I didn't eat meat at all for nearly five years in my early twenties. I just didn't enjoy the taste and texture of meat, and found that meals involving meat always revolved around the meat, rather than letting the other ingredients sing out. So I stopped eating meat, got to know the world of vegetables and pulses, and was very happy.
And then, aged twenty-six, I became pregnant, and suddenly with every fibre of my being, I craved meat. I dreamed of lamb stews, sausages for breakfast, game terrine, chicken curries and pork pies. I began to eat meat again, and re-discovered my taste for it. I still eat meat now, eleven years on, and I enjoy eating it too.
But those years of not eating meat were the years when I really taught myself how to cook properly. As a result, I find meat rather dull to cook with, and I always end up stocking the freezer with the same old cuts and feeling uninspired to try new recipes. My best experiments usually seem to be the meat-free meals or the cakes and puddings.
As a family we eat meat-free about half the time, which is fine by all of us, and fits in with the way of thinking, espoused most famously by Hugh F-W, that "Meat is the most precious of foods....It has its special status by virtue of being the flesh of animals, which must be killed in order to provide it." (River Cottage Everyday p.180). I want to feel good about the meat I eat, and accord it the respect it deserves. The meat I buy and eat does not necessarily have to be organic, but it does at least have to come from free-range animals that I know have been raised and slaughtered in a humane way. So I buy my meat from the free-range selection at Waitrose, or from our local butcher, AG Dennis in Wanstead, who will tell me where the meat is from. I eat less meat, so that I can afford to buy better quality meat. But all this still does not get around the fact that I find meat so very uninspiring to cook with.
One morning I had a moment of revelation as I was rambling on to someone about how wonderful our weekly vegetable box from Abel and Cole is for making me cook with ingredients I might not otherwise buy at the supermarket. "Do you get a meatbox too?" my friend asked, and suddenly it seemed so obvious.
Abel and Cole do sell meat, and I have a regular order for their streaky bacon. From time to time I also add other meats from them to my order. However, they don't sell meat boxes and I am still guilty of ordering the same old familiar cuts of mince, diced lamb, chicken thighs and sausages from them. I needed a meat box selected by someone else, which would introduce me to cuts of meat I wouldn't normally buy.
My box came a month ago, and this is what the £66.95 bought me:
- 600g braising steak (two large steaks)
- 8 rashers unsmoked back bacon
- a 1.2kg joint of boned pork loin
- a ham hock (800g)
- a large whole chicken (1.7kg), with giblets
- 300g finely sliced cooked ham
- 10 pork sausages
- 400g diced pork
- 600g minced beef
- 1 mini black pudding (a complimentary taster)
A month later, we have eaten everything in the box apart from the pork loin joint. I would expect the pork loin to provide meat for three meals, so that would mean that the £66.95 has fed all four of us with meat for five weeks in total. The only additional meat I have cooked in the last month has been four chicken thighs from Waitrose, and one pack of Abel and Cole's streaky bacon.
Here is my fabulously nerdy list of everything I cooked with all the different cuts of meat, and how many portions I got out of it all.
- black pudding - two portions for Sunday breakfast, with roast tomatoes and toast.
- sliced ham - sandwiches for eight, and part of a pasta sauce (with courgette, a little stock and creme fraiche) for four.
- whole roasting chicken - four greedy portions as a roast dinner, four portions using leftovers in a chicken and pepper fricasee, four further portions using leftovers in chicken and sweetcorn soup, and one final portion as part of a packed lunch.
- I made two litres of chicken stock and chicken jelly from the giblets and the bones from the roast - this was used in the chicken and pepper fricasee, the chicken soup, the ham and courgette pasta sauce, and also in a pea risotto which made two portions.
- back bacon - 5 rashers were used in a quiche lorraine, which fed six, and the remaining 3 rashers were made into a large BLT sandwich for one.
- braising steak - I diced one of the steaks and made a mild beef curry, which fed four. The other steak I cut into think strips and made a super-hot Hungarian goulash, which made six portions.
- ham hock - I cooked the hock in coca cola, using Nigella's famous recipe. The resulting ham fed four of us for supper with egg and oven chips. The cold leftovers were then used over the next few days to make a sandwich for one, added to scrambled eggs for one, and stirred into couscous and spinach for four.
- beef mince - I made this into a savoury beef and cheese crumble which made five portions.
- diced pork - I made two four-portion pork, cider and mustard pies. One for supper with new potatoes and one for the freezer.
- sausages - I made a rich sausage and cider casserole which fed four of us (greedy portions - we all love sausages)
- pork loin joint - not yet cooked, but hopefully to be roasted for four and then leftovers used for two further meals. Probably a pie and a pasta sauce.
I have loved cooking with all the unfamiliar cuts of meat, and searching out new recipes to use. I have loved the taste and high quality of all the meat. I have loved not having to think about shopping for meat for a whole month. I also think that although the £66.95 is an alarming amount to pay for meat all in one go, it nevertheless represents very good value for money.
I am planning on testing this out later in the summer by buying meat just from the local butcher and supermarket for a month and keeping a similar log of everything I buy and what I cook from it. I am interested to see how much money I end up spending per portion, and how imaginative or otherwise my shopping and cooking will be. I suspect I know the outcome already.