One of the keys to good cooking and good food are your ingredients. It may sound blindingly obvious but in an age of convenience food and mass availability of an ever increasing array of items at our local superstore, perhaps it’s easy to forget about the quality and provenance of our products.
I’ve watched on with quiet sadness as the big supermarket chains firstly devastated the high street by building their large out of town superstores, and I then looked on aghast as the government allowed these chains to compete directly on the high street by letting them open convenience stores there. This cannot be good for us as a society as small independent shops go to the wall.
The other effect had been a homogenecity of product available to us and with the notable exception of Morrisons who still have proper butchers in their shops (a short conversation with your supermarket butcher will soon reveal if they’re a real butcher), the meat and fish counters are manned by amateurs.
I’m a great supporter of independent butchers and fishmongers, which are sadly dwindling in number. I do it firstly because I think it’s the right thing to support independent businesses but also because the product and advice you get from them is miles ahead of the supermarkets.
I don’t have a fishmonger but I’m very lucky to have an excellent butcher close to where I work. A lot of the credit for the meat dishes I turn out has to go to Robert, Sara and the staff at William Dyer butchers in Ashtead, Surrey.
Located in a small parade of shops on Craddocks Avenue, they sell meat and home made pies as well as running a deli at the back of the shop. They are very seasonal and on my recent visit before Christmas, the shop display was resplendent with game birds and whole carcasses.
My main reason to visit is their extensive range of meat. My favourite things to buy are the ribeye steak and the Gloucester Old Spot pork chop. Both are packed with flavour, generous in portion size and are best cooked on the stove top to get a good caramelisation and finished in the oven. I also love their marinated lamb, the best tasting convenience food.
I’ve been very lucky to get to know Robert & Sara, the owners. Robert has always been full of advice about his products and suggesting ways to cook it to get the best out of them. He’s been very kind in helping me to develop some of my dishes. Together, we’ve perfected my home sous vided fillet steak by Robert working hard to provide me with uniform steaks of the same thickness and shape to enable me to get consistency during cooking. He’s also helped me with Heston Blumenthal’s chicken liver parfait by getting me good quality chicken livers. It’s wonderful to have this relationship with a great butcher and it has really helped my cookery.
They also make their own pies in-house, which are delicious. They come ready to be popped into the oven and come out piping hot with a golden crust. Their chicken, bacon and leek pie was named in the Great Taste Awards 2015 Top 50 from an initial entry of over 10000 products
This Christmas, Robert sourced me an excellent boneless ham to contribute to Christmas lunch with Emma’s family. I used Lorraine Pascale’s recipe for sticky glazed Asian ham but reduced the cooking time to 20 minutes per pound on Robert’s advice and the results were spectacular – juicy with a fine sweet, slightly spicy coating. I could never have achieved that without the quality of ham.
So, I encourage you all to get out there and support your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer if you’re lucky to have one. Make friends with them and use their extensive knowledge about their products. As for me, I’m so thankful for having William Dyer in my cookery life. I’m still trying to persuade Robert that we should open a steakhouse together. With his steaks, we’d make a killing in our local area.
18 Craddocks Parade, Ashtead, Surrey KT21 1QJ