How to butcher a lamb in two minutes: The Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts - Features - Food + Drink - The Independent

How to butcher a lamb in two minutes: The Ginger Pig's hands-on approach to primary cuts

Katy Guest discovers how to make the most of every cut

It is 8pm on a Monday and I am standing at a wooden counter, wearing one blue Kevlar glove, and wrestling with the chilled carcass of a six-month-old lamb. I have not yet partaken of the complimentary wine; this is a competition to see who among us can hold the whole beast at arm's length for a count of 20. The winner will take home a tasty steak. I do not win. I lose quite embarrassingly. But by failing to lift the lamb off the table, at least I don't risk dropping it on any knives.

All the lamb-cuddling and subsequent rump-slapping is presumably Perry the butcher's way of making 14 novices feel more comfortable with the meat. We're all here at the Ginger Pig in Marylebone, north London, to learn how to butcher a lamb and what to do with it once we have, and inevitably butchery involves being up close and quite personal with a dead animal. The Twitter users who threw a fit when Jeanette Winterson posted photos of a skinned wild rabbit last month will probably not want to attend. They should… but they won't.

Perry's introduction is also designed to give us a healthy respect for the knives we will use when it is our turn at the butcher's block. They are razor-sharp, but provided we wear our fetching blue gloves, and don't try to catch a knife if we drop it, we should be fine. The last time he cut himself was while washing up, Perry insists. Nevertheless, as safe as he might be with knives, when a man with lamb-hefting forearms and wielding a giant cleaver tells you to "support your local butcher", it's as well to do as he says. Not just because a good butcher such as the Ginger Pig sells excellent, free-range meat, but because learning a few little tricks and buying meat that doesn't come shrink-wrapped could save you money and make you look very swish at dinner parties.

Perry and his colleague, Borut, start the lesson by taking apart the primary cuts of lamb, one by one. We learn that breasts of lamb on the bone cost only £3 to £4 each, and, cooked in a casserole dish at a low heat, provide a delicious meal for two. I'm particularly excited about the short fore – the shoulders, neck and front legs of the animal – which by hook or by crook will fit in an oven, as Perry demonstrates. Depending on the shop and the size of the lamb, a whole short fore should cost about £50 to £60 and could feed 20, if cooked all day until it falls fragrantly off the bones. After years of serving a goose at my annual winter solstice party, I suddenly have a money-saving change of plan. Later, Perry shows how to butterfly a leg of lamb for a barbecue, and I mentally cancel all my weekend plans for the summer. "Order a leg of lamb from the butcher and then, when you get there, ask him to bone it," is Perry's tip. "He's practically butterflied it for you."

The class is designed to give students a healthy respect for the knives they will use at the butcher's block The class is designed to give students a healthy respect for the knives they will use at the butcher's block (David Vintiner)
At this point, the scent of two large lamb shoulders slowly roasting in the shop's big oven is enveloping the group in a Bisto-kid fug, and those of us who aren't fainting at the heady sound of saw on cartilage are drooling as Perry describes the cuts that make up the best end of lamb.

Right on cue, Borut appears with a steaming tray of glistening chops, which, scrubbed up, we pass around and devour. A Barnsley chop is two chops still attached to each other, explains Perry. A noisette is a chop with the bone taken out, and it costs about twice as much. A crown roast from the Ginger Pig will set you back about £100.

Carefully, he demonstrates how to "French trim" this rack of lamb, leaving the bones clean and the piece looking expensively professional. He then compares the trimmed rack with an untrimmed version, its bones still covered in a generous layer of flesh. "I know which I'd prefer!" he laughs. This is a man who likes his food large. "If you ask for rump of lamb in a restaurant," he says, holding up a double-handful of juicy meat, "make sure you get the whole thing, not just a chump steak."

Students are given a blue Kevlar glove to wrestle with the chilled carcass of a six-month-old lamb Students are given a blue Kevlar glove to wrestle with the chilled carcass of a six-month-old lamb (David Vintiner)
At this point, it is nearly our turn to demonstrate our knife skills, but just to show us how much better a professional does it, Perry asks us to time him as he swiftly butchers another lamb. His thin knife flashes, and primary cuts are lined up in neat rows as he dismantles the entire beast in two minutes and 14 seconds.

Our own task – to bone and roll a shoulder of lamb – takes a little longer, but our teachers are patient, talking us through the process of "following the bone" and "letting the knife do the work", and not laughing too hard at our attempts at a butcher's knot. I could have done it so much more beautifully, but when two trays of soft lamb shoulder swimming in gravy are brought out and set down beside me alongside a mountain of mash, I momentarily lose all reason. Anyway, my shoulder, which I get to take home, will taste amazing.

Katy bones a shoulder of lamb Katy bones a shoulder of lamb (David Vintiner)
Washed, and relieved of our knives (apart from dinner knives and forks), we are finally able to talk to each other – through mouthfuls of succulent meat and peppery spuds and generous helpings of red wine.

In this class, 11 out of 14 are men, apparently not an usual proportion. Most had been bought the class as a present, and were surprised and thrilled by it.

As for me, all I want for Christmas is a whole short fore. And a little help lifting it into the oven.

Lamb, beef, pork and sausage-making butchery classes are held at the Ginger Pig's Moxon Street shop in Marylebone (group and corporate bookings in the Askew Road shop in Shepherd's Bush, west London). They last three-and-a-half hours and cost £135 per person. The price includes a hands-on butchery lesson and a two-course supper with wine, as well as the joint or sausages you have prepared in your class to take home. For more details, call 01751 460 802 or visit thegingerpig.co.uk/butchery-classes

How to cook it

shoulder of lamb

Bring the shoulder to room temperature. Put the bones from the shoulder at the bottom of a cast-iron pan and pour over half a pint of chicken stock. Rub the shoulder with oil, salt and pepper, rest it on top of the bones and stock and cook it at a high heat for 15 minutes to seal off the skin. Then cook at 140C-160C for 3½ to 4 hours.

Breast/belly of lamb

Buy off the bone and rolled into a joint. Sauté some onions, carrots and celery and transfer to a casserole dish. Place the lamb joint in the dish and add a little salt, pepper and herbs. Add 300ml of water and cook with a lid on at 140C for three hours, until very tender. Slice and serve as it is, or allow to cool, refrigerate, slice and flash under a grill to crisp up the fat.

Cutlets

A rack of lamb is taken from the first seven ribs along the backbone. Two or three racks can be curved (meat side in, fat side out) and tied to form a crown roast – often with its bones "French trimmed". A rack can be sliced into cutlets, which will cook in 8 to 10 minutes, turned in a griddle pan or on the barbecue.

Scrag end/neck

Scrag end needs to be cooked slowly in plenty of liquid. Dust the pieces in seasoned flour and brown in hot oil. Add to a casserole with lots of stock, and simmer for up to three hours.

All from thegingerpig.co.uk/meat/lamb

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