Monday, 19 November 2007

Greedy Piggy

I had plenty of leftover sage from the Gilthead bream dish so last week I went on a hunt for a quality piece of pig. It turned out to be a great opportunity to try out a new butcher, Kim Libretto, whose shop is actually closer to home that my usual butcher, William Rose in East Dulwich.

I don't think Kim knows or cares that much about visual merchandising. Unlike places like Moen & Sons in Clapham or Mckanna Meats on Theobalds Road, Libretto's windows do not set mouths watering or draw passing traffic into the shop with lavish displays of scarlet flesh. In fact you'd probably see more attractive rump on offer in the windows of Amsterdam's red light district. The shop itself has a slightly strange smell, like a larder full of dried herbs, spices, and condiments that haven't been refreshed for twenty years. Behind the counter sit a solitary chicken, a couple of pork tenderloins, a pigeon, and a rack of lamb. It doesn't seem like meat heaven to me.

A few years ago I would pass under the arches of Smithfield Market at 8.45am every morning on the way to the office in Clerkenwell. As I made my way through this theatre of meat, the scent of flesh hung heavily in the air as porters lugged giant carcasses from delivery vans, their white coats stained with blood. Forklift trucks in reverse beeped to announce their movements, with twin prongs wedged firmly under palettes of chickens imported from France and beyond. A pack of Essex boys, their mouths filled with cigarettes and language as colourful as their bloody coats, barked and whistled at the passing secretaries whose killer heels clip-clopped on the cobbles as they tried to maintain their balance and the head on their Starbucks capuccinos. I longed to divert my path and take a sharp right down the narrow aisles of traders, dance through the forests of hanging meat like Rocky Balboa, wield a cleaver and bring it crashing down on a butcher's block. But instead I would continue straight on, head in the clouds past St John restaurant, over Clerkenwell Road and to my cluttered desk for another day of unbridled brandalism.

Libretto's has no such atmosphere but appearances certainly can be deceptive. Slightly nervously I asked Kim for a couple of pork chops on the bone. He disappeared for a moment and returned with a full loin of free-range pork slung over his shoulder which he slammed onto his block. He turned to look at me and with a cheeky glint in the eye he posited a single-worded enquiry. "Greedy?". I answered with two words. "Of course". He proceeded to cut two T-bone chops from the loin the size of which I have never seen before. I wasn't sure I had plates big enough to serve them, or a table strong enough to bear their weight. They were over 400g each.

And the flavour... The pork had been hung for I'm not sure how long and the meat and fat had taken on a rich nuttiness I had never tasted before. Cooked pink, the centre remained juicy and tender. A simple accompaniment of caramalised onions and sage was enough to showcase its quality.

So Librettos will now become my butcher of choice. The reason there is so little meat on display is that he cuts it all to order. I can't wait to find out what other gems he has hidden in his meat store.

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