In light of recent food scandals, many people have finally started caring about the food they eat.. Scandals such as horsemeat in burgers, BSE and poor treatment of intensively farmed animals have finally made people think about the origins of where the food they eat com from, how it was reared, what it was fed and did have a happy life. For years caterers and chefs alike have had to responsibly source meat from "farm to fork" with complete traceability, so why don't people do that at home. I know to most people that price is a large factor in the food they buy, but so often these cheaper meats are a false economy, supermarket chicken breasts that are often injected with water to make them look plumper and fuller may be half the price of a ethically reared, organic chicken breast but if it shrinks to half it's size the minute it hits the pan, as it's injected water evaporates, is this really better value.
Buying good meat is not necessarily expensive, don't get me wrong it will cost a little more than opting for the bargain supermarket meats. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you be a better shopper when it comes to buying meat.
Plan - think about what you are going to cook, even just a couple of days in advance, this will help you budget your shopping and also present wastage and products going out of date. We are not talking about planning a full menu, just spend five minutes thinking about what you wanto buy, rather than impulse buying when you get to the shops.
Butchers - find a good butcher, either independent or supermarket. Rather than buy packets of shrink-wrapped meat, walk to the butchers counter and get it from a real person who can answer your questions and should be able to tell you where the meat comes from - if they can't they are not a very good butcher.
Look - Look at where the meat is being displayed and prepared, is it clean, does it smell, is the butcher clean and tidy - simple things like this tell you a lot about how the meat has been treated and f the butcher truly cares. Personally, I would never shop in a butcher's that was not clean, where the meat was not nicely laid out. Different meats should be laid out in different areas and not piled on top of each other.
Don't Be Afraid To Ask - get to know your butcher and don't be afraid to ask questions. A good butcher should be able to tell you the animals which their meat came from, and where possible they should be locally reared. A good butcher should be able to tell you what breed the meat comes from, where it was ared, how long it's been hung, how it should be cooked and make suggestions what to do with your meat. A good butcher is worth getting to know.
Smell - with the exception of game birds and some meat that has been hung for a while, a butchers shop shuld not be smelly. If meat has been stored badly, sitting in its own blood or wrapped in cling film, it will smell sweaty, so don't go near it - shop with your feet and leave.
Look - whether you are buying a chop, steak or full joint, either on or off the bone, you can tell a lot just by looking at it. Bright red pieces of beef that are wet with blood haven't been hung properly and as a result will be tough and tasteless. The surface of the meat should look dry, with dark, rich red or even slightly purple colour with creamy white fat.
Marbling - good-quality red meat should be marbled, with thin threads of white, creamy coloured fat running through it. I know everyone says fat is bad, but in meat it's good - it keeps it tender during cooking.
Pork - pork should be dry with no blood or juices around it, with a good layer of fat and thick layer of skin (good crackling). Don't worry about hair or bristles on the skin, they will singe away during cooking and will not affect the taste in any way.
Chicken - Chicken should have creamy white, or yellowish skin without an blemishes or bruises. Bear in mind though different breeds will have slightly different colouring but a good but he will be able to explain this.