A cut above the rest

FROM New York to London, butchery classes are over subscribed — most recently a two-day butchery course organised by Teagasc at Ashtown also had a waiting list.

It illustrates the exciting and fundamental changes at grass roots level and the craving for real food and almost forgotten flavours and experiences.

A couple of weeks ago, RTÉ Ear to the Ground presenter Ella McSweeney butchered the two rare breed pigs she reared in her suburban garden and then proceeded with the help of third generation butcher Ed Hicks to use all the miscellaneous delicious bits that normally end up in pet food.

In east Cork, at least nine National Schools have edible school gardens and a chicken coop with a couple of hens so the children can learn how to look after poultry. At last there is an appreciation of the importance of a degree of self sufficiency.

A growing number of parents are concerned about how disconnected even country children are from the reality of how their food is produced. It’s ever more important to bring children to visit farms, to shop at farmers markets and indeed to grow and rear some food yourself. Otherwise children reckon chips come from the freezer cabinet, milk comes out of plastic bottles and meat comes in neat little polystyrene trays from the supermarket. Mind you, butchers shops are almost as sanitised nowadays, few have a carcass or even a leg of lamb hanging any more. Much of the meat is ready prepared, stuffed, marinated or tossed in sweet and sour sauce so it’s barely recognisable — in long well-lit chill cabinets.

I am and always have been a staunch supporter of the traditional family butcher. I seek out butchers who, preferably have their own farm and abattoir and still possess the entire butchers craft, from being able to judge the condition of an animal in the field to the skill of humane slaughter, dry ageing and finally the skill of butchery. Curious customers can have chats about the breed and the feed and how the animal is raised while they wait for the order to be prepared.

In Baden-Württemberg the local butcher doles out small glasses of the local wine to customers while they queue which helps to create a wonderfully convivial atmosphere and keeps everyone chatting amiably.

Another iconic butcher called Dario Cecchini at Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano in Chianti recites Dante and plays operatic arias for his customers while he prepares the beautiful Chianina beef he sells.

Here in Ireland we are fortunate to still have more than 850 family butchers (500 of those are Craft Butchers of Ireland members) and an increasing number “are finding their voice”.

Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers in Clonmel in Co Tipperary is well known for his enthusiasm and the quality of his meat. He comes from a long line of Tipperary farmers and his family have been butchers since 1960. As soon as he could toddle about he went with his dad to “check the cattle”.

Nowadays it’s all come full circle and he makes full use of the latest technology. Pat is a regular tweeter — twitter.com/pat_whelan — and now has a significant online meat business that guarantees delivery within 24 hours.

I can’t imagine how he managed to find time to write a book, An Irish Butcher Shop, a terrific eclectic collection of traditional and contemporary recipes.

Here, I’ve chosen some delicious recipes from Pat’s book, using less expensive cuts of meat.

James Whelan Butchers, Oakville Shopping Centre, Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Tel: +353 52 22927. Email: info@jameswhelanbutchers.com Website: www.jameswhelanbutchers.com

Pat Whelan’s Osso Bucco

Serves 6

8 slices beef shin, cut at least 2.5 cm/1 inch thick

Plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper

85g/3oz butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1¼ cups (10 fl oz) white wine

1 x 220g/8oz can of chopped tomatoes

1¼ cups (10 fl oz) chicken stock

3 tbsp parsley, finely chopped

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Coat the beef shins well with the flour. In a heavy-based pan melt the butter and add the oil.

When the oil and butter are very hot, fry the beef until browned all over.

Remove the beef to a warmed plate and add the onion, celery, carrots and half the garlic.

Cook until soft and aromatic. Return the beef to the pan and add the wine.

Cook uncovered for 15 minutes or so.

Add the tomatoes and stock, then cover with a close-fitting lid and simmer for 1½–2 hours.

Mix together the parsley, lemon zest and remaining garlic and stir in before serving.

Pat Whelan’s Beef Stew with Dumplings

Serves 6

4 tbsp plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper

1 kg/2 lb 4 oz braising steak, cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch cubes

4 tbsp olive oil

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

2 celery stalks, sliced

1 turnip, peeled and cut into cubes

570 ml/20 fl oz beef stock

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme


175 g/6 oz plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp oil

½ cup milk

Put the seasoned flour in a plastic bag, add the beef cubes and toss to coat.

Heat the oil over a moderate heat in a large saucepan or flameproof casserole dish and add the beef cubes. Brown well on all sides. This should be done in batches, removing the meat from the pan to a warmed plate until all the meat is browned. Add the onions and cook until they start to turn translucent and add the rest of the vegetables, stirring frequently to brown. Now return the beef to the pan and add the stock, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to the boil, stirring well. Cover tightly and reduce heat to as low as possible. Simmer for at least two hours.

To make the dumplings, sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the oil and milk. Stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated and the mixture resembles a batter. Mould the dumplings into small balls. Approximately 15–20 minutes before serving, turn up the heat, bring to the boil and drop the dumplings on to the surface of the stew.

If the stew is being cooked in the oven, allow around 30 minutes for the dumplings to cook.

