For many reasons, one of my favorite things to do here is go to the Butcher. One, it is a social hub and when it is busy you can sit in the big windowsill and listen to the conversations between the Butcher and the customers. I love hearing how they talk to and have fun with each other, and trying to figure out the meaning of their slang so that I might have a clue what people mean when they are talking the same language to me. I also love hearing him ask me “How’s himself?” (asking about my husband) when I walk in. That never gets old.
I have found this to be a great way to learn about cooking, what to order, how to order and what to make with different cuts of meat. I have learned not to order by the weight but by the amount I want to pay. There is always the option to add a bit more, if need be, but I tend to come out better by ordering by the price. This is a trick taught to me by one of my local friends.
Certain types of meat are better quality and higher price at a certain time of the year than others. For example, spring lamb is soft and flavourful but the price is dear (expensive). However the cheaper cuts (mutton), are available in the fall and winter, but tend to be older, tougher meat.
You learn that the way Jimmie Dean makes sausage is not the same way Tom (my butcher) makes sausage. Steak and kidney, contrary to how it sounds, isn’t made from steak and kidney beans (I have yet to try it, not sure I want to). Another discovery I have made is that black pudding (blood sausage) is kinda like bologna…you don’t really know what is in it, nor do you want to, but it tastes great and that’s all that really matters. Oh, by the way, It’s rich in iron! So sometimes it’s best not to ask a lot of questions. What you don’t know is sometimes a good thing.
Where we come from in the States (North Carolina), we have lots of Pig Pickins. Imagine slow-cooked pork BBQ where the meat, often from a whole cooked pig, is either “picked” right off the grill, or taken off for you, chopped up, and served with homemade bbq sauce (whole ‘nother story). My husband loves eating pork BBQ. It reminds him of home when his parents would host pig pickins several times a year (any excuse to have one will do). Since we don’t have a grill big enough in Ireland to fit a whole hog, my husband once told me to go to the butcher and ask for a Boston Butt (pork shoulder). So, I go in and ask for the Boston Butt, not really knowing what I was asking for. The closest I can come to describing his reaction would be like a dog that just found something interesting and tilts their head to the side with an intent stare, but they have a pleasant look on their face. So then I, of course, wanting to end this awkwardness for both of us say, “I know it’s part of the pig but not it’s….(while pointing to my own rear end)”. Finally, my embarrassment and his speechless amusement cause me to laugh hysterically, excuse myself, and then walk out the door while telling him, “I will be back next week”.
Well, “next week” comes, and now it’s getting close to Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, what does my husband tell me to ask for? A spiral sliced ham, like from Honey Baked Ham. You wanna guess what look I get from the butcher when I asked him? Yep. Same curious puppy look. You wanna know what I did? Yep! Started laughing hysterically and excused myself again.
Hopefully I’ve redeemed myself though. I finally managed to figure out how to make sausage. Our butcher was ever so patient and helpful in figuring out how much pork fat to add to the the pork mince to achieve the right taste and texture. This, along with learning the secret of making homemade mock Bisquick, allowed several fellow ex-pats and me to make hundreds of sausage balls in my kitchen. This was a sight to see in and of itself, as we looked like we were in a sausage ball sweat shop. I was excited to be able to take some to our butcher and share with him a little taste from our family’s “home”.
All in all, the advice I gained from one of my local friends when I moved here that was passed on to her from her “mum” is to “make friends with the butcher”.
“He will be the best help to you and will do right by you”.
I told my butcher I was writing an article on him and I was going to entitle it “A Girl’s Best Friend: The Butcher”. His response: “I don’t know that me wife would like that title so much.” Yep, never thought of that. Embarrassed again by the butcher.
He truly is so helpful, even helping me find where to take my kids for horseback riding or music lessons. He is like a welcoming committee to the town. Sometimes there is not much in the way of customer service (that we are used to) but with him, that is not the case. And for that we are grateful.
Who is your uncommon best friend in your host country? Have you learned about life, cooking and living in an unexpected place? We would love to hear your story!