A pack of playing cards. That’s the daily portion size of meat that nutritionists recommend as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Unfortunately, it’s meat the size and shape of a pack of playing of cards that’s got us into this mess – uniform rectangles of protein wrapped in plastic; frozen grey pucks that make it difficult to identify the source material.
So what is the committed carnivore to do? The British still have a taste for beef, pork, lamb and chicken. A fry-up without bacon and sausages? Unthinkable…
If you want to be sure of what you’re eating, you’ll need to get your hands dirty. The ping ’n’ peel microwave meal is no longer viable. There are those who will bleat that they have neither the time nor money to make meals from scratch. That is nonsense. It’s a crying shame that we don’t celebrate more thrifty cooking among the vast output of TV chefery, but it is still possible to find recipes that are tasty, nutritious and cheap – and just as important, aren’t complicated or time-consuming.
First, find some equipment. If you see a slow cooker going on Freecycle, Gumtree or eBay, get it. They have not yet been successfully rehabilitated or made fashionable, but chefs such as Mark Hix swear by them. With a slow cooker, cheap cuts of meat such as pork belly and lamb neck become delicious. Stock up on stuff like spices and sauces at Asian superstores. Places like Wing Yip in Birmingham and London sell vast, economical bags of cashew nuts, star anise, turmeric, dried mushrooms and other items to pad out/flavour up your food, but also large, cheap quantities of those foil trays with lids that make it easy to cook in advance and freeze food.
Some processes are, frankly, too much fuss, such as making your own sausages or chicken stock. Canny use of decent branded sausages in a stew or with a batter to make toad-in-the-hole makes them go much further.
Brave types can experiment with more unusual meats. Game packs in supermarkets make amazing stews and they sell more cheaply than you might imagine. If you’re lucky enough to have a butcher within striking distance, cheeks (pig or ox) are the cut du jour – or bits of lamb you might not have thought of such as neck or breast.
Many would-be cooks are put off by recipes that require several stages. The dishes above take only 10-20 minutes, or use a slow cooker for long, unattended cooking. By putting aside an hour a week to prepare a few dishes in advance you can get your meat fix and still be sure of what you’re eating.