The Basics of Butchery

The 2017 Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference (CJCC) series is currently being broadcast on television. This programme is now in its 13th year and yet, not a lot is understood by the public about the reason behind its existence or what it has been contributing.

It started as a Barbadian cooking competition for juniors, but swiftly evolved into a junior culinary conference. As a result of its broadcast via one of our media partners, the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), a flood of requests from our neighbouring islands was received, resulting in its morphing into a regional competition.

Further evolution took place as it grew into a junior culinary conference, providing not just an avenue for the sharpening of cooking skills, but also offering valuable information for the enthusiastic young culinarians. This is achieved by the organizers through the engaging of leading culinary experts from across the world to conduct workshops and seminars on various related topics.

Among the topics covered this year were BBQ Basics and the Art of Baking. Butchery was also included because of its importance in the culinary field and one would realize that in the modern day kitchen, not much is done as far as this craft is concerned. This is partly due to the readily available pre-packaged cuts of meat; these, though, come with a high cost, as the rate of retail cuts these days carry an alarmingly high price tag.

Take, for example, pork which can be purchased, gutted and cut into half, at between $5 and $6 per pound; of course, now you have two sides from which you can cut any portion that you need.  So, your average price by the time you trim and clean can be between $7 and $8 per pound.

This is in contrast to the price of these pre-packaged cuts, which average in price at $11.86 per pound, with the pork leg retailing for $7.60, pork chops at $8 and the outrageously priced pork tenderloin, topping them all at in excess of $20 per pound. This is difficult to imagine as the present fate of the humble pig that we all grew up with, which was once available in the market on any given Saturday for a better than reasonable price.

Given that information, you can see why it is important for chefs to sharpen their butchery skills or, at least, attend some basic butchery programmes, for whether you are the owner of your own business or the chef at someone else’s establishment, your eye must always be on the most cost effective way of getting this protein on the plate; herein lies the benefit of harvesting these cuts from the animal yourself.

Just to make a comparison, we mentioned that the average per pound price of pork leg, pork chops and the pork tenderloin is $11.86; we also said that the price of the animal in its whole state will vary between $5 and $6 per pound and $7 and $8 per pound when cleaned and trimmed.  Any cut you get from this animal which you butcher yourself will therefore end up at an average price of $8 per pound, so immediately you can see the savings and therefore the profit on your final dish.

We as chefs now have to rethink our roles in the kitchen and understand their importance, as a lot of focus and attention is paid to the final product on the plate. So, customers come to the restaurant and see these elaborate, beautifully prepared Picasso painting-like presentations displayed before them and they indulge, most times commenting on the fantastic textures, delicately flavoured sauces and final overall presentation, but what we as practitioners have to be very cognizant of is the cost of creating such a presentation and 99 per cent of the time, the major cost is in the protein.

This makes it also clear as to why it is important for us to understand that we must now pay more attention to the basics and, in this case, I refer to the basics of butchery. In understanding this noble craft and applying it in instances like these will assure you of cost effective cuts being used to create such presentations, resulting in increased profits since your production costs would have been trimmed dramatically.

I hope this opens your eyes a bit more to your roles as modern day chefs and that you understand that the time is coming when the knowledge of this craft will be so important that it will take a leading role in the interview process, as managers and owners of businesses will seek to employ only those who can positively affect their bottom line. Since the protein remains the most expensive commodity on a plate, much more attention will have to be paid to this portion of the meal.

Let me say here that this does not apply only to pork, but also pertains to beef, lamb and even chicken which too has become very expensive in our modern day society. Of course, our retailers took advantage of this as well, because can you image that a chicken now has a tenderloin which, when you go into the supermarket, also retails for a ridiculously high price. Come on people! It’s just a part of the breast; no different in any way. We will talk about that a bit more in a future article.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact us at the Caribbean Cuisine Culinary Institute, tel: (246)629-0076, where classes can be arranged.

Source: (Peter Edey is a Worldchefs Certified Executive Chef; a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation; a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer. Email: peter@dcbarbados.com)

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