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Monday, 24 June 2013

A cold cooked trout salad and stir fried sirloin steak with noodles.

Cold cooked trout salad? Like a lot of good things this simple dish came about by accident. I had planned to eat an oven roasted trout for my tea with some new potatoes and green beans. I was cooking late in the evening and by the time it had cooked I wasn't in the mood any more. So I decided to let the fish cool and eat it the next day. Actually it sat in the fridge in its little foil sleeping bag for 36 hours. I don't like to waste food so I pondered what I could do with the cold fish rather than throw it away. Also I have become an convert of Tesco's tinned mixed bean salad so I combined the two and it made a very nice supper. Yes, I did have to pull a few fine bones out of the rainbow trout but the effort was worth it. And look at that lovely fishy smile.

The sirloin stir fry came about because of a special half price offer at Tesco tempting me to buy a deliciously lean sirloin steak for my evening meal. Looking for a different angle I decided to stir fry the meat and added a small half teaspoon flourish of chilli powder at the end of the stir fry cooking to add a little heat. The noodles took no time at all and made use of something I happened to discover at the back of my cupboard. This was a very tasty dish that I certainly intend to make again.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Only thirty years in the making... Phil Lowe's book - Tales from the Block.

I was enormously proud to receive the very first copy of my book 'Tales from the Block' today. The quality of the publishers is truly excellent and makes my work feel even more professional than I ever envisaged. The price reflects the fact that the book is published 'on demand'  and I believe anyone purchasing the book will certainly not be disappointed. It is compiled with a great deal of passion and love. The work is full of super meat based extracts from my popular blog and my quirky insight to all my hard working years and initial training in the butchery trade in the 1970s and 80s and up to date meat cooking ideas all illustrated with my fabulous foodie photos lovingly created in my bijou kitchen in rural Nottinghamshire. I love it and hope that you all will too!

To remind you all - Tales from the Block - can be purchased from: Tales from the block book.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Sausage mad!

Sausage making is a traditional food preservation technique. The preservation is done by three main methods, those of curing, drying or smoking. The sausage is the logical outcome of efficient butchery and sausages, salami and puddings are amongst the oldest of prepared foods whether cooked and eaten straight away or dried for later consumption.

Traditionally sausage casings were made of cleaned intestines and when I originally started to learn the trade with Bosworth's, the butcher's walk in fridge would have a special deep plastic bucket with pig's intestines sitting in a weak brine solution which would be washed and washed in cold water until considered clean enough for being filled with the freshly made sausage meat. Sometimes we would come across little patches of green skin which had to be discarded. The cleaned pig's stomach was also used in the case of haggis and other traditional puddings. Nowadays natural casings are often replaced by collagen, cellulose or even plastic casings. Some types of sausage, a sliced sausage for example, are prepared without a casing.

The most simple of sausage consists of meat, cut up or minced and filled into a casing. Traditionally the meat will be from pork, lamb, beef or veal. Most traditional types of sausage from Europe and Asia use no bread based filler and are 100% meat and fat plus the flavourings. However in the UK and other countries with English cuisine traditions bread and starch based fillers account for 25% of the ingredients. The filler used in many sausages helps them keep their shape as they are cooked. As the meat contracts in the heat, the filler expands and absorbs the moisture lost from the meat. Too much water in the mix makes the 'bangers' explode in the hot fat.

I do like a nice sausage and remember with great fondness my mother cooking 'toad in the hole' (sausages cooked in a Yorkshire pudding batter) and even family sized sausage meat pies to fill up the six strong Lowe family relatively cheaply. My favourite English sausages are pork and chive, tomato sausages, Cumberland, peppery Lincolnshire and traditional pork chipolata sausages. Whilst growing up 'bangers and mash' was a popular dish and a trip to the local fish and chip shop could result in a battered sausage or two or a saveloy sausage with chips. Way back when, I used to love a saveloy, chips and curry sauce meal from the chippy! The saveloy skin was traditionally coloured with Bismark brown food dye giving the saveloy a distinctive bright red colour. After I left home and started to cook for myself a big part of my diet was home-made sausage casseroles made with big fat pork sausages purchased from the butchers I worked for and bulked out with baked beans, tinned tomatoes and fried mushrooms. The resultant sausage casserole was then enjoyed with mounds of buttery mashed potatoes. I also used to devour rather a lot of the black puddings sold in the shop sometimes cold and sometimes fried as part of a Sunday morning traditional fry up breakfast. Red rings of Polony never did it for me.