Pat Whelan’s Pork Spare Ribs

Serves 4

1 cup (8fl oz) soy sauce

¾ cup brown sugar

¼ cup (2fl oz) balsamic vinegar

¼ cup (2fl oz) tomato paste

¼ cup (2fl oz) orange juice

2 tbsp grainy mustard

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp hot chilli powder

½ tsp cumin powder

Pork spare ribs (allow 4 for each person)

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Combine all the ingredients except the pork and mix well. Heat in a saucepan, stirring constantly until it boils.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

Lay the ribs in a flat dish, cover with the marinade and refrigerate for several hours minimum. Reserve any extra sauce.

Pour any remaining marinade over the ribs and bake for 45 minutes. Serve when cooled to room temperature.

Pat Whelan’s Kashmiri Lamb Curry

Serves 6

300g/10oz natural yoghurt

85g/3oz skinned almonds, chopped

2 tsp medium curry powder

2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp salt

1 kg/2lb 4oz lamb, diced into 2.5cm/1 inch cubes

2 tbsp sunflower oil

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

Juice of half a lemon

1 x 400g/14oz can of chopped tomatoes

300 ml/10 fl oz water

110g/4oz raisins

large handful of fresh coriander, chopped

In a large mixing bowl combine the yoghurt, almonds, curry powder, ginger, garlic and salt, stirring to mix well. Add the lamb to the yoghurt mixture, covering the meat well. (You could leave this to marinate in the fridge overnight or for a few hours before cooking.)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and fry the onions with the bay leaves until golden brown, constantly moving them around the pan.

Add the meat and yoghurt mixture to the pan and stir-fry for five minutes. Add the chilli, lemon juice and tomatoes to the mixture in the pan and stir-fry for another five minutes. Add the water, cover and leave to simmer over a gentle heat for 60 minutes.

Add the raisins and most of the coriander and turn up the heat. Stir until the sauce has thickened.

Garnish with the remaining coriander and serve with rice.

Pat Whelan’s Braised Oxtail

Serves 6

50g/2oz plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper

4 oxtails, cut into pieces

2 tbsp olive oil or 30g/1oz butter (or combination of both)

2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 thick bacon rashers, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

570 ml/20 fl oz red wine

1 litre/35 fl oz beef stock

Bouquet garni of a bay leaf, a sprig of thyme, a sprig of parsley and a sprig of rosemary, tied together 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, sliced

2 tbsp tomato paste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup parsley, finely chopped

The casserole can be cooked on the stove top or in the oven. If you are cooking it in the oven, preheat it to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Put the seasoned flour into a plastic bag and add the oxtail pieces. Shake it well to coat the meat.

Heat the oil or butter in a large heavy-based casserole and add the oxtail pieces in small batches.

As each batch is browned, remove to a warmed plate with a slotted spoon and repeat until all the meat has been sealed.

Use a little more oil if necessary, add the onions and cook until golden. Add the bacon and garlic and cook for 2–3 minutes.

Return the meat to the casserole, pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid has reduced by about a third.

Add the stock and bouquet garni to the pot and cover.

Simmer gently on the stove or cook in the oven for about two hours.

At this point add the carrots, celery and tomato paste and continue to cook for a further two hours or so, until the meat falls off the bone.

Adjust the seasoning and sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with mashed potatoes and baked parsnips.


Pat Whelan’s Spicy Lamb Meatballs

Serves 6

1 large potato, peeled and grated

1 large onion, peeled and grated

500 g/1 lb lamb, minced

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)

salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

1 cup fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, tarragon and mint

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ cup (4 fl oz) olive oil

Rinse the grated potato in cold water and with your hands squeeze out all the moisture.

Place all the ingredients except the oil into a bowl and mix until well combined.

Form the mixture into small balls and flatten them into pattie shapes.

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the meatballs in batches for about five minutes on each side, turning carefully.


- Food Framed is a charitable silent auction of handwritten recipes and documents from some of the world’s greatest chefs and food writers — Richard Corrigan, Gary Rhodes, Paul Flynn, Ken Hom, Thomas Keller from the French Laundry in San Francisco, Ferran Adria from El Buli in Spain, Lloyd Grossman, Darina Allen and Ainslie Harriet. The documents will be on display from 11am to 4pm at Lismore Castle Arts, Lismore, Co Waterford on Saturday, December 4. You can also bid by email, contact Ken Madden 086 1712813/madden@eircom.net Proceeds to go to Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

- The winner of the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland’s National Spiced Beef Competition on Friday, November 12, was Jerry O’Leary from O’Leary Family Butchers, The Square, Millstreet, Co Cork. Jerry’s spiced beef is made from a recipe used for over 80 years. Contact: 029 70146; www.olearyfamilybutchers.com

- Mahon Point Farmers Market in Cork took home the Best Farmer’s Market Award at the recent Good Food Ireland awards. The market is open every Thursday, 10am to 2pm.

- To meet the growing demand for from those who would like to have the choice to buy unpasteurised milk, David Tiernan’s milk is available from Sheridans Cheesemongers in Dublin, South Anne Street and Carnacross in Co Meath.

- Those of you who crave a delicious black pudding made in the traditional way from fresh pigs’ blood look out for Hugh Maguire’s butcher shop in Navan.

Contact: 01 8499919; hughmaguirebutchers@eircom.net

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