Being a mail order butcher, we’ve always wanted to offer convenience to our customers. So we made our cuts of meat kitchen ready in order that you could simply pop them in your pan or oven, and we packed them individually for your freezer. The next logical step was clearly to do the cooking for you, so we did!
Our ready meals…
We launched our first ready meal back in 2003, and we haven’t looked back since! It was a Beef Wellington, and, as still stands true today, the quality of the raw ingredients inspired the dish.
When Stefan joined us as Head Chef in 2006, he got to work right away. Among his first projects, he developed the unique recipes for our range of pies – Cottage, Shepherds’, Steak, and Steak & Kidney – and the recipes haven’t really changed in all that time!
The pies were closely followed by our Fish Cake – the first of our range of chef-prepared fish dishes, which has grown with us over the years and now includes our very latest, newly developed products. Our creamy Fish Florentine, layered with wilted spinach, and our Fish & Chip Pie may be the ‘new kids on the block’, but they still follow in the same footsteps as all our ready meals. Let me explain…
MADE TO FEED YOUR SOUL AND YOUR APPETITE
The original motivation for starting to make our own ready-prepared meals was actually a selfish one. I would come home after a full day working at Donald Russell, and just want something fast. I could of course have cooked a steak – that’s very fast. But in truth I wanted the kind of fantastic, slowly casseroled goodness that perfectly complements our patiently matured, grass-fed beef. And that kind of cooking takes time – time my wife and I just didn’t have on a weeknight.
I reasoned that we weren’t the only ones with a busy lifestyle who craved a hot, homely meal at the end of the day. So when Stefan came along, I commissioned him to develop exactly these kind of dishes, and they remain the mainstay of our range of ready meals.
From lasagne to Bolognese, pies to casseroles, curries to soups, these all take hours to do well. Thanks to the efforts of Stefan and his fellow chefs, these classic comfort foods can be rustled up from the freezer and popped in the oven or even the microwave to be ready with no effort. By the time you’ve put on your comfy home clothes, set the fire, laid the table or whatever else you need to do, they’ll be ready, with minimal to no washing up at the end.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
It all starts with a good idea. Inspiration can come from just about anywhere – the meals we cook for ourselves at home, family recipes from past generations, suggestions sent in by our customers, or foods we try on our travels. When Stefan created our Chicken Kiev using a whole chicken breast, he was following advice he had received years before, when working in the kitchens of the Londonskaya Hotel, Odessa, in Ukraine – the home nation of Chicken Kiev!
How many traditional butchers would send their Head Chef travelling around the UK and the continent, with the express purpose that he sample as many foodie sights, smells, tastes and textures he can? We do. On these trips, Stefan calls in everywhere his eyes or nose takes him, from delis to specialist producers, and from street food to Michelin starred restaurants. You never know just where the spark of the next delicious idea will come from!
Once the idea has come, the next phase is seeking out the best ingredients for the job. Of course we use our own Donald Russell meats – it’s very handy having a butchery next door to our test kitchen! (Which, by the way, is only 15 feet long by 9 feet wide, and fitted out just like a domestic kitchen.) Stefan, assisted by our other in-house chefs, Eddie and Matthias, then cook up their ideal interpretation of the dish.
Take our Pork Goulash for example. It’s made with pork shoulder to stay nice and juicy, and Stefan chose a sweet, gentle paprika over a hot variety. He then added punnets of ripe cherry tomatoes for a slightly piquant, acidic kick. The final dish must not only be well balanced, but sit harmoniously within the rest of our range of slow cooked casseroles.
Stefan presents these meal concepts to me and the rest of our team, to see what we think. We gather as many opinions as we can from around the business, with everyone from the butchers to our advisors on the phone all having a taste. It can take many attempts before we reach a consensus, but only when we give a united ‘wow!’ is the recipe approved for use.
RESTAURANT DINING IN YOUR OWN HOME
… To provide this has been our goal ever since we started cooking our meats for you. But how do we achieve such a high standard?
The key is keeping the cooking process as close as possible to how you would do it at home. Or perhaps rather how an experienced chef would lovingly cook a special meal for his or her family at home.
That means doing everything in very small batches, to allow for the same level of hands on care and attention to detail you would expect in the kitchen of a top restaurant. And of course you need people with the skills and experience to do the actual cooking – like our teams of professional chefs…
As much as is humanly possible is done by hand, including filling the pressed paper trays with the meals themselves, and sprinkling on any garnish, like the Red Leicester cheese on top of our Lasagne, or the toasted almonds which grace our Chicken Korma.
It would in truth be much quicker and easier to do it all by machine. But that isn’t the Donald Russell way! We go to these extra lengths because when you take the finished dish out of your oven or microwave, we want it to look and taste like it has been hand made for you. Which it has! So who said convenience food had to be cheap or nasty? We’re out to prove that you can still eat well and healthily when you don’t feel like cooking, or even if you don’t own a saucepan. And this can be done without cutting any corners on quality – all
part of how…
…we like to be different!