As a schoolboy I used to go to my friend Stephen Gillett's house after school and enjoy four or five boiled Princes' hot dog style sausages from a tin along with fluffy white bread and thought this was culinary bliss. We would often get that Colman mustard in a tube and liberally spread the yellow mustard all over the sausages. Happy days.


In my travels throughout Europe I have tried various sausages including Strasbourg sausages, spicy Toulouse unlinked sausages, Morteau and Vienna sausages. In Germany I have had a Berliner Currywurst, Dampfwurst, Brühwurst (steamed sausage), a Thüringer Rostbratwurst made with lean belly pork as well as a 'proud Henry' - the Stolzer Heinrich. Smoky Frankfurter sausages with mustard are very tasty and the Germans really go to town on the process of curing and smoking sausages and other meats. In fact they have an expression which goes something like “Not so much a sausage – more a way of life” Everything revolves around the sausage and similar meat products. German sausages are eaten for breakfast, as a snack, eaten hot or cold for the main meal of the day or made into sausage salads. Go to any minor or major sporting or music event and there will be cooked sausage stalls galore! It has been calculated that there are over fifteen thousand varieties of sausage in Germany alone! Believe it or not they even have a popular theatre comedy and film about the invention of the curry sausage called Die Entdeckung der Currywurst written originally as a novel by Uwe Timm..

Despite my love of all things French I don't recall eating a massive amount of sausages in France. However I do love the taste of dry cured Saucisson Sec and could happily hang around the market stalls selling this and other dried and cured pork sausage products. The aroma drives me wild. I once tried the Merguez sausages at a cheap student café in Bordeaux and they went well with the fries, mustard and a few beers. They are small thin link sausages that look innocent enough but pack a punch as they are made using a generous proportion of hot chilli paste harissa. They have a dense texture which makes them ideal for barbecuing and go well with lentils

I have yet to experience many of the Spanish sausages and their pimentón and garlic flavoured cousins and would love to try some of the famous Polish, Hungarian and Serbian sausages some day.

If I am feeling really adventurous I might give the Chinese sausage types a go. These are Lap Cheung and are wind dried pork sausages that look and feel like pepperoni but are apparently much sweeter. From my research I have discovered that sausages in South Western China are flavoured with salt, red pepper and wild pepper and that the Chinese often cure sausages by smoking and air drying them. They are apparently nice steamed on top of rice. The Japanese have fewer sausage varieties in their diet but do include some unusual sausage made with ground fish and are often bought in their convenience stores. They also have a type of chicken meat sausage called Tsukune and are popular as a snack in bars where the hard working businessmen go to get hammered after a long day in the office.

Monday, 10 June 2013

My book 'Tales from the Block' is available to order as of today.

If you would like a preview of my fabulous blog based book and perhaps order yourself a copy check out this link. I would love to know what you think. Comments can be left on this blog. I am eagerly awaiting my own hardback copy in ten days time!

Phil Lowe x

Check out the style of my book below. Promotion shows 30 random pages of 140 

Juicy beef steaks and properly done pork chops.

As I write up this blogpost today it will form the last entry to finish off my just about to be published book 'Tales from the Block'. I have spent the morning editing and proof reading the text and making a few image changes. And so to my subject today – beef steaks and pork chops.

My butchery opinion is often sought on my recommendation for a juicy beef steak and I believe that properly aged beef tastes so much better than that under twenty one days in the hanging. In an ideal world the beef should be hung for at least twenty eight days and some butchers like The Ginger Pig Company hang theirs for thirty five to forty days. Simply put, beef cannot be eaten straight from the slaughtering process. Hanging it in a temperature controlled refrigerated walk in cold room environment allows the meat to mature and develop flavour and become more tender.

Which then are the tastiest beef steak types?

