Last year I put together a post called 'A Few Notes On Choosing Your Ingredients', where I briefly touched on the importance of knowing where our food comes from, while still cutting ourselves a bit of slack, recognising that we may not have the money or resources to source everything down to the farm gate. Also last year, I joined the team from Scotch Beef and Lamb in Edinburgh and in the Scottish Borders to learn more about good, Scotch beef. I wrote about my time in Edinburgh, and reviewed a couple of the great restaurants we ate at (Timberyard and The Scran and Scallie) at the time, but I have been meaning to revisit my trip to discuss the importance of where we source what we put on our plates in a bit more detail.
For me, I like to shop around for my meat. I am perfectly willing to admit that my freezer is currently full of packs of Waitrose beef, veal and lamb mince, chicken thighs, and their 3 for £10 steaks and whole chickens. Meat is expensive. Typically, I don't eat much meat day to day when I'm cooking for myself (in the last week my family were away and I was cooking for myself, I only totalled one steak, two sausages and a slice of black pudding), but as family we have it pretty much every day, and there is no doubt about it that meat is expensive. And it should be, if you think about what goes into rearing an animal. Essentially, even with supermarket meat, I always make sure I buy British meat with traceable welfare.
However, sometimes you want the meat on your plate to be an event, especially when you're putting together something special where the meat is a hero, and its flavour is not going to be covered up by a rub or a marinade. For example, the beautiful Daylesford Organic chicken I roasted and served with a Black Bean and Strawberry Salsa the other week. On these occasions (think birthdays, Christmas and just because) I try to source a special piece of meat, and after my trip to the Scottish borders to visit a herd of Aberdeen Angus cows at home on their farm, on occasion I like to track down a piece of Scotch certified Aberdeen Angus.
Here there are two operative words: 'Aberdeen Angus' and 'Scotch'. First, let us discuss Aberdeen Angus, the one of the two labels you're probably more familiar with. There is a lot of beef labeled Aberdeen Angus out there, but the problem is that not a lot of it comes from an Aberdeen Angus cow. The label can be used when the cow in question has only a quarter of Aberdeen Angus heritage, for example if one of its grandparents was an Aberdeen Angus. I'm not saying that your meat may be of any lesser quality if it is not 100% pure Aberdeen Angus, but if you're going to pay a premium for the label, make sure you're getting the real thing by talking to your butcher or reading the small print on the pack. However, from the different steaks we sampled on the farm, it is worth hunting down a couple for your next steak night, so you can really get to know the flavour of what 100% Aberdeen Angus steak tastes like.
What makes Scottish beef 'Scotch' beef is a trickier one. I think the most important thing to note at the outset is that just because beef (or lamb) is Scottish, it does not make it 'Scotch'. Scotch is a certification, which provides a one stop shop to let know what is on your plate, like you know something that is organic will for sure meet a certain set of standards if if carries the Soil Association label. For starters, to carry the label the animals in question need to be born in Scotland and raised in Scotland for their entire lives on a certified farm. All certified farms are regularly inspected to ensure that they meat the highest quality and welfare standards, and these demands mean Scotch meat is totally traceable. And it is not just the farms, it is the whole supply chain: feed has to come from certified sources, and the livestock has to be transported using certified hauliers.
I know most of my readers don't like in Scotland so buying Scotch meat won't necessarily be buying local meat, but just like how I used to buy Kosher certified chicken when I lived in California because the label guaranteed my meat met certain standards, the Scotch label is an assurance if you care about where your food comes from, so it is something to keep in mind. You can find out more on the Quality Meat Scotland website.
So once you've selected your meat (let us assume you have chosen a steak), I've got a quick and easy showstopper for you to make either just to enjoy yourself in front of the television, or scaled up and plated up on a big platter to feed a crowd: Bloody Mary Steak, with big, creamy hunks of avocado.
- 1 Aberdeen Angus Scotch Beef Steak
- Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 1/2 tbsp Tomato Based Vegetable Juice (I use V8)
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tsp Vodka
- Squeeze Fresh Lemon Juice
- Dash Worcestershire Sauce
- Dash Tabasco Hot Sauce
- 2 Handfuls Cherry Tomatoes
- 1 Small Ripe Avocado
- 1 Small Handful Fresh Basil
Season the steak on each side, and let it come up to room temperature. Meanwhile, make the Bloody Mary dressing by whisking together the vegetable juice, olive oil, vodka, and salt, pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and tabasco to taste. Half the cherry tomatoes, and toss them in the dressing.
Heat a non-stick frying pan or an oiled or non-stick griddle pan over a very high heat until the pan is smoking. Fry the steak for a few minutes on each side, until the outside is brown and crispy, and the inside is cooked to your liking. I like my steak rare; not quite bleu (I like my meat warmed through), but basically still raw in the middle. Rest the steak for 5 minutes on a warm plate under a piece of foil, then thinly slice it following the grain with a very sharp knife. While the steak is resting, cube the avocado.
To assemble the steak plate, lay the steak strips over a very hot plate, then spoon the tomatoes and the Bloody Mary dressing into the gaps. Finish the plate with a few more grinds of black pepper and scatter over the cubed avocado and the basil, torn slightly to release the flavours. Serve immediately, with lots of crusty bread to mop up the juices.
If you're after a few more 'meat and two veg' type dishes to enjoy for either to showcase some good quality meat for a special occasion, or just because why not try my Mediterranean Roast Chicken or my Sausage and Onion Roast with Mustard Sauce (you have no idea what difference good quality, traceable meat makes to butcher sausages compared to the regular supermarket ones!)