Book Review: Meat Manifesto by Andy Fenner

Words: Jess Spiro

If you eat food in Cape Town and have access to some form of social media, chances are you know who Andy Fenner is. He’s something of a national treasure in the Mother City and beyond, and with good reason. He, and his wife Nicole are painstakingly changing the way South Africans eat meat. Their butchery, Frankie Fenner Meat Market, sources only the best quality meat available in the country, and they are unfaltering in their dedication to using farms who champion free-range, ethical practices.

This is no small journey that Andy is on. South Africans are nothing short of meat-obsessed, with the average Saffa consuming roughly 56 kgs of meat a year. With conventional farming practices being what they are, these animals mostly live a very dismal life, locked in tiny pens and cages, or being trapped in a feedlot. For a nation that thinks nothing of eating meat three meals a day, trying to pitch the ‘eat-less-but-better-quality-meat’ sale is a tricky one. But Andy is doing it, and doing it well. After sloughing it out for years getting the butchery going, Andy has finally found the time to put pen to paper and documented his ethos in his second book Meat Manifesto.

Meat Manifesto Andy Fenner
Meat Manifesto Andy Fenner

Meat Manifesto is one of those rare books that technically falls under the cookery book description. Like Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage collection, Meat Manifesto is technically a cookbook. You’re meant to flip through it, find a recipe you like and cook from it. But, like the two aforementioned icons, Meat Manifesto is so much more than that. It tells a story of two people who simply didn’t like the meat industry in South Africa and set out to change it. It tells the story of why we should care about where our meat comes from, as well as how we can care. If you never cooked a single recipe from this book, it would still be one of the best books on your shelf, simply because of Andy’s ethos and the way he writes. Like Henderson and Fearnley-Whittingstall’s books, Meat Manifesto is one that you could read through before bed.

Meat Manifesto Andy Fenner
Meat Manifesto Andy Fenner

Luckily, however, the recipes are pretty banging and are just the right amount of exciting, without being scary or finicky. There are hearty classics, like the beef shin chilli con carne that will no doubt become the chilli in everyone’s repertoire and then there are more outlandish recipes like beef fat popcorn with chilli biltong powder. The book has also been written with a South African market in mind, so you’re able to get hold of all the ingredients listed. And if you can’t, you can probably shoot Andy a mail and he’ll help you out. The recipes in this book are a reflection of who Andy is; honest, determined and fuss-free with a tongue-in-cheek sensibility.

It may seem like this is the trendy cookbook of the year, and in some ways it is, the photos are beautifully shot and styled, set with the right amount of moody tones. But this book is more than just something to keep on the coffee table, it’s a guide to a way of living that we should all be embracing If anyone has ever put their heart on a page, it’s in this book. Andy doesn’t just want you to buy the book ‘because’, he wants you to buy into his idea of how we should all be looking at the meat on our plate. If you care about your food, you should care about where it comes from and this is the book to help you embark on that journey, plus you’ll learn how to smash out some tasty plates of food. Win-win, really.

Try this exciting recipe that features in Meat Manifesto: Braised Mutton Shank Gnocchi

Click HERE to win yourself a copy!

Braised Mutton Shank Gnocchi with Peas, Mustard & Fennel

Mutton is loaded with deep, rich, delicious flavour, but it can be a bit overwhelming for some. For me, it’s too heavy when braised in red wine or beer; I prefer a light chicken stock or white wine instead. The vermouth in this recipe adds an extra layer of interest and the mustard and fennel are perfect accessories. Hind shank are larger and best served as a shank per person, but in this dish, the meat is shredded off the bone, so opt for the more flavourful foreshanks. While it’s great served as a stew in big bowls next to a fireplace, this dish proves that mutton can also be prettied up and made more delicate.

Cooking time: 5 hours
Serves: 4

For the Mutton
olive oil, enough to cover the base of a pan
1 onion, peeled, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, finely sliced (reserve the tops for garnish)
2–3 sprigs rosemary
2–3 sprigs thyme
2 large mutton hind shanks or 4 foreshanks
olive oil, enough to cover the base of a pot
4 cups vermouth or white wine
2 cups chicken stock (or water)
½ cup Dijon mustard
1 cup peas, cooked (frozen peas are also fine)
salt and pepper, to taste

For the Gnocchi
500g ready-to-cook gnocchi

Preheat the oven to 140°C.

On the stovetop, cover the base of a deep ovenproof pot with olive oil and gently cook the onions, carrot, celery and fennel, along with the rosemary and thyme (because of the long cooking time, don’t bother taking them off the stem), until softened, but not browned.

In a separate pan, brown the shanks in olive oil. Remove and tip into the ovenproof pot’s vegetable mix with the white wine and stock. Add extra water, if necessary (the shanks should be submerged).

Cook, covered, in the oven for 5 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven and, using tongs, carefully remove the shanks from the liquid. Some of the meat might already be falling off the bone (a good sign!). Remove the meat and set aside.

Strain the liquid and, on the stovetop, reduce until it’s thick enough to easily coat the gnocchi.

Meanwhile, use a fork to shred the meat off the bone. It should be soft and come apart very easily. Don’t shred too aggressively, chunks of meat should be worked back into the sauce.

Cook the gnocchi in salted water, as per the packet instructions.

Return the shredded meat back to the sauce. Add the mustard and peas and stir to combine.

To serve, spoon the gnocchi into bowls and top with the meat sauce. Garnish with fennel fronds.

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