Well in chef's listings the rump steak comes out at number one, sirloin at number two, rib eye practically joint second and fillet steak the last. There are other types of beef steak that can mostly be purchased from a traditional butcher. These are feather blade, T-bone/Porterhouse, onglet steaks and point steaks. Goose skirt or bavette style steaks can be purchased if you want to experience a more continental way of cooking steak. Naturally on all of the steaks the cooking method and skill employed will also affect the end result.

Rump steak joint and cut steaks

Rump steak: Full of flavour this steak comes from the hind quarter of the beef carcass and should be well hung. The steak joint is quite a wide joint and usually cut across three muscle groups for a long kidney shaped steak. Should the butcher slice the rump the wrong way the steak will be very chewy or in butcher's parlance “Tough as ode boots”. Although modern eating trends tend to shy away from eating the fat that surrounds some steaks if you can find rump with the fat on and no gristle buy it and you won't go wrong.

Sirloin steaks

Sirloin steak: A middle back cut, this can be boned and rolled by the butcher as a prime beef roasting joint or cooked as steaks. I would suggest that because the muscle is smaller than say rump this steak can benefit the customer by being sliced that bit thicker. A sirloin cut about an inch and a half thick would make the perfect juicy steak because cut too thin (less than a finger thick) the meat can dry out quickly in the cooking.

Fillet steak

Fillet steak: The steak comes from a long muscle that does no work at all and is very tender and with extremely little fat. When the fillet muscle is cut in half each piece gets named and the names are in French. The long single muscle part is the Filet Mignon and the wider muscle (actually two muscles) is the Châteaubriand. All of the fillet can be cooked quickly as steaks or chopped finely for steak tartare and cooked as a joint as a Beef Wellington (filet de boeuf en croûte) for example. Fillet is said to be least flavoursome steak however.

Rib eye steaks with joint

Rib eye steaks: This is a very popular steak with those who enjoy a bit of fat with their beef steak and it works particularly well through cooking on the barbecue or on a hot griddle. The meat itself comes from the fore rib and marbled with an off centre piece of white fat. The rib muscle is trimmed of sinew and surplus fat and makes a compact and delicious beef roasting joint too. The inner fat element really adds to the flavour.

Pork chops come from the pig's loin and in the old days people would fight to get one or two of the pork chops that came with the pigs kidney attached. The average pig kidney is about six inches long so in reality only about six decent thickness loin chops from the whole pig would have the kidney attached still in its little protective round of fat. Alas, an EU ruling banned the sale of pork chops with the intact kidney and the meat inspectors in abattoirs slice through the kidney and surrounding fat in checking for any sign of disease in the animal.

I digress. Pork loin chops ( like all pork and chicken) need to be cooked thoroughly and if you are frying or especially grilling the pork loin chops a tip is to snip the outside edge of the loin chop a few times before cooking with some sharp kitchen scissors. This action will prevent the chop curling up in the heat and you will achieve a more even cooking result.

I do love a nice pepper seasoned loin pork chop but I would also highly recommend trying the sweeter tasting (nearer the shoulder of pork and marbled with fat) spare rib pork chops that also have very little bone. These should not be confused with the spare ribs that come from the belly. They are rectangular in shape and often have a little wad of fat on the side.

In choosing your pork recognise that the flesh should be pink and the fat always white and soft. When pork is intensely farmed it is pale and lean and outdoor reared pork will be a darker firmer meat with tastier fat.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

A game of two halves. What do all these meat terms mean?

From time to time a customer will ask which is the best cut of a joint that has been split in half and for this blogpost I will concentrate on the major beef and lamb roasting joints with perhaps a little foray into the world of pork. These joints all have peculiar butchery names and once you know the terms it becomes easier to make your choice and just think how knowledgeable you will sound at the butcher's counter! On the whole they are all as tasty as each other if cooked properly. Some just have more bone and gristle in than the other and a fattier joint can often be more delectable. As the expression goes “It's just the nature of the beast.”

Lamb shoulder:

The shoulder is a delicious joint from the slightly fattier end of the lamb that needs a longer cooking time than the leg, for example. The whole shoulder can be boned and rolled but mainly folk tend to have a half shoulder, especially if it is just to feed two people. When the butcher cuts the shoulder in half on the bone, it creates two joints. The more regular looking one is called the blade (it has the animal's shoulder blade in it) and the other little legged side is called the knuckle. The knuckle end has more bones in it and slightly less meat on the joint. The marrow in the knuckle end can impart a great deal of flavour though to the cooked meat. Both pieces are easy enough to carve when cooked.

