Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Pollocks, shanks, Labradors (unedited): South Shropshire Journal 19/4/13

Following on from last week’s bit about the Austerity Food Revolution and all that sustainability jazz, I turned my mind to food fads. Now, depending on what paper you read (and if it’s just the South Shropshire Journal, it’s okay but you need to broaden your horizons just a teeny-weeny bit) or watch on the telly, you may well be aware that food faddism and sustainability go hand in hand.

It’s like the horsemeat thing again. Recently the National Federation of Fish Friers reported that some of their more unscrupulous peers were palming-off totally unsustainable cod and haddock as the hipster uber-faddish and seafloor friendly pollock and whiting.  So there’s a chance, albeit a small one, that the last time you went down the chippie for cods, they gave you a load of old pollocks instead.

In some places, namely east London and every twee gastropub in the Cotswolds (invariably run by a sacked banker called Hugo and his Labrador), people actually demand pollock, whiting and even nasty old coley because apparently they’re just as tasty as cod and haddock. This is without doubt, utter nonsense. Give me a blind tasting, and I’ll tell you what I’d rather share my chips with.

Fads of course lead to other more tasty sustainability issues. The lamb shank thing of the early noughties for instance: tremendous, lovely cheap bits of sheep, braise ‘em in red wine for three weeks or get M&S to do it for you. The problem was, there weren’t enough sheep for shanks so they had to come from New Zealand, and then the British ones got expensive.

I’m no economist, but I think they call it supply and demand. Demand goes up, supply goes down, price goes up. It’s happened to poor old pork belly, ham hocks, beetroot and rhubarb (I kid you not). Food, like everything else is subject to trends. So while we’ve all been looking at those cheaper cuts of meat, licking our lips and getting change from a fiver – it won’t last. Although it will in Shropshire, for a little while at least, because we’re a little slower to catch on. 

My pal John at the Ludlow Food Centre does a cut of beef called onglet. Onglet dangles off the diaphragm of a cow and it is ferrous, visceral, and deeply bovine. It’s the best bit of steak you’ll ever cook, except that you won’t because nobody knows about it apart from John and me so I get it dead cheap. On a recent trip to London I saw some on a butcher’s slab in the wonderful Ginger Pig in Marylebone. Demand must be high for knobbly cow-bits in the Smoke, because a pound of this would have bought you a five-bed house in Shropshire. It’s a funny, faddy old world. 

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