Tristan Rutherford is an award-winning travel journalist whose work appears in The Times and The Daily Telegraph. His favourite foods are gravadlax and crisps.
On market day in 1849 a group of farmers dined at Barnsley’s Kings Head Hotel. They ordered lamb. Not a mere chump, but a double-loin cut across the saddle. A Yorkshireman’s portion fit to be paired with tankards of heavy, swear words and jokes about the fecundity of southerners.
Then a stranger came in. He asked for: “A big chop. A real chop. You know, a Barnsley chop”. And so the lamb-based legend was born. Only a northerner could finish the butterfly-splayed joint. Plus vegetables cut Desperate Dan size so as not to be dwarfed by the chop.
The Barnsley is a chop seldom seen in supermarkets. It takes longer to cook than thinner cuts (Tom’s takes 12 minutes; Delia’s is slow-baked to 45). Furthermore, the degree of butchery required places it beyond the ken of a Sainsbury’s chilled goods slayer. But the result is sublime. The portion depth allows for crispy skins and rosé interiors. Meanwhile a ring of fat seals in juice before bubbling into an unctuous spasm of gooey flavour.
Little wonder the origins of the Barnsley Chop are contentious. In 1984 The New York Times travelled to deepest Yorkshire on the trail of the cut. The journal found that the chop’s spiritual home was at Brooklands Restaurant, which still serves the slow-cooked saddle as a ‘special’ alongside potato wedges the size of fists. To quote Brooklands’ proprietor 35 years ago: “Up here they expect to see some mass on the dinner table.”
The New York Times also noted Barnsley’s “gritty, warm-hearted, fun-loving and proudly provincial people”. Spare a thought then for Macedonian striker Gjorgji Hristov, who signed for local football team Barnsley FC in 1997. “The local girls here are far uglier than the ones back in Skopje,” Hristov told a sports magazine. “To be honest I expected more of Barnsley as a town and a club.” Barnsley FC were relegated the same season after Hristov netted a mere four Premier League goals. The Macedonian was given the (Barnsley) chop shortly after.
Battle for the Barnsley Chop
Tristan Rutherford discusses the contentious origins of the legendary cut.