Knuckle and blade side of shoulder of lamb

Full shoulder and rolled shoulder cut through

Lamb leg:

The leg of lamb is a very lean joint and often more expensive than the shoulder. Most butchers cut the leg at a slight diagonal with a steak knife for neat cut showing less bone and then deftly saw through the leg bone to create two joints. If the leg is left whole the butcher can partially cut through the bone at the end of the leg to allow the joint to sit neatly in the average roasting tin or tray. The rounder looking piece is called - the fillet end - and the more obvious leg shaped bit – the shank. Lamb shanks for slow cooking are also cut from the leg shank although they can be surprisingly unpredictable in the length of time needed to cook them. In most supermarket butchers, the hip bone, known as the aitch bone will have been removed for easy carving and so that the protective packing it is transported in doesn't get punctured by a sharp edged bone.

Shank end of leg of lamb and fillet end
Lamb shanks for slow cooking

Despite the myth, lamb carcasses do NOT have four joints of leg of lamb on them!

Topside and Silverside and Top Rump.

Where does topside come from and which is the best joint for roasting? This is a regular question I get asked as the meat authority at Tesco. Well, they all come from the chunky back leg of the cow. This very large piece of meat is called a top of beef looks like a giant shank end of leg of lamb. Traditionally the skilled butcher will bone out and divide this 'top' into four parts -  deftly trimming away all the excess fat and gristle and creating joints by working his knife with the seams separating each muscle. At the foot end is the shin of beef for a rich stewing experience and then the aitch bone is taken out. The remaining piece now has one big leg bone left and the butcher removes this dividing the meat into three sections, topside, silverside and top rump. To save confusion top rump is not rump steak it just has a similar name and can be a good medium beef roasting joint. The silverside is generally considered a slower roasting joint and the topside the best part of the top for a good lean beef roast.

Topside joint

Brisket and chine of beef or blade end.

These two joints are from the fore quarter of the side of beef (half a cow) and make splendid slow roasting joints and are renowned for their flavour. The chine comes from a piece of meat that sits on the top of the cow's shoulder blade and chuck steak (braising steak). Both joints have an element of fat to them which helps the flavour develop through cooking. The best cooking method I find is through sitting the joint in about half an inch of water and letting the meat steam cook rather than cook with oil or fat. Just a personal choice. The image below was taken when I made a wonderful spiced brisket dish with cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks with star anise to flavour.


Our intelligent friend the pig provides the cheapest cuts out of all the three animals. My personal preference in a pork joint is the shoulder of pork or a hand of pork ( below the shoulder and pork hock). I like the pork joint with a bit of extra fat and delight in its sweet tasting meat. I also like belly pork for the same reason and a joint of belly is now becoming very fashionable to eat in bistros and restaurants up and down the country. Apparently, many hungry diners crave the luscious pork fat and crackling.

A hand of pork

I'm including this next piece of information not to be patronising or too basic in my sharing of information but because I get asked about crackling on pork so much. To get the very popular pork crackling on the piece of pig meat it needs to have its skin still intact. You cannot get crackling from the exterior fat of a pork joint sans skin. The Ginger Pig Meat Book by Tim Wilson and Fran Warde say that “The trick to getting crunchy pork crackling is that it is only produced when the skin has been scored and the pork subjected to prolonged, gentle heat.” Do not deeply score into the meat itself as this will let moisture into the flesh and dampen the crispy crackling effect.

Cooked leg of pork with crackling
Loin of pork with no skin on the exterior of the meat

In fact I highly recommend the Ginger Pig Meat book to anyone who wants to learn about meat farming and experience a very accessible insight into caring animal husbandry. A very warm hearted book about a profitable farm throughout the changing seasons of the British year and full of great hearty recipes.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

My first, about to be published, book!!

In the next two weeks my first cookery book 'Tales from the Block' will be published and available for sale through

This image below is a rough idea of the front cover. I took a photographic  image on my computer so there is a bit of banding. The proper cover will be without the slightly checked effect. The format is 7" x 7" and the book will be about 100 pages long and full of yummy meat based highlights from this very blog. It will also be packed with my fabulous photos of food and drink and my cooking adventures over the years.

