We have all changed the way we shop and eat to some degree during this pandemic — from the lure of the sourdough starter to the disarming rise of the winter barbecue.
But one trend has surprised more than most: the sudden embracing of old-fashioned cuts of meat, such as mutton and oxtail.
Mutton — meat from sheep that are at least two years old — was an everyday and popular meal in Britain before World War II but has fallen massively out of favour in recent decades.
Now, sales of the unfashionable meat are soaring. Farmison, a leading online butcher, says sales of mutton went up 500 per cent year on year in 2020, while sales of beef cheek rose 350 per cent and oxtail shot up 260 per cent.
Some of this increase is because all online food providers have enjoyed a surge in custom in lockdown. But, according to John Pallagi, Farmison's chief executive, many home cooks have started to be more adventurous.
People in lockdown have been embracing old-fashioned cuts of meat, such as mutton and oxtail. Harry Wallop (pictured) tries some recipes
'We've now got time,' he says. 'These lockdowns have meant people are spending far longer in their kitchen, in the core of the house, and they are experimenting and playing.'
Richard Turner, executive chef of Hawksmoor, the upmarket steak restaurant chain, as well as director of Turner & George, a London butchers, has witnessed customers ordering more curious cuts.
'The increase in demand has been ludicrous,' he says. 'It's comfort food, isn't it? People like things that make them happy and people gravitate towards braising cuts in tough times. When things get really dark and hard, you want to eat simple comfort food. Ox cheek is one such example of that. I really love it.'
Mutton, meanwhile, has a long history in Britain. Samuel Pepys ate it for his Christmas dinner, and legendary cookery writer Mrs Beeton said that, among all the meats, 'it stands first in favour'.
Mutton — meat from sheep that are at least two years old — was an everyday and popular meal in Britain before World War II but has fallen massively out of favour in recent decades
The average person in Britain in 2018 ate a mere 1g of mutton each week, compared with 35g of lamb and 186g of chicken, according to official statistics.
'If you get the right mutton, nothing is better,' says John Pallagi. 'But if you sell mutton at four years old it can be as tough as old boots. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, there weren't the great cookbooks and chefs inspiring people.'
Richard Turner says there is another reason why these unfashionable cuts are coming back into fashion. 'There is an important ethical dimension,' he says. 'Some of these meats, if they don't make it into dog food, end up in landfill. Some butchers have to pay for these cuts to be taken away.'
Now, sales of the unfashionable meat are soaring. Pictured is Harry Wallop trying some recipes
An increasing number want to eat less meat but of a higher quality that won't damage the environment. 'For all those eating loins and prime cuts, it would be great if there are people eating the rest of the carcass. These are, I believe, the tastiest bits.'
I consider myself an adventurous meat-eating cook but I've never cooked mutton or oxtail.
I turned to top chef Richard Corrigan for inspiration and tried some recipes.
Mutton chops with salsa verde & cavolo nero
Most mutton recipes rely on slow, long cooking — but fans of the meat point out that any good-quality meat can be cooked simply and quickly. And there is nothing simpler than this Richard Corrigan recipe for chops. The prep time was minimal and the cooking time less than ten minutes. The end result was stunning. The chops were like lamb — yes, a little chewier but with a more intense and meaty flavour, and the most amazing fat. The salsa verde, using English mustard, cut through any richness. A wonderful plate of food.
Mutton chops with salsa verde & cavolo nero are pictured
For the salsa verde
1. Add all of the salsa verde ingredients to a bowl and mix.
2. Boil the cavolo nero in a saucepan of well-salted boiling water for 2 minutes and drain. In a saucepan, drizzle olive oil and add garlic and chilli. Warm until fragrant.
3. Add the cavolo nero and turn down the heat. Cook for 3 minutes until the leaves are very soft with the lid on.
4. Ensure your chops are at room temperature before cooking and season with salt and pepper.
5. Add a drop of oil to a heavy-based frying pan or griddle.
6. Add your chops to a very hot pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side.
7. Rest for a few minutes before serving.
This is the world's most luxurious spag bol but made with a cheaper cut of beef than mince: oxtail. The gnarly lumps of meat don't look promising out of the packet but after a few hours gently simmering on the hob in the rich red-wine stock, herbs and tomatoes, the smell is amazing. The meat flakes off the bones to create an unctuous, generous sauce for the pappardelle. A bowl of pasta doesn't get tastier than this.
This is the world's most luxurious spag bol but made with a cheaper cut of beef than mince: oxtail
1. Season the oxtail with salt, pepper, flour and leave aside.
2. Pour a glug of olive oil and butter into a large pot and, once smoking hot, brown the oxtail. Remove and leave aside.
3. In the same pot, add the carrots, celery, herbs and garlic. Sweat off for ten minutes until soft.
4. Add the wine, honey, stock, Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes and bring to the boil, ensuring the lid is on.
5. Once you have a syrup-like consistency, add the oxtail back to the pot.
6. Cook on a low heat for 2½ to 3 hours or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
7. Remove all the meat from the bone.
8. Remove herbs.
9. Serve with pappardelle and finish with grated Parmesan.
BBC GOOD FOOD