An English Market Butcher
By Evin O'Keeffe, © 2011
When I first arrived in Cork to live, my first priority after unpacking was to find a butcher. Yes, fresh meat was more important to me than a good hairdresser or even friends. I knew that a great butcher meant the difference between spending an hour preparing meat to cook or just spending a few minutes, not to mention quality and flavor of the final meal. Meat was my mission – along with buying a teapot.
It took six months of trying different butchers to find the one we've been going to ever since. The first one inconveniently relocated away from City Centre where I live. The second had more pork than beef, lamb, or chicken. I am allergic to pork so we sought out a third butcher. This time, I asked my new friends that I met through a local knitting group. Two raved about the most tender steak ever so I thought it was worth a try. Enter P. Coughlan's at the renowned English Market. Having held a stall at the Market for about seven decades, it was clear this family business was a stable and reliable choice. Growing up, I was taught that though it's fun to run out to a new restaurant or shop, it's the one that has been open for at least a year – and not just catering to tourist business – that is the one worth trying. Well, 70 years selling raw meat certainly qualifies!
The first visit set the tone. It was just before closing and my father was visiting from the States. He cooks amazing steak so we thought it was a good time to try that super tender beef my friends boasted about. We picked up a few just as the Market was closing up and they were amazing. My husband actually asked where we had found such tender steak. It all felt very much like a commercial the way we hungrily devoured each bite with happy eating noises. Fast forward nearly three years and we're still going to the same butcher. I visit them a few times a week since Cork has completely overhauled my American approach to weekly grocery shopping. Each time, I am greeted warmly by Paul, Alan, or Anthony.
Usually, we eat different meats each week, but for much of my pregnancy this year I lost my interest in meat. It was tragic! It became a bit predictable that I would always get four chicken fillets, visit after visit after visit. Then one day, my husband offered to make hamburgers and it actually sounded good! We popped into the Market, stepped up to the counter and asked for a kilo of minced steak. A look of surprise flashed across Alan's face then he disappeared in the back. A few minutes later, he explained that since I had not eaten beef in so long, he wanted to mince us some fresh steak for the occasion. Having come from a country where the large majority of meat comes packaged in a sterile styrofoam and plastic container, I cherish the care that goes into the meat we get from the Market. No matter who your butcher is, you get that there.
Of course, the charms of my butcher go beyond mincing me fresh beef to knowing their cuts. I can bring in an American recipe and they know what cut of beef it is asking for and can recommend substitutes based on the cooking method. Weeks later, I can return and ask for "that beef I got that time you sliced it thinly for that slow-cooking recipe with all the onions" and they remember! The first time that happened, I nearly fell over in shock. Now, I'm just spoiled.
After all this time, my dad still remembers being with me the first time we visited P. Coughlan's so it is one of his favorite places to visit when he comes to Cork. This past visit, we went almost every single day as he was doing a lot of the cooking so I could put my feet up and focus on growing his only grandchild. Each day, we'd choose a meat and chat a little. The morning after he went home when I was back at the Market, Paul asked if my dad got home ok. Half asleep and being tortured by the scent of the croissants at the bakery across from Coughlan's, I didn't hear. He repeated, "Did Bill get back to DC so?" You can't help but smile when your butcher knows your dad by first name. But that's Cork for you.