As meat costs soar and it becomes more difficult to balance the budget, cheaper cuts become all the more attractive. John Porter looks at how to use less familiar cuts
When a carnivore as enthusiastic as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tells us we should be eating less meat, it's clear the goalposts are moving. The River Cottage founder explained his newfound evangelism for vegetable recipes in The Guardian recently, saying: "We need to eat more vegetables and less flesh because vegetables are the foods that do us the most good and our planet the least harm."
For chefs trying to balance a budget, the immediate issue is far more about the soaring cost of meat than about the long-term impact of the resources needed to rear livestock. The issues are connected, however - the booming world population, pressure on farmland for biofuel and the effect of extreme weather events on harvests all play a part in pushing up meat costs.
Inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in the 12 months to July 2011, beef costs rose by 3.9%, pork by 3.1%, poultry by 5.7% and lamb by an eye-watering 25.9%. With the headline figures including supermarket prices, which are kept relatively low by competition between operators, the increases faced by caterers are even higher.
One way for chefs to counter the impact of higher meat costs is to use alternative cuts. As well as being cheaper to source, by using more of the carcass chefs can do their bit to keep livestock farming sustainable. We turned to some experts to get advice on using less familiar cuts.
costing up the chicken
Replacing pre-cut chicken portions with whole chicken means we can buy the whole bird for approximately 15% more than the cost of two chicken breasts.
When it comes to serving, we serve dishes that consist of half a breast and a piece of leg or thigh per portion, which would yield four portions instead of two. Where sautéed. braised and fricasseed dishes are concerned, this is no bad thing as we can keep the breast on the bone to retain moisture during cooking.
For our deli bar offering, roast flaked meat from a whole chicken has better eating qualities than roast breast alone. It is softer, less dry and has the same cost benefits as mentioned above.
Chris Ince, executive chef, 7 Day Catering
exploiting lesser used lamb and beef cuts
Individual lamb ribs
Taken from the breast of lamb, these ribs are particularly flavoursome when slow roasted in the oven, but equally can be finished off on the barbecue or on the grill to order, and are delicious when served crispy on the outside.
Individual ribs are a great alternative to cutlets or best ends, and are currently 76% cheaper than cutlets, particularly when taken from the shoulder end of the rack.
Premium shoulder carvery roast lamb
An alternative to carvery leg of lamb, the premium shoulder carvery roast is a traditional-looking joint. All bones except for the knuckle are removed, and value can be added by introducing a quality stuffing.
Cook a little longer and reduce the oven temperature for best results. A premium shoulder carvery roast is currently 40% cheaper than a carvery leg of lamb.
King Arthur's beef roast
Taken from the chuck roll, this can be used as an alternative to boneless fore rib. The large roasting joint comes from the chuck with the addition of the rib cap. It is uniform in shape and is perfect to carve. It is a great roast for long, slow cooking, using slow-roasting equipment common in many carveries.
Best cooked medium to well, the meat just falls apart as it is so tender. King Arthur's beef roast is currently 52% cheaper than boneless fore rib.
Hugh Judd, food service project manager, Eblex
pulling out the value from pork
To succeed in the current climate, food service operators need to find a balance - menus that offer value for money without compromising on quality. That's why we're starting to see an increasing number of pubs and restaurants buying in whole pig carcasses and experimenting with a range of cuts.
Pork shoulder roasting joints
Taken from the shoulder block, as an alternative to pork leg and loin roasting joints. Pork shoulder roasting joints are currently 211% cheaper than pork leg roasting joints, 42% cheaper than lamb shoulder roasting joints and 56% cheaper than beef topside joints.
Pork collar roasts
Also taken from the shoulder block, as an alternative to pork leg and loin roasting joints, collar roasting joints are ideal for Chinese and Greek dishes. A long, slow, moist roasting method works best. Pork collar roasts are currently 13% cheaper than pork leg roasting joints.
Tony Goodger, food service trade manager, BPEX
chef tips for making most of meat
By buying directly from tenant farmers, National Trust chefs and catering teams have access to meats in all sizes from whole carcasses to individual cuts. Turner says: "Forgotten cuts such as hand and spring of pork, neck of lamb or beef shin and brisket require longer, slower cooking times but the results are well worth it."
Brian Turner, National Trust food specialist and advisor to its 150 or so chefs
I've used turkey a lot and it's an extremely cost-effective move for caterers who are now paying about £2.30 for a free-range chicken breast." Craig's British turkey recipe successes include roast turkey and ham hock pie, turkey and smoked bacon pie, as well as creamy turkey curry, sweet and sour Chinese turkey and Thai turkey in tempura batter.
Craig Hennessey, chef, Queen's Head Inn, Cumbria, and British Pie Week Champion 2011
Makes a selection of sausages combining locally sourced pork with quality ingredients. Parkinson says: "We mix minced neck, shoulder or shank with back fat before adding different seasonings and ingredients, such as apple or black pudding. These go down fantastically well as part of our regular bar menu."
Darren Parkinson, head chef, Shibden Mill Inn, Halifax
Over the last few months we've put various dishes on as specials, such as liver, kidneys, and pigs' trotters - trotters went down particularly well. Rabbit is one of our biggest sellers - I make 40 portions of rabbit pie and within two or three days it's all gone.
Ashley McCarthy, head chef and co-owner, Ye Old Sun Inn, Colton, North Yorkshire
advice from suppliers
On the bone meat generally has great flavour and chicken thighs and drumsticks are no exception. They taste especially good on a barbecue, with the addition of a simple marinade, and can also be used as a versatile alternative in pies and curries.
We've also noticed some of our customers have been economising in the past 12 months by buying whole joints of meat and cutting their own steaks. This is a better-value alternative to buying pre-cut steaks and gives you a lot of flexibility. For example, you could roast half the joint for a Sunday carvery and cut the rest into steaks. A whole striploin is ideal for this - all you need is a good eye, a sharp knife and an accurate set of scales.
Sam Douglas, meat and poultry marketing manager at Brakes Group specialist butcher, Prime Meats
Use poultry in dishes traditionally made with red meat. Turkey mince is a great ingredient in Bolognese and diced turkey can be a tender, tasty addition to stews, casseroles and kebabs. British turkey can replace mainstream meats such as beef, lamb and chicken in a wide range of dishes, and it pairs brilliantly with red and white wines.
Duncan Marsh, general manager, Bernard Matthews Foodservice
Brakes 0845 606 9090
Bernard Matthews Foodservice 0845 519 4097