkets, but generally you'll need to visit a butcher for them. Best braised slowly until them meat is tender and falling apart, necks are delicious in thick soups and stews.
Like other shoulders, lamb shoulder is incredibly versatile. It makes for a tasty roast which (without the bone) can be stuffed and rolled, or it can be braised slowly so falls apart. The soft shoulder meat works wonderfully in pies and casseroles and is often found on pub menus across the UK.
Also referred to as the rack, or 'best end' this is an expensive and as such, fabulous cut of lamb. It is usually roasted impressively with Frenched ends or cut into cutlets. It is a tender cut and needs careful attention when cooking - there's no forgiveness in the rib and you won't want to overcook it. Crumb the cutlets for a crunchy coating.
One of the most tender cuts of lamb, the loin comes in a variety of ways. Forming the saddle are the two loins which join at the backbone - perfect for stuffing, rolling and roasting. The single loins are usually known as strap or backstrap and are wonderfully lean and tender, although they can be bought with the fat/flap still on for a fattier cut. The loin is often cut up into chops which are perfect for grilling and barbecuing. Similarly to the rib, the loin needs careful attention when cooking as it is an unforgiving cut.
The leg is one of the most familiar cuts of lamb and most commonly used for roasting. Roasted bone in and studded with garlic, anchovies and/or rosemary it is best eaten pink so it is nice and juicy. The leg is often butterflied (bone out), marinated in herbs and barbecued or roasted - it works well with Mediterranean or Middle Eastern flavours.
BARBECUED LEG OF LAMB RECIPE (coming soon)
Lamb shanks are another winter English pub classic. Braised long and slow and often served with suet dumping or thick mashed potato, they yield soft tender strips of meat that fall off the bone. Easy to find in supermarkets and butchers alike, the shank is a nice cheap cut that will produce delicious leftovers for pies and pasties.
Not often found, the flank of lamb is usually ground up with other miscellaneous cuts to make mince. It is, however, a good eating cut as it is. Flank steaks are great for flattening and frying, stuffing and roasting. The thick flank is lovely for roasting.
Also known as the belly, the breast is the fattiest cut of lamb and usually ground up for mince and sausages. It is delicious stuffed, rolled and roasted slowly so the fat melts into the meat making it nice and tender.
Not a familiar cut of beef to many, the head can be boiled slowly to yield deliciously flavoured meat often used for fillings in pies, burritos, and tacos. Popular in places like South America and the Middle East, the meat from the head is often boiled slowly and eaten in soups. It's not something that's easy to get hold of in Australia or the UK, but instead most butchers will sell individual parts of the head including cheeks and tongue.
Tongue is perhaps one of my favourite cuts of beef. Pressed tongue specifically. It makes a wonderful gelatinous sandwich meat which is easily found in English and Jewish butchers and delis. A cheap cut, tongue can also be cooked easily and made into a variety of tasty dishes. It is usually boiled or slow roasted because it has a high fat content and then used as fillings for pies, tacos or in sticky Asian-style braises. This is a perfect leftovers ingredient which I urge you to try.
Beef cheeks are increasingly popular in Modern Australian/English cooking. If cooked long and slow they become beautifully tender and melting. Perfect in rich braises with tomatoes and red wine, they go wonderfully with creamy polenta, risotto or buttery pureed vegetables like parsnip or celeriac.
THE CHUCK AND NECK:
Sometimes referred to as stewing steak, the neck needs long slow cooking to become tender and flaky. Similarly with chuck. Chuck is my go-to for a flavoursome braise as it is a cheap cut that makes delicious leftovers. It stands up well to stews and casseroles although if you want a silky, thick sauce then shin is better. Chuck can also be ground to make burgers as it has a decent fat content.
On the bone, this part of the cow is called the rib-eye or cote de boeuf, a familiar steak cut which can be roasted for a magnificent centrepiece rib roast. Off the bone, this is referred to as scotch fillet - a wonderful steak cut which can be grilled or roasted. To make the most out of these delicious cuts, serve them anywhere between rare and medium and make sure they are well rested after cooking. They are expensive cuts of meat and don't yield much in the way of leftovers.
