Meet the meat man

Cana­dian-born Si­mon Poole trained as a clas­si­cal chef be­fore de­cid­ing he loved meat and wanted to be a butcher. Now he com­bines his skills at the Butcher’s Diner in Mel­bourne’s central busi­ness dis­trict, a 24-hour tem­ple where wild game meat reg­u­larly gra

Field and Game - - BUSH TO BANQUET -

Tasked with pre­par­ing a game dish suit­able for camp­ing Si­mon opted for wal­laby tail stew, al­though the recipe works just as well with kan­ga­roo, which is more eas­ily ob­tain­able.

The wal­laby for this dish was sourced from Flin­ders Is­land.

“It is based on a clas­sic south­ern Ital­ian dish which is tra­di­tion­ally done with goat, don­key, or horse. You take your tough cuts and braise them down; you can do it in the field while you are hunt­ing,” Si­mon ex­plained.

“It is not meant to be el­e­gant, it is some­thing hearty you can cook with lim­ited fa­cil­i­ties; just grab a cast iron pot, throw in the kan­ga­roo tail and brown it up, pour in a cou­ple of cans of nice dark beer, add a caramelised onion and some salt­bush, put the lid on and go have fun for six to eight hours while it slowly cooks.”

Si­mon is a clas­si­cally trained chef who spent a decade work­ing in fine din­ing be­fore de­cid­ing on an­other path. “Six months be­fore I moved to Aus­tralia I de­cided I didn’t want to do that any­more, and I started a butch­ery ap­pren­tice­ship,” he said. “The money wasn’t great but I re­ally en­joyed the work.”

Si­mon em­i­grated as a chef be­cause butcher skills were not in de­mand, but a few years later, he re­sumed and com­pleted his ap­pren­tice­ship in Aus­tralia.

He started his own restau­rant, Back Street Eat­ing, spe­cial­is­ing in dry aged beef and char­cu­terie.

His cur­rent ven­ture, the Butch­ers Diner, does ex­actly what the name sug­gests.

Whether it is break­fast or din­ner, there’s a de­li­ciously meaty menu for din­ers while the glassed-in bon­ing room is the hub that sup­plies meat to more than a dozen venues. “We do a lot of char­cu­terie here and I run a pickle com­pany as well,” Si­mon said.

“I’m not a par­tic­u­larly great butcher, but I come to it with a dif­fer­ent back­ground and a good un­der­stand­ing of clas­si­cal cook­ery, and I’ve man­aged to par­lay that into a pretty good ca­reer. “I’d never make a world-class chef or a great butcher, but put to­gether it is a pretty good skill set.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Si­mon thinks hun­ters have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of butch­ery than most chefs. “When I was train­ing in a kitchen I thought butch­ers were just peo­ple who cut steaks,” he said. “For a re­ally good butcher the skill set is in­cred­i­ble, the mus­cle mem­ory and the knowl­edge of anatomy, it is also a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way of us­ing a knife.”

Si­mon said teach­ing some­one al­ready trained in a kitchen to butcher is like get­ting a right-han­der to use their left hand, it doesn’t work. “As a butcher you look at it a dif­fer­ent way, use your knife a dif­fer­ent way, use your body dif­fer­ently. “The hun­ters that I know, my wife’s fam­ily, they are all pretty good, they would be bet­ter at field dress­ing wild ducks than I would.”

Si­mon said field dress­ing was some­thing most butch­ers would not ex­pe­ri­ence in a life­time. “My cousins would hunt deer at Strath­bo­gie and bring them to me. They were dressed bet­ter than any game abat­toir I’d ever seen; they were stun­ning car­casses, that just comes with prac­tice,” he said.

When break­ing down an an­i­mal him­self, Si­mon leaves noth­ing to waste. “When we buy wild deer the shoul­ders go into dice, shanks get braised down and folded into deer mince, we have a deer burger with black truf­fle aioli,” he said. “The fe­murs and tib­ias give you mar­row bones so you get a roasted plug of mar­row with your wild deer cut­let, the belly goes into sausage and ter­rines, the legs make deer prosci­utto, prosci­ut­tini and carpac­cio.”

Even when field dress­ing, Si­mon said hun­ters should aim to max­imise their yield. “With kan­ga­roos there’s not a tonne of meat but you get a lot from the tail, the loins, and legs,” he said.

Si­mon said game meats were also great for char­cu­terie, an art he taught him­self. “There are not many vari­ables in char­cu­terie; it is just ba­sic math, salt to meat weight, I have for­mu­las that work and do not change,” he said. “If you come from an Ital­ian or Mal­tese back­ground you learn grow­ing up the moon phase sig­nals salami-mak­ing week­end, and then it is hung in the at­tic and they know if the tem­per­a­tures are nor­mal when it will be ready: it works without hav­ing to un­der­stand how or why it does. “For ev­ery­one else there is a more sci­ence-based ap­proach, you weigh your meat, add 3–4.5 per cent salt to meat

weight, crushed ju­niper berry, bay leaves, or what­ever, and seal it in a vac­uum pack.”

In any­where from two to four weeks, take the meat out and rinse it, then hang it in muslin in the shed and mon­i­tor wa­ter loss.

“If a veni­son leg af­ter salt­ing and rins­ing weighs 950 g, it is lean, so it should lose about 30 per cent mois­ture, so weigh it ev­ery two weeks un­til it hits 700 g,” Si­mon said.

“Then vac pack it in olive oil. You have the darker bark on the out­side and it is wet­ter in the mid­dle: over a week or two the oil forces the wa­ter to even out through the cells.

“Just prac­tise a few times, it very rarely goes wrong. If the fin­ished prod­uct has black mould and is growl­ing at you when you open the door, you are go­ing to know not to eat it.”

Si­mon Poole loves his meat

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