Bone idle

Why must we rely on butchers to take care of `fiddly' tasks?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Three weeks ago, one bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, I promised myself, while stripping meat from a rabbit to make pate (you will see the result in three weeks' time) and chuntering away to myself as to how I would phrase certain directions for the resultant recipe, that I would not, with reference to the task in question, wind up using the inevitable words: " ... just request of your friendly butcher to do this job for you". "Hell, no! I just won't!" I cried.

Three weeks ago, one bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, I promised myself, while stripping meat from a rabbit to make pate (you will see the result in three weeks' time) and chuntering away to myself as to how I would phrase certain directions for the resultant recipe, that I would not, with reference to the task in question, wind up using the inevitable words: " ... just request of your friendly butcher to do this job for you". "Hell, no! I just won't!" I cried.

Have you noticed recently that the description "tiresome" or "a bit of a fiddle" now seems to have surreptitiously crept in as one of the deciding factors as to whether one tackles a dish or not, by those who have televisual soap boxes to stand on? Well, allow me to tell you, devoted readers, that cooking isn't always simplement un morceau de gateau. Cooking (shopping, assembling ingredients, mixing, measuring, whipping, stirring and straining, ripping and gripping, chopping and, for heaven's sake, simply making sure one has a sharp knife), for those who truly enjoy doing it, is never, ever, seen as something tiresome or a bit of a fiddle.

It has long been a convenient cop-out on the part of the cookery writer to farm out all domestic jointing, skinning, filleting and de-boning skills to the charm of the high street's professional meat and fish smiths. In other words - as I know only too well myself - this assignment neatly sidesteps laborious explanations of how to go about all aspects of minimal butchery, simple fish filleting or even how to humanely dispatch the next door neighbour's incessantly yapping terrier with nothing more than a swivel peeler. Frankly, I'm rather fed up with this sham.

I mean, the majority of so called "friendly butchers" in the high street ("Sorry, where is it? Oh, I see. Jack Russell and Sons is now a specialist European travel agent") would seldom sell a good rabbit in the first place, these days. And what's more, if this particularly tiresome cottontail-carving request were finally agreed to, the person responsible would, at the very least, expect the promise of an instant betrothal to one's daughter as due payment. This may smack of Mr Briss the Royston Vasey butcher, but genuine assistance rarely exists any more along the fading British high street. You see, I have finally come to the conclusion that going about humble and unassuming chores such as these are fast becoming almost a meritocratic pastime. Although I find this a truly tragic observation, I feel it is all too true. For however many millions of cookery books are sold, however much Delia Smith diligently (she is, after all, very diligent indeed, though also occasionally moved towards the "bit of a fiddle" option) coaxes and coaches, or whether even the vague attempts I offer here each week are of use (possibly not, exactly, today), entertain, inform and inspire just a few folk, the majority of the population are actually far happier if someone else has done much of the work on their behalf.

Ruefully, I see this as a case of unconsciously self-inflicted diminishment of learning, fuelled by a hypnotic lure of the supermarket and the absurd fantasy of hoping to recreate every restaurant dish proffered up both televisually or as glossy photographs. Each of these have, I feel, sucked the very soul out of a susceptibly fragile imagination and intelligence within our average domestic cook.

For when ingredients are now presented bereft of a polystyrene tray, a wrap of clingfilm and a sell-by date, or when curious dishes are not fully endorsed by Fern's or Jilly's jolly boys and girls, it all becomes a bit of a worry. And, as for the "ingredients" that each and every contestant empties out of their bag when invited to participate in Ready, Steady, Cook ... well, I rest my case. I wonder what Fanny Cradock would have said if she had been tempted to appear on such a programme in her day: "Are you mad? Do you actually have a kitchen at home?" Elitism, perhaps, at its most corrosive. But at least she would have minded.

Late last year, as part of a similar rant - and I am finding it increasingly difficult to desist - I had felt moved to chastise Keith Floyd over some unusual risotto cooking in Venice he did some years ago. However, a closing paragraph he recently wrote in The Telegraph (from an article pertaining to his current Mediterranean television series) just happened to catch my eye: "We watch the food programmes on television; we buy the cookery books and like nothing better than talking about restaurants and wine - but there is no country in the world which is more obsessed by something of which it has no real understanding, than Britain."

I will never forgive him for that disgusting lobster risotto, but I thought his perception and timing here were quite done to a turn.

Fiddling about with a beautiful, fresh rabbit, meticulously stripping its carcass of every scrap of meat for the making of pate is, for me and other like-minded folk, nothing more than a necessary task as part of an ongoing culinary process; this diligence eventually rewards one with something very good to eat. Well, I never! It further goes without saying, that one will have searched out pork-back fat, the thinnest rashers of streaky bacon, a split pig's trotter or a piece of calf's foot with which to enrich a jelly, and already have the correct vessel in which to cook the thing. And there will be a jar of cornichons ready in the larder - but, then, of course, there always is.

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