Qin Xie’s 39 steps to being a better foodie


In the Telegraph today was a piece about another piece in Country Life. The headline was ‘Country Life’s 39 Steps to a better life’ and the premise (paraphrased) was that if young people are equipped with these 39 skills, they will be better equipped for life. They wanted to started a debate, so here it is.

Going through the list I am able to tick off very few, while others I know can do a lot more. I guess I’m just ill-equipped. I want to say that it’s universally accepted that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall can probably do all those and more. It’s probably true.

The real cause for concern is how little food related things there are (only about five). I suppose not everything’s about food right? But if it is, consider 39 things to do:

  1. Make a soufflé. Or perhaps an apple tarte tatin. Something difficult. It probably won’t work the first time but when it does, it will taste like the best thing in the world.
  2. Do a taste comparison, and then do it blind.
  3. Discover fermentation of more unusual things.
  4. Make bread, by hand. Ditch the machinery and go old school with all the kneading, proofing and more kneading. Hard work tastes good (usually).
  5. Learn some butchery skills. And then some fancy fish work. Maybe even a bit of crustacean manipulation.
  6. Trace something you’ve eaten. It will give you food for thought.
  7. Do a food challenge. It will change the way you look at food.
  8. Go forage for some food, maybe even an entire meal.
  9. Find a delightful dive – food is excellent, everything else is probably below par.
  10. Eat something ridiculously expensive, even if it’s just the once. Good or bad, it will probably be the thing that you will talk about forever.
  11. Have a food fight.
  12. Experience food from another era.
  13. Imagine a feast. The best feast you could ever have. Make it happen.
  14. Recreate your favourite childhood menu, and invite your friends to share.
  15. Experiment with smoking things.
  16. Fast. Think about what you’re craving the most and why.
  17. (Re)Create a food gimmick.
  18. Visit the producers of your favourite food and see what you find.
  19. Make your own alcoholic beverage. Calculate it down to the nth degree – you want to be able to get it right every time right?
  20. Challenge your senses. Say eat something incredibly nice in a ridiculously foul environment.
  21. Throw a dinner party (and invite me).
  22. Eat the same thing each day and find something new about it everyday.
  23. Eat something in high altitude and then the same below sea level. Taste the difference?
  24. Cook a gourmet camping feast.
  25. Make a preserve from fresh ingredients and enjoy it when it’s out of season.
  26. Go on a food safari.
  27. Create a recipe, develop it, improve it.
  28. Cure something, be it meat, fish or other(?).
  29. Eat the same thing, as many different ways as you can imagine. Can you have a steamed roast?
  30. Prepare something from start to finish, in that classic Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall way – raise it, kill it, cook it, eat it.
  31. Figure out the recipe to your favourite bought food.
  32. Try something you know you hate. It may surprise you. Even Brussel sprouts.
  33. Consider food, as something other than food. After all, Socrates said the unexamined life wasn’t a life worth living. Unexamined food should surely be similarly respected?
  34. Learn enough about your drink to make your drink worthwhile.
  35. Create a menu, based only on one product.
  36. Have something not in the way that it was intended. Meat smoothie anyone?
  37. Eat food from as many different cultures as possible, in one day.
  38. Create a piece of art, with food.
  39. Call yourself a foodie? Start a food blog.

Sessions with my butcher: one whole lamb

A whole lamb carcass on butcher's block

On the last session with my local butcher, Cleavers of Old York Road, Wandsworth, I jointed a chicken and broke down a leg of lamb. This time we’ve stepped up into a whole lamb.

When it’s hung up in the freezer, you always think “that looks quite small”. And considering the amount of wool and skin that’s been removed, it is. But it’s still a hefty bit of meat that’s too heavy for me to carry.

We started by taking off the top section that’s the shoulder of lamb by cutting along the 5th rib from the neck. The knife runs surprisingly easy down the side once you break through the fatty edge at the top on the first cut. Then you have to saw through the spine leaving the top section with the shoulder and the bottom section with the rack, belly and leg of lamb. Before you can remove the shoulder of lamb from the ribs, you also need to saw off the scrag, that is, the neck stump.

