Birds, Burgers and Banter – My Day As A Butcher Part 1

29 Nov

My day in the life of a butcher at Murphy's Butchers, Lisburn Road, Belfast

In 1982 – the year I was born – Murphy’s Butchers set up shop on the Lisburn Road in Belfast. Almost 30 years on, owner Michael McCormick and Murphy’s are one of the last remaining bastions of a Belfast of a bygone era.

Times have changed. In our increasingly time-strapped lives, convenience is king. For most, myself included, the weekly supermarket shop fills our fridges and our bellies. But convenience comes at a cost – not least to businesses like Murphy’s.

Since launching this blog I’ve spent countless evenings brainstorming ideas for my 29 Lives challenge. Over a few glasses of wine in Dublin recently, a friend suggested I try my hand at some age-old professions; get my hands dirty and see first hand what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. From this came the inspiration to attempt to be ‘the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.’

So, here I am, with my account of my life as a butcher for one day. It was a fairly busy day, so I’m going to ease your eyes and break this down into a couple of posts.

There’s a somewhat hackneyed saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ – in this particular case, I think that’s a fairly apt observation. So, I’ll let the lovely Alice Wood’s pictures tell the tale of my day at Murphy’s Butchers (with a little commentary thrown in for good measure).

*Disclaimer: If you’re as sensitive as my vegetarian housemate who chanted ‘Meat is Murder’ at me prior to embarking on this challenge, you should look away now…*

Stuff The Turkey – I’ll Have a Burger, Cheers.

Upon entering Murphy’s, the charismatic Mr McCormick introduced me to his team and paired me up with Robert, A.K.A. Gooser – I’m still not sure where this moniker came from, but I’d hazard a guess it’s something to do with his skills with the birds (of the winged variety). We’ll come back to the birds later, but first up, I was put on burger-making duty.

The youngest member of the team, Robert has worked at Murphy’s for three years. In spite of the 7am starts and cold temperatures (the shop hit a low of -12 oC last winter), he’s passionate about his work, and like all of the employees here, is part of the Murphy’s family, into which I was quickly inducted.

Whilst we’re experiencing an uncharacteristically mild winter this year, it seems odd to think that a butcher’s would get through thousands of burgers a week at the end of November. But that’s the case at Murphy’s who supply the Rocket and Relish burger stall at the Christmas Continental Markets at Belfast City Hall.

Displaying the patience of a saint, Robert walked me through the step-by-step technique of making Murphy’s 100% steak burgers, and before long, I was busy making hundreds, which, by now, have likely been gobbled down by punters at the market.

The Starting Point – Fresh Raw Steak – Slaughtered on Thursday and made into burgers on Saturday – you can’t get much fresher than that.

Next the steak is pushed through an impressive mincing machine twice to create a fine steak mince that forms the basis of the burgers.

It was all going great guns until precisely this point.

Robert: ‘So, next, you mix a small amount of meal and seasoning into the mince.

Me: “With your hands?”

Robert: “Yes.” *laughs. “Machines never give the same result; when you get in with your hands, you can make sure all of the mince is coated with the seasoning, which means all of the burgers will taste the same.”

Me: “Ok…” *winces.

Getting My Hands Dirty: A small amount of meal and high quality seasoning are added to the minced steak - and that's it, not a single other ingredient is needed to make the burgers.

Robert lifts the seasoned mince and puts it into another impressive gizmo that, with careful control of a foot pedal, and concurrent pulling of a leaver, magically turns the mince into burgers - hey presto!

With mince now inside the magic burger-making machine, it's time for the magic to begin.

The finished result!

So, that concludes the first part of my account of my day in the life of a butcher. I hope you will share my newfound respect for the work that goes into getting food from the farm onto your plate. I know one thing for sure – I’m safe in the knowledge that a burger bought from Murphy’s Butchers contains 100% steak mince and little else. As for the frozen supermarket variety, well, that’s another story…

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