Butchers put the gourmet in meat preparation services.
On an unassuming corner of Graham Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, stands a chic whiteand red-brick shop. Inside, sunlight streams through two large windows, falling on the wooden floors and shelves stocked with jars of house-made pickles. One might mistake this place for an upscale minimart or a quaint cafe. But this is The Meat Hook, a butcher shop run by two young men. It offers a wide range of ready-to-cook marinated meats, and full services such as smoking and curing.
To be sure, this age-old trade is not just getting a facelift in New York City. Here in Singapore, gourmet butchers are gaining prominence too.
While fresh cuts used to be the domain of singletclad men wielding cleavers in wet markets, technology and fancy new hardware mean butchers these days can do more than just debone and portion meat.
Take dry-ageing. Though the method isn’t new – it dates back to primitive times when carcasses were hung up to dry, then salted for preservation purposes – the advent of sleek, glass chillers that improve food safety has led more butchers to offer dry-ageing as part of their services. Swiss Butchery in Tanglin Road, for example, has its meats dryaged in a designer Criocabin cabinet. Customers can decide on how long they want to age their purchased cuts. The longer the period, the more intense the flavour.
“We do not do mass-ageing as we believe aged beef should be enjoyed on a personal level,” says Matthias Orth, master butcher at Swiss Butchery.
Typically, beef should not be aged for more than 35 days as there’s a higher risk of it spoiling if not properly handled, he advises.
Besides using fancy machinery to enhance the flavour of meats, butchers are also going the extra mile to marinate specific cuts for the timepressed executive. Says Ernest Koh, executive butcher at Ryan’s Grocery along Binjai Park: “More consumers now frequent a butchery not only to select specific cuts of meat, but also to purchase meats that have been pre-marinated for greater ease and convenience when cooking at home. This is a direct result of changing consumer patterns and busy schedules.
“Butchers now have to develop recipes for marinated meats, meatballs, burger patties and meat skewers.”
“BUTCHERS NOW HAVE TO DEVELOP RECIPES FOR MARINATED MEATS, MEATBALLS, BURGER PATTIES AND MEAT SKEWERS.”
ERNEST KOH, EXECUTIVE BUTCHER, RYAN’S GROCERY
Their expertise has also come in handy for those looking to throw a party. If it’s a weekend barbecue or Sunday roast dinner, veteran butchers Sunny Foo and Eric Lau at Meat the Butcher – they have over 50 years of experience between them – provide roasting services and barbecue sets (think a selection of wagyu rump, lamb, and an assortment of fancy sausages) to help ease the party prep.
Local butchers are even adapting their products to better cater to customers. The team at Ryan’s Grocery, for instance, came up with a selection of pork belly and beef slices for shabu-shabu (Japanese hotpot) that families could purchase for reunion dinners this Chinese New Year.
Though the role of a butcher is fast changing, Orth maintains that the mark of a good butcher is still one who will minimise yield lost per cut and create new cuts for eating pleasure.
At Salted & Hung, executive chef Andrew Nocente makes full use of his butchery skills – he picked up the art growing up on a farm in Australia – to introduce off cuts like pig heads and fish tails. Here, pig heads are braised and turned into terrines and stews, while fish tails are simply grilled to keep the juices intact.
“As the market evolves and more people crave the convenience of ready-to-cook meats, only a minority who still enjoy a good piece of meat will need a butcher to recommend and carve interesting cuts for them,” says Orth. This means new and existing butchers will have to adapt to the times, while keeping a firm grasp on traditional skills.
Koh sums it up: “With information becoming more easily accessible and greater exposure to international cuisine, there will be higher expectations of a butcher’s knowledge.”