Meatsmith took Melbourne by storm when it opened back in 2015, giving a city already blessed with excellent butcheries with a new take on carefully considered and beautifully presented meat retailing – a place where you could grab charcuterie and a bottle of good wine along with your snags and chops, and maybe tap your foot along to some late Radiohead while you were at it. Its mix of quality meat and inspired thinking is a product of the unique partnership between its principals, Andrew McConnell and Troy Wheeler.
You’re probably familiar with McConnell’s background – he’s the founder of Trader House restaurants, and the person behind Gimlet, Cutler & Co, Supernormal, Cumulus Inc, Marion and Apollo Inn among other things. Wheeler, meanwhile, grew up in Barham, a Murray River border town, apprenticing in butchery, mastering his craft and working his way through its upper echelons in Melbourne. Their collaboration has been fruitful; the original Smith Street Meatsmith has been joined by shops in St Kilda, Brighton and Balwyn, and (drum-roll, please), a brand new book penned by Wheeler and McConnell.
The book is a cracker, rich in detail on the essentials of how to grill a rib-eye, how McConnell likes his tartare, and how to roast a chicken right, plus more ambitious adventures in zampone (the classic Italian stuffed pig’s trotter), duck neck sausage, and boudin noir terrine with green sauce and fried eggs (hello!). For a book from a butcher, it also has a surprisingly large number of recipes for things that don’t have meat in them, and while the likes of the parsnip, orange and vadouvan gratin, the baked zucchini and tarragon, and the charred sugarloaf cabbage with kombu butter would certainly flatter a sausage, a steak or a roast, they’re also pretty dang good on their own, too.
In short, this book is a feast, and one that will repay return visits. Here, to share his view on it, is Troy Wheeler himself.
We wrote Meatsmith because food and recipes are a constant in our lives. Every day we guide our customers through the products at Meatsmith for the dishes they are cooking – everything from a simple weekday meal to a secret family recipe handed down through the generations to a dish reminiscent of a holiday on the Amalfi coast
When we connect with our friends and family it is always around the table with food, whether it is at our favourite restaurant or at home where we have prepared some of our favourite food, the nostalgia that food has will take you to a time and place.
It made sense to us to write about how we like to cook for our family and friends and to share that with people that connect with food in the same way. Even though we’re a butcher shop, we didn’t want to write a book about butchery. We wanted to share a different knowledge – of eating and drinking well
The main thing I learned writing it was restraint. And that sometimes simplicity is just as delicious as a dish that is detailed and complex.
If you’re a relatively new cook, give the grilled quail and freekeh salad a try.
I think grain salads are such a great accompaniment and this one really pairs well with anything. It’s a very adaptable dish, and once you’re comfortable preparing the basics try your hand at building variations by adding a few of your favourite ingredients.
But I’d also love it if you tried some of the more technical dishes in the book. Take some time to prepare some elements in advance, this is also where you can lean on your local butcher shop and they can do some of the work for you, so it doesn’t become an overwhelming task.
If you’re looking to extending your comfort zone in the kitchen, try making the pâte en croûte. It’s very rewarding when you execute it well – a real showstopper to grandly adorn in the centre of the dinner table.
If you take one thing from this book, it should be…
There are more recipes in here than you think; most of the dishes are composed of several components that stand on their own and can also be mixed and matched. The mustard sauce from the braised rabbit dish, for example, goes really well with the corned brisket.
The books I refer to most often when I’m cooking are Time-Life’s Good Cook series. It’s a set of 28 books that cover every element of cookery. They were published in the 1980s and remain an incredible resource for information and technique.
I work with a lot of great Victorian producers, but a few of my absolute favourites include O’Connor beef and Glen Eyrie. We have a long-standing relationship with the O’Connor family in Gippsland; they produce some of the best grass-fed beef in the country. We also have a great relationship with Katy Brown at Glen Eyrie rare breed farm. Her work to conserve all the rare pig breeds that exist in Australia is incredible.
When you’ve finished reading Meatsmith, I hope you’ll share our recipes with your friends and family. We created Meatsmith – both the store and the book – with the home cook in mind, so we hope once you’ve cooked from the book the recipes will become favourites. We hope that they become your recipes and food that you share with your friends and family.
Meatsmith by Andrew McConnell and Troy Wheeler (Hardie Grant Books, RRP $60). is available in stores nationally and online.