In the year to March 2023, the price of food and drink rose at the fastest rate in more than 45 years. New statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the three biggest climbers were cucumbers (up 52%), olive oil (49%) and hard cheese (44%), so we ought to be careful what we dip into hummus or sprinkle on pasta.
The ONS also said the annual inflation rate in the food category was 19.2% in March, up a percentile against February. Bread and cereals have soared too (up by 19%), and meat and fish are still proving to be inaccessible to many.
Fry-ups have taken a beating – bacon, sausages and eggs are much more expensive these days – and the cost of one of Britain’s most famous dishes, fish and chips, is now £9 on average, about £1.44 higher than the previous year.
Brexit, then, is ruining lives and pricing people out of eating well. Sure, there are other factors at play – the pandemic, the war in Ukraine – but food prices started climbing before both of these tragedies, as imports became more taxing and Britain toiled with unnecessary bureaucracy. And now we find ourselves in a situation where more than half of adults (51%) are worried about the price of food.
One positive is the move towards more unpopular and cheaper cuts of meat. Greater variety, too. More people are turning to lamb neck, for example, or hogget – when a sheep is no longer a lamb, but not yet an adult. Pork is a more common roast on a Sunday these days, and chicken thighs are increasingly favoured over breast.
Beef will always be expensive. But there are so many parts of a cow we must afford more attention. Bavette steak is increasingly spotted on menus today. One of my favourite steakhouses, Flat Iron, has scaled sufficiently to sell an excellent bavette dish for £13. With chips around £4, and drinks reasonable, too, it means a family of four can have a brilliant meal out for around £100. I know not everybody has £100 to spend on dinner, but it is an accessible price
point and I applaud the Flat Iron model.
We might also consider pie: one of our finest dishes, and one that lends itself to cheaper meats. It’s probably why downtrodden Victorians loved them so much, hunks of oddities encased in buttery pastry.
This pie, from Steven Groves of Restaurant Associates, uses beef shin and feeds a family of four for little over £20. Classic additions such as chestnut mushrooms, thyme and red wine elevate the pie well beyond what Victorian factory workers probably ate, but the premise is much the same.
Life need not be completely depressing in modern Britain. Praise be to pie.
SHIN OF BEEF AND BONE MARROW PIE
500g beef shin, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
10 shallots, peeled and halved
400g chestnut mushrooms
1tsp chopped thyme
500ml red wine
500ml beef stock
60g plain flour
2 4-inch centre-cut veal marrow bones
300g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 150C
Marinate the beef in the red wine, garlic, shallots and thyme overnight. Strain the beef and reserve the wine. Separate the beef from the herbs and
vegetables, then season with salt and pepper and toss in the flour. Sear in
batches in a heavy-bottomed casserole dish.
Colour the shallots and mushrooms in the casserole dish, then add the wine with the herbs and garlic. Reduce until syrupy, then add the beef stock and
beef. Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for around 3 hours or until tender.
Allow to cool slightly.
Turn oven up to 180C.
For the bone marrow, you can just pop one of the bones in the centre of the pie with a good pinch of salt and pepper and allow it to melt into the pie below.
For this pie, I have pushed the bone marrow out of the bones and diced it, seasoned with salt and pepper, with finely diced shallot, parsley and a few capers.
Place the marrow bone in the centre of a 22cm pie dish and spoon the beef
mixture around. Roll the puff pastry out to around 3mm thick, ensuring that it is large enough to cover the pie. Cut a cross in the middle to make a hole for the bone, then lay over the top of the pie and cut around the edge. Brush with the beaten egg, then season with sea salt and black pepper.
Bake the pie for 30-35 minutes or until a deep colour is achieved on the pastry.