You know you've had a bloody good day when you come home with your camera streaked with lamb fat.
I first met Nathan (fittingly) at Niall Davidson's Beef Cartel pop up dinner. Nathan and his lovely partner Ruth had a friendly, charming, laid back vibe. Later on I found out that Nathan had come from a long family tradition of butchers, and in London had done tours of duty at The Ginger Pig, was part of the start up team at Barbacoa's Butcher Shop, and currently leads the meat team at Whole Foods in Kensington. He and Ruth recently set up their own venture The Butchery Ltd in one of the railway arches of the Maltby Street enclave, in a bid to offer customer high quality traceable meat. Rather than crates upon crates of popular but anonymous cuts, The Butchery Ltd buys only whole animal carcasses from a small trusted network of farmers. This year, in a smart and very sensible move, Nathan has started offering classes to teach meat-loving customers how to utilise every bit of the magnificant animals in his cold room.
People after my own heart... heck, offal in general, really.
The proposition for lamb class, for example, was to partner up with a fellow classmate and, under Nathan's instruction and guidance, take apart a whole lamb, so that at the end of the class each person would take home half a lamb. Even though I was days away to giving birth, I jumped at the opportunity to spend 5 hours on my feet in an apron and butcher's coat, downright gleeful at the thought of putting our newly purchased chest freezer to good use!
Here's Nathan with one such lamb, talking us through various butchers' knives and saws before we get down to separating the neck and shoulder from the ribs and the hind quarter.
Next up, Nathan busts our chops. Hah! I mean, we work on our lamb chops -- removing the racks from the spine, and removing the paddywack. Remember the children's song "This Old Man"? That bit that goes "... knick knack, paddywhack, giveadogabone; this old man came rolling home"? Well. Now I finally know what a paddywhack is! We learnt how to French-trim the rack as well, to achieve that pretty restaurant-ready look. I'll be the first to admit I need a lot of remedial work on working a butcher's saw and tying a proper butcher's knot, but dammit I think I scored myself a job offer to specialise in rack trimming. (Perhaps I'll drop in to help out before the Saturday rush on days I'm feeling particularly obsessive compulsive)
Now here's the bit where we all go belly up. I knew nothing about the lamb belly, sometimes also called breast of lamb, before coming to London. The first time I had come across this usually cheap cut at all was at a dinner by chef Ben Greeno, who's now head chef at Momofuku's Seiobo restaurant in Sydney Australia. Then earlier this year lamb belly came up again briefly on BBC2's foodie quiz show A Question of Taste. The mention prodded the ever humourous food blogger and supperclub host Danny Kingston aka Food Urchin to share his recipe for scrumpets, if you're in a proletariat kind of mood, or epigrammes, if you're feeling a bit French / sniffy.
Anyway, today we were going to make a stuffed lamb belly roll. Which first involves tenderising the belly with a meat mallet. POW! BOSH! KA-BLAM!
Then we make a mince from all the trimmings we made from the various cuts of the carcass, seasoned with onions, garlic, thyme, and a special Italian spiced salt. Into the cold room we troop, where Nathan keeps his mincer so that fat stays intact when he's making sausages.
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world... And wouldn't it be wicked if at this point the soundtrack to Sweeney Todd started booming in the room. Heh...
Back to the butcher's block. Position the belly flaps, slather on the mince, roll, and secure with multiple knots. Enough knots to FINALLY get me into the knot tying groove. Wahey! Not that I remember it now, obviously. Ah well.
Serve up said belly roll at a dinner party for friends a couple of weeks later, and, unlike me, snap a photo BEFORE your friends show it no mercy. Doh! Oh well. I hope Nathan takes this as a compliment -- we continued to pick at and bicker over the sausage crumbs to nibble on even after this photo.
All in, I had a whale of a time. Nathan is undoubtably knowledgeable about his craft and even more patient and good natured with those of us who are more botchers than butchers (i.e., me). You get a good vibe from someone who names his classes the likes of Punish the Pork and Bash the Beef, no? Bonus: I could barely lift all the lamb I took home at the end of the class - a couple of neck fillets, a shoulder, a rack, half a lamb belly and a leg. So be sure to bring a large bag or two with you when you go. My classmates didn't think to do so. What a sight they must have been riding off into the sunset on the tube.
Disclosure: I'm the founder of Edible Experiences, an online hub for foodie activities in London. This class costs £140. I was invited to attend and was charged only the cost of the lamb.
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The Butchery Ltd
Dockley Rd Industrial Estate
London SE16 3SF
Saturday trade (9am - 2pm)
Arch 98 Druid St
Pedestrian entrance on 1 Ropemaker Walk