COTE DE BOEUF FOR ANYONE FEELING FLUSH
THE SHORT LOIN:
An American term for the cut of beef from the back of cattle, the short loin contains parts of the spine, the top loin and tenderloin. It is where we get porterhouse steaks, strip steaks, and T-bone steaks. It requires little cooking and is best grilled on a high heat to medium-rare.
Legend has it that the name 'sirloin' was coined by King James I of England, when he knighted this amazing cut of beef at a dinner in Hoghton tower, effectively making it a 'Sir Loin'...
The sirloins are lovely tender cuts of beef best suited to roasting, grilling and barbecuing. They need little cooking and make excellent steaks. They can, however, be expensive cuts.
The tenderloin, as its name suggests, is the most tender cut of beef. It is also one of the most expensive. Also known as the eye fillet it is most frequently cut into steaks and cooked quickly over a high heat to retain the tenderness of the meat. It can also be roasted as a whole piece and is often used in a Beef Wellington.
Rump is a familiar cut of meat to many - particularly in the form of steaks and medallions. A tasty and tender cut it is often cooked badly making it chewy and sinewy. Perfect for roasting and chargrilling it needs careful attention to not overcook and requires a good amount of resting. It can also be bought ready diced for braising.
Ox tail is frequently seen in soups and stews in British cooking. It is a tasty cut of meat that produces rich gelatinous juices when slow cooked. The meat is best braised or stewed to break it down and tenderise it. Popular with modern chefs, there are plenty of delicious recipes to try and it is not difficult to obtain from a good butcher.
THE TOPSIDE AND SILVERSIDE:
Topside is the more tender of the two thigh muscles. It is frequently roasted (slowly), cut into strips for stir-frying, or ground up for burgers. The silverside is a harder working muscle coated in a silvery membrane. It requires longer slower cooking and works well cut into pieces for stews and braises. It makes excellent leftovers for beef pies and pasties.
Also called osso bucco, shank is a tough cut of beef that requires long low cooking. Excellent for winter stews, casseroles and rich red wine braises. The leftovers make excellent additions to tomatoey pasta sauces and ragus.
The flank is a fatty belly cut and needs long slow cooking to break down the fat. It's best cooked in rich braises where the meat can break down slowly and flavour the sauce.
In UK butchery the plate is part of the brisket, but it can be sold separately. A typically fattier, tougher cut of beef, the plate is usually used to make mince. Plate is where we get hanger or skirt steaks, both of which are cheap cuts that need flash frying to keep them tender. Plate is also used to make pastrami - a cured deli meat, brined and smoked and usually served cold in sandwiches.
THE SHORT RIBS:
Short ribs are another slow cooker cut. I love them braised in Asian flavours, particularly the firey Korean Gochujang paste. They yield delicious gelatinous juices that thicken the braising liquid and reduce it to a sticky sauce.
KOREAN SHORT RIB RECIPE (coming soon)
The brisket is another fatty cut of the cow. Often used in Jewish cookery, the brisket is cooked slowly in brined liquid until soft - grain fed beef is assumed to be better for brisket as the meat is fattier still. This type of brisket is perfect cut into thin strips and served on sandwiches with plenty of mustard. Brisket also works well slow roasted, breaking apart into those familiar melting strands of meat. It is also the cut typically used for corned beef.
INVESTING IN A DIGITAL THERMOMETER
As a home cook investing in a meat thermometer has been a revolution for me in the kitchen.
No more prodding chicken legs to check if the juices are running clear and wondering whether the ambiguously cloudy liquid is in fact still pink or not. No more pressing various parts of my hand to measure fleshiness against the cuisson of my steaks. It really is foolproof!
It's worth buying a really decent digital one, too, because accuracy is key when a matter of five degrees either way is the difference between perfect and overcooked, or worse raw/poisonous and cooked.
Of course it's handy for jam making too - something I love doing as it's the best way to use up overripe fruit.
My other main reason for having a digital thermometer is testing oil temperatures. Deep frying can be a tricky and even dangerous activity if not done correctly. If the oil is too hot, dropping in food can make the oil bubble over and start a fire. Too low and the food will absorb the oil and be greasy and unpleasant to eat. Therefore, getting the temperature just right is key.
MEAT TEMPERATURE GUIDE