Needless to say I am very excited about this and see this as a way forward in promoting myself as a knowledgeable food writer with a great character and sense of humour.

Topics include.

  • A funny three part history of my early days in the 1970s and 1980s when I trained as a traditional butcher though Bosworth's the Butchers - Dewhurst the Family Butchers and Rydes the Pork Butchers.

  • An introduction to my blog and a warm welcome to my kitchen at home

  • Liver stew with butter beans

  • Advice on cooking stews

  • Mustard and  Horseradish sauce? Which do you prefer?

  • A piece on my love for continental and dry cured meats

  • Cooking a beef stew in the rain

  • First Saturday working at Tesco. (very popular blog post)

  • A bit of skirt and something off the shoulder

  • Garlic and rosemary leg of lamb with cous cous

  • Ras el hanout and a Moroccan lamb stew

  • Aromatically infused chicken stew and Jane Birkin

  • Making home made chicken liver pate on toast.

  • Curry cure - a tale of a head cold and curry

  • How do you like your steak done?

  • Shoulder of lamb and an improvised patatas bravas dish.

  • Livering it up this spring

  • Lavender and lemon chicken aka Rachel Khoo.

  • My little Frenchy kitchen

  • Beef fillets ends for a stir fry

  • Patatas bravas or fiery potatoes.

  • Trip down memory lane ( the day I visited the former Bosworth the butcher shop)

  • Marvelling at the Dewhurst displays

  • Top tips for saving money on spices

  • Suggestions of how to cook ox tail.

There will be a great piece on the world of sausages too and some fantastic news that I yet to have confirmed. Hold that page!

Phil Lowe

Monday, 3 June 2013

"Where on the cow does ox tail come from?"

Recently a customer asked me a sincere question after requesting a kilo of stewing steak and a kilo of oxtail. I had already put the stew in a bag when she asked “Excuse me. Which part of the cow does the oxtail come from?” To me that answer was obvious and I temporarily thought the question silly. Then I gave it some more thought. Perhaps the lady in question didn't equate the word Ox with bull or bovine. I told her it was meat from the tail and pointed to my coccyx. Thankfully the meat wasn't from the bull's willy!

Ox tails make the most flavoursome beef stock. For the most part, the robust beef flavour comes from the bones and marrow, but the red/purple coloured meat is also very tasty. The rendered stock will be thick and gelatinous due to the collagen released. It can be great with just a few pieces added to stewing beef during the cooking process.

Although ox tails are being used for much more than soup or stew nowadays, long, slow braising in a liquid is the preferred method to derive a tender result while drawing maximum flavour from what is pretty much all bones. Plan on a long cooking time. Ox tails work particularly well in casserole dishes or crock pots.

In days of old, ox tails did come from oxen, but today they are simply the tails of beef cattle of both genders. The consumption of ox tails dates back as far as the consumption of beef, when no part of the animal went to waste. Every part of the animal was utilized, and the tail made a wonderful hearty soup that stretched a small amount of meat with the addition of any variety of vegetables. Oxtail soup is a comfort food for many.

Cooks around the world have long made use of ox tails with variations on a theme. Today, up market chefs are rediscovering ox tails to the nostalgic delight of older patrons and the wonder of the younger crowd who consider it an exotic meat.

A quick browse on the internet brought up some interesting variations on what oxtail can be used for, namely:
  • Barbecued braised ox tail with red chilli beans

  • Braised ox tail with carrots and mushrooms

  • Jamaican ox tail stew

  • Oxtail and lentil soup

  • Oxtail pâté

  • Stewed ox tail oriental style

  • Spicy Vietnamese beef and noodle soup with ox tail.

  • Mom's ox tail ragout.
According to my Kenyan friend Dinah ox tail soup made from real pieces of ox tail tastes so much better than tinned ox tail soup. And she should know as she buys a lot of it.
From my butcher's knowledge of cutting up the raw ox tail you have to cut through the softer part of the tail joints to create a clean and easy cut and there is a skill in finding each joint to cut through. Otherwise the bone is most un-yielding and pretty much impossible to hack your way through.