Artisan butchers a cut above the rest

Artisan butchers are offering organic meats cured to order, writes Janice Leung Hayes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 August, 2013, 10:20pm

TO MOST PEOPLE IN Hong Kong, the word "butcher" brings to mind a wet market counter with a man wielding a large cleaver, or for the more tech savvy, the online shops selling imported meats.

But another kind of butcher's shop is emerging - the kind that makes its own meat products, such as sausages, terrines, sauces and hamburgers, and will help you with your purchase in almost every way imaginable, from dry-ageing, to roasting it for your dinner party, and even teaching you how to make your own sausages.

Chef David Lai recently opened boutique butchery, Bistronomique Boucherie, complementing his other projects - restaurants On Lot 10 and Bistronomique, and cafe-bakery Boulangerie Bistronomique.

"Our kitchens are too small to make breads and desserts, so we have a bakery. The butcher's shop is a logical extension," says Lai.

"It's a two-way street. When we have a butcher shop, we carry more kinds of meat, and our restaurants benefit in that we can start using a wider variety of cuts and products," Lai says.

Previously, the cuts delivered to his restaurant were already broken down into individual components, such as tenderloin and short ribs. Lai says, "I think our goal is to get as big as we can handle. Eventually, we hope to be able to get half a side of the animal, but [at the moment] we are definitely getting a full leg and shoulder, to figure out how we can turn it into something better."

After removing the neat, conventional cuts that can be sold at the butcher's shop or the restaurant, the trimmings can be made into all manner of products, such as sausages, hamburgers, terrines and rillettes. These products often have a reputation of being hastily made by-products from unwanted scraps, but modern butchers make these with care, so that they command as much attention as a rib-eye.

Lai says, "It's one way to make money, but the most important thing is we try not to waste anything. That's one thing that we have to do when taking a bigger, primal cut, because we will have a lot of cuts that are no good for roasting, or even for braising."

All of Lai's products are made in the way you might expect a butcher in the French countryside to operate - in-house, by hand, and letting the process take all the time it needs. Sausages can take up to five days to complete, starting with fresh meat and finishing with drying the sausages briefly. Every step is designed with the development of the desired flavours and textures in mind. For example, Lai spices his meat before mincing it for better integration and depth of flavour.

Aarik Persaud, chef at private kitchen and butcher's shop The Butchers Club takes a similar zero-waste approach. "We keep pork back fat, and we also keep fat trimmed from our dry-aged beef."

Previously, sausages were rarely made in Hong Kong using artisanal processes, but recent trends have been steering consumers away from the overly processed, factory-made sausages found on supermarket shelves. Founder of The Butchers Club, Jonathan Glover says, "Some of [the mass-produced sausages] taste good, but I don't believe they're good for you. Our sausages are good for you. Where possible they're organic products. All we do is put the right ingredients and flavours in a casing, it's nothing more, nothing less, but there is an art to it."

Lai says the products at Bistronomique Boucherie are classic and rustic in style, such as merguez and calabrese sausages, and pork terrines and rillettes, although he says he will be releasing a slightly less conventional beef rillette. The Butchers Club has also started out with basic sausages, and they have been experimenting with other products, such as dry-aged beef and blue cheese sausages, and a dehydrated beef "salt".

High quality, carefully reared meats are almost a given in today's premium marketplace, and Homegrown Foods, an online retailer of organic produce and other artisanal foods, has been offering pork that is sourced from a Hong Kong pig farm, Wah Kee, known for its naturally and responsibly raised pigs. Apart from retailing cuts such as tenderloin and spare ribs, the company has also begun to sell sausages made out of this pork. Integrated Hospitality Management, Homegrown Foods' parent company, owns a number of restaurants, such as Linguini Fini, which is already known for sausages made and cured in-house, and now some of these are retailed online.

The Butchers Club and Bistronomique Boucherie also stock meats from farms, ranches and suppliers whose names are well known in gastronomic circles. In particular, Bistronomique Boucherie offers beef from Hugo Desnoyer, a Parisian butcher whose name is akin to royalty.

These butcher's shops don't just cut and pack the meats, they both feature other services, such as dry-ageing, and even cooking the products.

Lai's model butcher shop is one in Tokyo, called Nakasei. Not only does it source the finest meats in Japan, Nakasei ages and even cooks and serves its meats in an attached restaurant, taking the customer on a veritable journey from the source to the plate. At Lai's restaurants, he is able to cook his meats to perfection, but he wants to ensure customers can enjoy them the same way at home too. Not only can customers of Bistronomique Boucherie find sauces and stocks to accompany their cut of beef, they can even ask to have their beef cooked before they take it home.

The Butchers Club offers a similar service.

"We've had a lot of calls from people - they want to be a star for their dinner party, but they don't want to be in the kitchen for eight hours. We had a couple that wanted us to roast their prime rib, and they came in to collect it and drove it quickly back out [to their dinner party at home]. We want people to come in and get a bit of knowledge from us and not have to break their backs. We're going to do lots of 'finish at home' stuff," says Persaud.

At The Butchers Club, customers can buy meats fresh and in small amounts, or they can purchase a large a four to six kilogram piece, such as bone-in rib-eye, to be dry-aged. Once ordered, The Club ages it in its facilities and notifies the customer once it's ready. They can either take the whole piece home, take a portion of it (keeping the rest in a meat locker at the temperature-controlled facilities), or book out The Club for a private dinner, and have the chefs there cook it, or use the professional kitchen and cook it themselves.

Both The Butchers Club and Bistronomique Boucherie feature dry-ageing rooms. Dry-ageing removes moisture from the meat, and lets it break down in a controlled manner, regulated by temperature, humidity and air-flow, resulting in a deeper, more complex flavour.

The Butchers Club is also able to offer a hands-on experience for meat lovers in its warehouse space in Aberdeen, holding workshops on specific processes and techniques related to butchery. In September, it will conclude its series of sausage-making classes, which allow participants to make sausages from scratch, including deboning a whole leg of lamb or pork. The sausages are grilled for dinner at the end of class. Next on the agenda is sous-vide cooking, and it will continue to cover meat-specific topics.

"This is just the start of it, we've got a lot of ideas that we'll start to push forward and develop, a lot of stuff to make it easier for people to enjoy meat," says Glover.



Bistronomique Boucherie
Shop 5, Grand Fortune Mansion, 1B Davis Street, Kennedy Town, tel: 2872 0522

The Butchers Club
13C Sun Ying Industrial Centre, 9 Tin Wan Close, Tin Wan, Aberdeen, tel: 2552 8281,

Homegrown Foods
Tel: 2671 2771,