This video is a pretty good overview of the shoulder prepping and rolling process.

Once you have your top section of the lamb, place the cut on the board with the spine at the bottom. Using the tip of a boning knife, you need to cut as close to the rib as possible, scraping the meat away from the rib. Gravity will help to pull the meat away from the rib too. Towards the base of the rib, the bone curves round so you will need to follow the line, otherwise you will end up cutting into the neck fillet like I did. Doing this on both sides of the ribcage will give you two shoulders of lamb.

To prepare the shoulder for rolling, the first thing you need to do is joint the shank. To do this just pull the leg down, opening what’s effectively the elbow joint, and cut through the meat, then prise open the joint.

Once you’ve removed the shank, there are two remaining bones that need to be removed. The leg bone is pretty easy to spot and it’s just a matter of tunneling in from both ends, scraping the meat off the bone, to remove it. The shoulder-blade is a lot harder as you need to carve it out from the shoulder. It should be somewhere in the middle of the shoulder, fairly close to the surface of the meat rather than the skin, and you will need to carve the meat away from all sides.

My rolled shoulder of lamb

After you’ve removed all the bones, you will also need to trim the excess fat, tendons and glands. These are all pretty easy to spot being white rather than the pink flesh. There’s also a paddywack on one of the sides that you will need to remove. Finally all you need to do is roll the lamb shoulder by folding in the meat from both sides and tying butchers’ knots around the joint, starting from the middle and then moving your way in from both sides.

The next two sections are comparatively easier to do. First cut out the rack of lamb by basically cutting off the entire section with ribs. The next section is the belly of lamb, which joins on to the leg of lamb.

My rack of lamb displayed

The rack of lamb is what creates the crowns and shanks that you see displayed. To separate them from the spine, you will need to saw through the ribs from the inside without cutting through the flesh. Then you will need to carve around the spine at the base to remove the shank.

To create that classic exposed bones look, put the rack of lamb on the board skin side up. Cut, using the bit where the flesh begins to plump up as a guide, lengthways along the rack and then scrape the meat off the bone. You need to remove the flesh on the side that has less meat of course, in other words, where it was further from the spine. Then it’s on to the time-consuming job of removing all the flesh from the exposed bone, including the areas between the bones.

The belly of lamb doesn’t require much work except to remove it from the spine by carving around the bone. And of course the leg of lamb is the same as before. And that makes up a whole lamb.

Butchery in the city of London

As a devout meat eater, I can’t ever imagine not eating meat. There’s just something incredibly satisfying about its unique texture, enticing aroma and alluring taste. And like most meat eaters, I’ve probably eaten more animals than I can count. This fact, and my general pro-meat attitude, probably hasn’t won me many vegetarian friends.

But for a meat eater, I am rather embarrassed to say that I know very little about all those different cuts of meat, where they come from on the animal and on occasions even the best way to cook it. Like most people I head to my local supermarket, pick up my packet of lamb/beef/chicken and think nothing more of it. Sometimes it’s not even organic or free-range. Oh if Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall hears about this, he will certainly refuse to be my food hero.

With news of the fourth National Butcher’s Week (13-20th March) arriving in my Inbox, I had an epiphany. I should, and need to, learn about those cuts of meat by exploring some of the best butchery classes right on my doorstep. After one or two train/tube/bus rides, that is.

If you like things to be bespoke…

Sausage making at Parson's NoseParson’s Nose is very much the local butcher at the heart of a community. Well, two communities actually as they have a store in Fulham and one in Putney. Born, originally, out of the requests of curious regulars, their courses are still one on one sessions available during the day or in the evening by request. They can also be tailored according to your requirements so if you wanted to attempt a multi-bird roast, they can help you with that.

I dropped in on their sausage making and combination courses.

