Alice-Azania Jarvis: Cheap cuts are staying top of my menu

In The Red

"You done this before?" I hate these conversations. I have them all the time: at my butcher, at the fish stand in the local market. "Yes!" I say, feeling sheepish. It happens when I buy oxtail. Or kidneys. Or mackerel. Or sardines. Or any of the other foods that your grandmother used to cook. The butcher/fishmonger/whatever looks at me in amusement, like some relic from another era. "Are you sure? It's usually just the old girls who like that."

I buy them because I love them. Last weekend was spent lovingly assembling, and then enjoying, an oxtail stew so rich I felt like I'd been out to dinner and had a three-course meal. And there's nothing like roast mackerel with lemon and thyme to cheer you up at the end of a dismal day (this was my comfort food of choice during the London riots, as angry groups ran past to smash up the nearby Tesco). But they have one other advantage, too: they're cheap. Very cheap indeed.

It cost £4 for enough oxtail to feed four people: a big casserole pot full. Never mind that my boyfriend and I managed to gobble it down between the two of us, going back for second, then third helpings. Yet for some reason, people are queuing up at supermarkets to buy twin packs of chicken breast for the same amount. Don't they realise they're being ripped off?

Increasingly, more people are cottoning on to the "forgotten cuts". You see it on the menus of fashionable restaurants: tripe, liver, kidneys – they're all the rage. As are sardines, cockles, winkles and mackerel. I can think of at least half a dozen high-end openings in recent years where retro food is given the star treatment. But going to a high-end restaurant is hardly the best way to cut down your grocery bill. What I don't understand is why they're not more popular in the home, among regular cooks like me.

Perhaps it's the supermarkets' fault. I know I don't take advantage of cheap cuts nearly as much as I would if I could pick them up on my way home. Going to the butcher's requires effort, going out of my way, early in the morning before I leave for work. None of the four shops I pass on the commute has a meat counter – they just have the meat aisle, crammed full of the usual suspects. So, until they change I know where you'll find me: at my local butcher, being ridiculed by a man in a white coat...

a.jarvis@independent.co.uk

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