Shopping Locally – tips and suggestions
It may be hard to believe but a year has passed since the horsemeat scandal began in the UK and caused many consumers to question the food they were buying. It has recently been reported that the scandal permanently changed the way some people buy their food. Did your shopping habits change as a consequence, and if so, was it permanent or temporary? Or, would you like to make changes to your shopping habits but are not sure what to look for? Here we offer some tips and suggestions if you are considering shopping locally.
Buying meat locally
When shopping locally for meat, the most important thing is to find a good family butcher. You may need to try a few different butchers until you find a favourite, but it will be well worth the search. In most cases you will find butchers extremely helpful and hold a vast knowledge of the cuts of meat, which cut is best used for which dish, etc, and will no doubt be only too willing to give you any advice you need. Another big plus in having a local butcher is, in many cases, their animals have been bred, raised and slaughtered locally; indeed, you may even find a butcher who has their own herd.
There are a few things we suggest you look out for when shopping for beef. Ideally, beef should be hung for about three weeks after being slaughtered to allow the muscles to relax. The colour of the beef will be a darker, deeper red and the meat will be more tender to eat (lamb, pork and veal are much younger animals when slaughtered and will only be hung for about a week). Although perhaps not fashionable these days, look for meat with a certain amount of fat, as this gives most of the flavour. If, for instance, you are looking to buy rib-eye steaks, stay away from the bright red, fatless meat and look for steaks with a darker red colour and streaks of fat running through the meat, called marbling. When cooked, the steak will almost melt in your mouth.
For our chef, one of the arts of cooking is to use the cheaper cuts of meat to produce a really tasty meal, as our grannies and great grannies did many years ago – dishes such as roasted belly pork, braised brisket of beef and steak and kidney pudding. All of these are made with cheaper cuts of meat. The only drawback is many of these dishes take quite a long time to cook, but are well worth it. Also, perhaps consider liver; it can offer great value for money and has so much flavour (it is worth buying it just to make gravy).
When looking for value for money, don’t forget chicken thighs. They have more flavour than breast meat and are great for chicken pies or making chicken curry. Also don’t forget minced beef, lamb or pork – a great many dishes can be made from mince. Why not give yourself a little extra time and make your very own beef burgers – at least that way you will know exactly what goes into them! Another cut of meat that can be good value for money is pork fillet. Trim off any sinew and excess fat and you have the most beautiful tender piece of meat, which, in this case, can be cooked in a few minute, such as pork fillet with sauté leek.
Buying vegetables locally
No doubt many people buy their vegetables from local supermarkets, but it is worthwhile when shopping locally looking out for local farmers’ markets or farm shops where they will mostly sell locally grown produce. Try searching the Local Foods directory to find farmers’ markets, farm shops and pick your own farms in your area. Don’t worry if you find a little dirt on your carrots, parsnips, etc. as it will easily wash off. Also, during the summer months, you may find some really good quality vegetables at car boot sales, with gardeners selling their excess produce. But if you are lucky enough to have a garden, you just cannot beat growing your own.
Buying fish locally
Fresh fish can be an expensive food item these days, so we want to buy the best fish we can find. Those who are very lucky and live near little fishing ports on the coast may find huts selling fish. In such places you really will find fish such as sea bass, cod, mackerel and plaice at its very best. They seem to sparkle like diamonds — a wonderful sight.
But for many people this is not possible, so the next best thing when shopping locally is to find a very good local fishmonger. If there is a market near you, you may find a stall or two selling really fresh fish. A market can be a great place to buy fish — the guys are often so cheerful and willing to help you.
Gutting and boning a fish is not one of the most glamorous jobs in the kitchen. Again, having a good fishmonger is essential, for if asked, they will have your fish cleaned and ready to cook within seconds. And if you have purchased white fish such as cod or plaice, ask for the bones to make your fish stock.
So, what should you look for when buying fish? If buying whole fish such as mackerel or herring, look at the eyes. They should be bulging, bright and clear; as the fish gets older, the eyes become more sunken and dull looking. The gills should be deep red in colour, rather than dry and greyish. If the fish has been filleted, so there are no eyes or gills to check, examine the flesh itself. The flesh should be firm and really glimmer at you; an older fish will be dry, soft to touch and very often limp and turning up around the edges.
It may sound silly, but another good check is smell –the fish should have a pleasant odour of the sea, and not smell ‘fishy’. Fish that is not so fresh will smell unpleasantly fishy and you may detect a smell of ammonia. If you find this with flat fish in particular, such as plaice, sole and skate, please don’t buy it.
When shopping for fish such as smoked haddock buy fillets that have been smoked naturally and not the bright orange or yellow stuff that is often seen. The few extra pennies it will cost you will be well rewarded in the taste.
So next time you are out and about and shopping locally, why not visit a local supplier. You never know, you may discover a gem!