Features, Food

What’s the beef?

Babington House head chef Neil Smith recently bought a whole cow to give his team some butchery training. Here’s his guide to the key cuts and how to prepare them

While rising through the ranks at Babington House, head chef Neil Smith was given a lot of butchery training. It’s still something he enjoys so to inspire his young team he recently bought a whole cow that the team butchered on site. “It’s great to do nose-to-tail style cooking, and teaches the guys what parts are where, and how you need to cook them,” he says. “From a cost point of view it’s also cheaper than what you buy from a butcher.”

This particular animal was an Aberdeen Angus cow from Hay on Wye, that was hung in the fridge in pieces to keep ageing until needed. “If you want to try this, my advice would be to start with a smaller animal, and for the first few times to do it with someone who has really good butchery skills, whether it’s your local butcher or your head chef,” says Neil. For inspiration, these are his notes.

We served this as ox tongue with a celeriac remoulade.

Ox cheek
Old-school cuts are coming back and this is one of my favourites. Braise it until soft and it’s great in a ragu with pasta or polenta.

Again this is something you braise down because it’s quite sinewy.

A nice straightforward cut to butcher; you just take it off the bone. We braised it and had shin pies – because it moves all the time, shin is very sinewy and tough so you’ve got to slow cook it.

Short rib
The short rib was braised and made into sticky short ribs, a bit like you would do with pork. Any leftovers went into ravioli.

Chuck and blade
The shoulders have lots of sinew that all needs to be trimmed off. It’s fine if it comes off in a couple of bits; you’re going to braise it.

This comes from the chest area. We put it in brine for seven days then cooked it on the barbecue over charcoal and wood to get loads of smoke going into it. It was served in a salad.

Cut from the diaphragm, this has plenty of fat marbling. We rubbed it in a load of spices to give it a smoky flavour, then made it into chilli. Because the weather was cold people were smashing it.

Back & ribs
We cut this area into big tomahawk steaks; it can be tricky to get them a good size and cut at the right angle. The meat is like ribeye steak but on the bone. They’re quite fatty so you need to render the fat down as you cook, but at 2.5kg each they’re so big that they do take a bit of time on the barbecue, which is how we did them.

A prime cut from the large back muscle attached to the spine. You can roast it on the bone or carve off into nice steaks.

We took off the rump for steaks, it’s a little tougher than other prime cuts, which makes it more tricky to cut evenly.

One of the most flavoursome cuts, we cut oxtail into vertebrae so you get all of the collagen and gelatin to thicken sauces.

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