On the sausage-making course you are literally taken from start to finish by one of their butchers. That is, you begin with whole chunks of meat; go through the whole mincing, mixing and stuffing process; then finish with tying up the sausages yourself. You are taught through the techniques step-by-step as you make the sausage yourself and you definitely get your hands dirty.

Preparing shoulder of lamb at Parson's NoseOn the combination course, you have three different meats to prepare which in this case was chicken, shoulder of lamb and loin of pork. Over the span of three hours, or however long it takes, you’re taught through the different sections of the meat, how to cut it, cook it, and even how to roll it. For this course, you are shown how to do it at the same time as trying it for yourself.

At the end of both classes, you get to take away all your prepared meats and any other special instructions. Take the sausage course for example, you need to leave the sausages for a while before tying it up to prevent a build up of fluids so you don’t actually get to do the tying in the class. But don’t worry, you are taught how.

Courses start from £85. Parson’s Nose is at 753 Fulham Road, Fulham SW6 5UU and 88 Lower Richmond Road, Putney SW15 1LL

If you want to learn basic skills…

Knife skills at LeithsLeiths School of Food and Wine is famed for being one of the top London cookery schools where they train professional chefs as well as teach keen foodies. The Leiths class I went to was a knife skills course where you started off with vegetables and worked your way up to a whole meal over the course of three hours.

The group of twenty gather around a large rectangular workstation where the teacher demonstrated the different techniques with different knives while talking through the ingredients. Then it was over to the class to do the hard work with their own set of ingredients, provided as part of the course.

First up was the art of roll slicing vegetables with the likes of onion, carrot and cucumber to practice on. After the vegetables, it was on to the meatier task of filleting round and flat fish. This offered an opportunity to learn about identifying different types of fish and how to gauge its freshness. The last thing on the agenda was chicken – the meat part. You are shown the different ways of jointing a chicken, including how to do a chicken supreme.

Gutting fish at Leiths School of Food and WineYou might think that with such a large group it’s difficult to learn anything with just one teacher, but there are also assistants who move around the workstation helping anyone who needs it. And as it was at Leiths School of Food and Wine, there were plenty of cooking tips being thrown in and of course recipes to take away at the end so you can make a meal out of the ingredients you prepared in class. That is, after your light lunch at the school.

If you wanted to build on the skills learnt on this course, Leiths also hold a more advanced course with just meats where you can learn more butchery skills.

Courses are between £90 and £125. Leiths School of Food and Wine is at 16-20 Wendell Road, London W12 9RT

If you’re looking for more than butchery…

Side of cow hanging at Ginger PigGinger Pig owns their own farm, that’s one of the first things they will tell you at their classes. At the beef class, they will tell you about the different cuts of meat and the best way of storing and ageing it. This will eventually lead to you slapping the bit of meat that you’ve just cut. Yes, really! Because at the Ginger Pig, the courses are more than just learning about meat, it is also a bit of a quirky night out.

After the theory at the beginning of the course, you gather around a butcher’s block and some lucky volunteer gets to carry a side of beef from where it’s hung to the table. If you’re feeling big and strong you also have the opportunity to hold up the beef at arm’s length, if that’s your thing.

Dining table at Ginger PigThe main reason why you start with a side of beef is so that you can be shown the different cuts of meat from the ribeye down to the rump and how to break it down. And you get to taste the beef, mid-session, which is just as well because it’s hungry work. Everyone gets the chance to help breakdown the beef, as there’s four sides of beef for 14 of you. There’s a real sense of camaraderie in the air too as everyone is applauded for their effort in taking apart the beef, and for giving it a good slap.

Of course that’s all just for fun. You are also given a section of chined rib to prepare your own roast beef joint, complete with a French trim. If, like me, you’re no good at tying knots then this will be enough to get you into a tangle.

The course ends, three hours later, with a session on how to cook the joint of beef you’ve just prepared, but the evening finishes with wine and a meal cooked by the two butchers. For the beef course that’s a roasted joint of beef with Dauphinoise potatoes and salad, plus a bread and butter pudding.

