Gerry Neilson is master butcher at Campbells Prime Meat, an over 100-year old butcher company that is a bit of an establishment in Edinburgh. Gerry has worked in the industry for 40 years, ever since he left school. He’s a font of experience and good tales. I met Gerry at the Ultimate Meat Evening, an event organized by Campbells at the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, to celebrate their range of Mey Selection meats. The evening offered education and entertainment in equal measures. Here’s what I learned.
The meat was a deep colour and smelled rich and fresh: it had hung for five weeks and was soft as butter. Well-hung meat is easy to work with: any membranes come off cleanly and the meat cuts well. The sight of Gerry, chain mail glove on one hand, a knife the size of a small sword in the other, cutting the meat into sections and trimming off the fat, was hypnotic. As he cut, he explained what we were seeing: how to cut the rump into Popeseye steaks, how to divide the fillet into Chateaubriand and tournedous, and how to tell which part of the sirloin your steak comes from.
We also got a quick demonstration of how to clean up and cut lamb racks into cutlets. Gerry’s top tip was to score the fat so that it can hold a marinade or crust better.
EF got hands on a couple of years ago and butchered a pig. I thought of her when I watched Gerry cut a side of beef with practised movements. The demonstration reminded me that every cut of meat I eat comes from a larger context. Each animal only has so many steaks and there are many other cuts. We need to eat all the different parts to make sure that the entire animal gets used. That’s where using a butcher is great. I grew up in a big city and our meat came from the supermarket. I don’t know about non-supermarket cuts (which means I don’t know about most of the animal). A butcher can give advice on how to treat different cuts for best results, which cut suits the recipe I have in mind.
Campbells Prime Meat
Campbells Prime Meat has been around since 1910 and has managed to grow when many butchers have disappears. They focus on quality and service – the best quality and service. Campbell’s supplies many of Scotland’s Michelin starred restaurants and, although many of their customers are restaurants and catering companies, they do supply directly to consumers too. Their online shop provides an education as well as lots of tempting products.
Campbells take a lot of care when they hang their meats, as well as when they butcher the carcasses and make the various products they produce. I was interested to hear about the hanging room, and how they rest their carcasses lying down to better control air flow and temperature. Campbell’s butchers are experienced and accurate, and deliver orders quickly. If a restaurant decides they want steaks weighing 230 grams one week, and 210 grams the next, that’s what they get.
Mey Selections is the brand name for the North Highland Initiative, an organisation that works for closer cooperation between farmers, customers and food producers. In particular, they target fine food producers, and, to get the right products for them, work to ensure that all products – from biscuits to lamb – are of the best possible quality. For meat, that means well tendered, healthy animals that graze the heather-covered ground of the north.
David Whiteford, one of the directors of the North Highland Initiative, told us about the geography and weather that makes the North Highlands so special, and how the Initiative is helping build a sustainable farming industry there. It’s a positive movement that helps showcase and deliver goods from the north to markets in the south.
Cooking the Meat Just So
As well as a butchery demonstration, we got a cookery demonstration. Fiona Burrell, from the Edinburgh New Town Cookery School, showed how to prepare canapés (which we tasted) and some of the dishes we were to have for dinner. The Thai sirloin salad was fresh and tangy, the meat wonderfully tender and flavoursome. The same flavour was evident when steak was sliced thinly and served with a mini Yorkshire pudding and horseradish cream. The lamb koftas were great, and the rack of lamb with a herb crust was perfect. The tip/instruction I took away with me was how to cook a steak:
- Start with the meat to room temperature.
- Oil the meat and season.
- Add to a hot pan seasoning down.
- Season the other side.
- Leave the meat to cook.
Don’t prod, don’t interfere. The juices from the meat create a (tasty) crust on the cooking side. When the crust is ready, the steak releases from the pan easily.
- Turn and cook the other side.
(But don’t over-cook. Be kind and keep it rare, or medium rare if you must.)
- Let rest for at least five minutes.
Resting is important. It allows the heated muscle fibres to relax and produces a more tender, juicy steak.
I was really impressed by the care and attention that goes into raising, cutting and serving the beef and lamb on my plate that night. Mey Selections produces high quality meat; Campbells respect that quality and bring it out by carefully maturing and cutting it; the chef cooks it carefully to show off its flavour. We should remember to treat it with the same respect in our own kitchens.
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Edinburgh EH2 1JE
Phone: 0131 226 4314