Braised Neck of Lamb and The Meat Room Leamington

 The Meat Room Independent Butchers, Leamington

The local butcher is dead. The local supermarket butchered him. Ironic. 

But not to worry. They’ve replaced well reared, properly prepared meat with shrink wrapped, slimey chicken breasts, and pork chops with no fat and even less flavour. Both so wet that no sooner have they entered your frying pan than they are swimming around in a foaming jacuzzi of slowly congealing gunk. If I wanted my meat poached to a nice shade of grey, in semi-proteinous water, I’d lob it in an Essex boy’s hot tub on a Friday night and fish it back out again breakfast time Saturday. 

If you are lucky enough to have a supermarket with a counter where you can have a steak cut for you, it is invariably manned by a spotty youth, sporting a juvenile offender’s moustache and a dirty, white, plastic trilby, presumably to denote the rank of butcher. His training was a single viewing of “Kill Bill” and his splintered lamb chops suggest he should have at least bolstered his education with the sequel. 

What a decent butcher offers you, is a product worthy of some care and attention. A cut of meat that they can help you choose and prepare, because they have access to the whole carcass and the expertise to make it count. And ultimately something that will roast without disappearing, and will caramelise in a frying pan instead of pissing itself to death then stewing in it’s own discharge.

In short, what a proper butcher can provide you with is quality. And sorry, it might cost little bit more, but gold is more expensive than shit. 

 Lamb Counter at The Meat Room Independent Butchers, Leamington   
 Hanging Room at The Meat Room Independent Butchers, Leamington

If the Roman numerals on the large, shiny plaques are anything to go by, The Meat Room has been in Leamington since 2016. I myself only found them recently, when I came across their instagram: @themeatroom.uk. (isn’t it great when social media works?)

They provide local restaurants and the public, and are willing to help you get your hands on the cuts that usually end up in professional kitchens, if you give them notice.

Excellent customer service and personable staff are integral to any independent business’ success. The Meat Room have opted for the good, old fashioned, “sir” and “madam” approach, and I think it works. A butcher’s shop is, after all, an old fashioned affair. And it's all the better for embracing that, in an old-meets-new sort of way.

You can get up close and personal with their feature, glass fronted cold room, and peer at sides of beef hanging on meat hooks and hefty rib joints sitting on the shelves. These are the prime cuts that always get me excited.

But this is National Butchers Week, and I have never been here before. I ask about the provenance of the lamb, and am satisfied to hear that it is local. I select the bone rich neck chops, perfect for long slow braising, hot pots and tagines. This cut is obtainable if you really search for it, but these look particularly firm and flavoursome. Perfect for the recipe below. 

I also grab a few sausages. What better way to celebrate your butcher, than with a plateful of his best bangers for breakfast and a dish of slow cooked, succulent, local lamb for dinner?

You’re right. I’d better get a vast pork chop, with a glorious layer of fat, as well. No grey, lean bred, watery pig flesh here!

So locate your butchers, visit and support them, and for God’s sake cook something with a high quality piece of meat. You’d be surprised how much it affects the results, when you get it in your kitchen!

The Meat Room, 51 Warwick Street, Leamington Spa

 Ingredients for Nigel Slater's Braised Lamb Neck with Apricots and Cinnamon
 Ingredients for Nigel Slater's Braised Lamb Neck with Apricots and Cinnamon

Braised Neck of Lamb with Cinnamon and Apricot

The dish below uses the lamb neck, or lamb “Tbone chops”, as The Meat Room have artistically named them. One of my favourite pieces of meat, it is rich, fatty, and melts in the mouth after a slow cook.  

Nigel Slater’s recipe marries the lamb with warm, fragrant spices of North Africa, and slightly acidic fruit, which cuts through the richness. Delicious!

Ingredients

4-6 pieces of lamb neck
3 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp groundnut or olive oil
2 medium onions
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2-1 tsp dried chilli
2 cloves garlic
3cm piece fresh ginger
2 strips lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
250g dried apricots
750ml stock or water

to serve:
chopped mint
grated lemon zest
rice or cous cous

Serves 2

Method

From Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries II - read the full recipe on The Guardian

 Nigel Slater's Braised Lamb Neck with Apricots and Cinnamon