Courses are £135. Ginger Pig butchery classes take place at 8-10 Moxon Street, Marylebone, London W1U 4EW

If you need a course that’ short and intense…

Butcher's table at Allens of MayfairAllen’s of Mayfair are the oldest butchers in London and they supply meat to some of the top London restaurants, counting the likes of Bibendum, Scott’s and Le Gavroche amongst its customers. They’ve been running their butchery course for quite some time too; not as long as they’ve been open of course but long enough.

One of their butchers will teach you, and four others, a thing or two about butchery at their bijou Mount Street store and you only need to give up an hour and half of your time. It’s practically do-able in an extended lunch session, except then you’d have to take a load of meat back to the office.

Jointing chicken at Allens of MayfairSeasons change and so too does the meat you work with, but you will always have four different cuts to play with then take home along with some recipes. On this particular occasion there was a chicken to joint, an oxtail to cut, a pork belly to carve and a hunk of lamb to chop up. All the cuts are of a manageable size so you only get to learn how to dice up your section of the animal but you do get variety from the different meats.

They only run the sessions on a Wednesday and with only five spaces per session, the classes are booked up months in advance.

Courses are £100. Allens of Mayfair is at 117 Mount Street, London W1K 3LA

(First seen on Foodepedia)

Sessions with my butcher: chicken and leg of lamb

It’s National Butchers’ Week and nothing says it better than heading down to my local butchers, Cleavers, and getting some butchery lessons.


We started with the chicken – the very basics. Regular readers will know that I’ve attempted to joint a chicken before, but it seems that the way you joint a chicken in the butchers is very different from when you do it at home or even on a butchery course.

You start with taking the feet and ankles off, if your chicken still has them. The next thing to do is to break the chicken into the legs and the crown. To do this, cut along the line between the thigh and the body of the chicken without cutting off the legs. It’s easier to do this when the legs are held away from the body. Once both legs have been cut away from the body, simply break the bottom half away to give the leg section (which has the leg and a section of the backbone) and the crown (which is the breast and wings).

To separate out the legs, cut off the legs at the thigh joint on both sides leaving just the backbone. At Cleavers, the legs are generally presented as thigh and drumstick unless otherwise requested in which case it’s just a matter of cutting along the joint again.

To breakdown the crown, simply cut the chicken in half following the line of the breast bone. For each half, trim away the excess carcass and wings to leave only the breast. For chicken supreme, leave the first section of the wing on.

And that’s pretty much it for the chicken.

Leg of lamb

Next up was the leg of lamb – much more heavy handling. The leg of lamb came as the entire bottom section. The first thing you will need to do is separate the two legs.

Using the lamb’s backbone as leverage, cut forwards through the belly of the lamb so the carcass is opened up. Then you need to tackle the other side where you need to carve around the backbone.

The way that the leg of lamb is cut means that you can see the outline of the backbone so it’s just a matter of following the bone, cutting off as little meat as possible. Doing this on both sides of the backbone will leave two legs and one backbone, which can be discarded or used for making stock (as with all the carcass and unused bones).

To further breakdown the leg, start with the tendons. Towards the feet end of the leg you will find a tendon which you just need to cut away from the leg at its base. Then cut off about an inch on the feet end with a cleaver – it’s essentially bones, tendons and fat.

To separate out the lamb shank, sit the leg vertically. Find a slightly hard nodule about five inches down from the feet end, it should be on the thin side of the leg. This is the joint in the leg. You need to cut just below this nodule while pulling back on the feet end at the top. This will slowly reveal the joint which you will just need to separate and then cut through the meat to give the shank.

Rolled leg of lamb joint

The final part is to remove all the bones. There is the main one running through the leg but also another flatter one along the top which is part of the hip. The whole operation is really a matter of carving the meat away from the bone. Just underneath the leg bone, there is also a small pocket of fat where there is a gland that you need to remove too. If you’re any good at tying knots, you might end up with a joint like this.

Cleavers is at Old York Road, Wandsworth, SW18 1TG