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Mince

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

There is an ongoing battle amongst meat eaters between texture and flavour. All the so called 'prime cuts' offer a delectable texture with a melt in the mouth appeal achieved by very little cooking. Fast high temperature methods where adding customer/consumer preference into the mix with grades of texture being achieved by medium, well done or rare, and of course the grades in-between. All adding a bit of theatre to a dining experience and some healthy discussion surrounding the merits of each. There is, of course, also a need to appease the 'cut the fat' thinking surrounding eating meat, but as all old school butchers, chefs and the like will say... "fat means flavour". Now obviously this must not be take to extremes and, as we all know animal fat in too high a quantity is no friend to the human body, but there is a definite advantage to the fatty cuts. This wonderful saying does not mean eat animal fat, far from it. The essence of this saying is to let us know that cuts of meat with a bit of fat marbling or a layer of fat have more flavour that the lean.



Sadly this beautiful flavour comes at a price.... the texture. More often that not these cuts of meat are from parts of the animal that work the hardest. As you can imagine a well used protein becomes tough over time and there is the added complication of connective tissue, sinew and the like. Long slow cooking resolves these undesirable issues for the most part, marinading and ageing are a few other frequent ways to overcome toughness. However achieving the desired result takes a bit of time and attention which is in short supply for most busy lives. Jaw ache from chewing for hours on end is not desirable form a good meal ... if only there was a solution ... well of course there is and always has been, MINCE!



Reducing waste and maximising value was at the heart of the post war society, perhaps thought of as a frugal time but, perhaps rather romantically, I like to think of it as a more sensible and thoughtful time for food. Waste not want not and many other phrases our grandparents or perhaps parents used to make us sigh at the sight of another meal that was not our favourite. Here in lies the heart of the matter. Letting anything go to waste simply due to not quite meeting our exacting standards in texture, flavour or look meant the appeal plummeted and two no great surprise then, those recipes, meals, traditions and perhaps values slowly disappeared. My Grandfather left the army after WWII and settled into a family life with a butchers shop. Being accomplished and knowledgable with the anatomical side of butchery, gaining notable accreditation for this, gave him a real understanding of the culinary side also. His passion shining through even on the simplest of occasion, which more often than not was while I was carving a joint of meat for the family dinner. He accepted of the changing fashion of food and was open to the new, however when it came to the burger craze of the 2010's he simply didn't get why customers would pay so much for a simple burger. In his experience burgers were a way of recycling the trimmings and making a bit of extra cash along the way, but he never would have dreamt of making burgers specifically. Burgers, sausages and simple mince were a way of not wasting the trimmings while butchering the prime cuts or joints from a carcass, while keeping control of costs and offering cost effective options for his customers. What a great idea ... waste not want not! Here is the beauty of mincing and the expression of whats been lost more recently. Encouraging the consumption of more than just the prime cuts brings more balance to the system of farming. This balance and equilibrium, necessary in any system, has been lost over the years in the search for perfection and not just perfection on the plate...

Chuck Steak, a sub-prime cut


Social and environmental pressures have lead to the demise of mince and more broadly the consumption of meat. There was a pendulum swing effect occurring where by consumption and production of animals was so far off centre that damage to the environment and people was spiralling. Predictably the pendulum has now started to swing the other way and has the real potential to reach an equal imbalance. However this is no less damaging, avocado and soya production are an example of this, where by the environment and people surrounding the production of these products are experiencing a negative impact that is growing almost uncontrollably. Once again there is a lack of balance...


Lost also is the respect for nose to tail eating, where very little goes to waste. The skills to lovingly prepare and the pallet for enjoying so many beautiful cuts of meat are dwindling. Take anything out of balance and cracks will appear. Farming just for a prime cut simply wastes too much, leading to over production and dire social and environmental consequences in an attempt to meet demand. This imbalance is very hard to overcome! Nose to tail eating when combined with moderation in the approach to eating meat could be a powerful tool to see some real change. Plant based diets are certainly of benefited, but perhaps a way to tackle this imbalance could be to introduce such diets as meals within our weekly menu, then combine a more holistic approach to eating meat...


As my Granny always said "everything in moderation dear" or "little and often". YES, eat less meat, for so many reasons, but why cut it out completely. Have balance in your weekly menu planning! As a family we aim for three days vegan or vegetarian, two with fish and two with meat. If eating meat is a choice, choose to make as much of the whole animal as possible...


Mincing is almost the perfect antidote. Where else can a soft palatable texture be so easily achieved while shielding the squeamish from any visual or textural impact. Move from the texture poor to flavour rich ... MINCE!


Mincing gives such a good platform to begin embracing alternatives, taking the pressure off of prime cuts. But more than just prime cuts, the prime animals too. Move away from the over exploited and see what else is on offer. Meats that may not have been a consideration can offer so much. Variety and exploration ... MINCE!


There are of course infinite options and combination to play with. Adding some liver into the Bolognese mince is a great way of adding a deep rich flavour and utilising more of the animal, reducing the potential waste. If you ever get adventurous home made sausages are a great source of entertainment and joy. Sausage attachments for the mincers are not expensive and all good butchers will have casings you can use. Kofta's are a good place to start, essentially sausages without skins on a stick that are easily cooked in a pan, on the BBQ or under the grill. So quick and easy to make! Mince, mix and hand form onto a skewer! Get the creative juices flowing with these and you may never buy sausages again.

Rabbit, Tarragon and Lemon Chipolata


This leads me into another pet peeve surrounding mince. The healthy question, is mince a healthy option when considering eating meat? Well that entirely depends on your choices. My son's have both come home from school around the age of ten I think, informing me that sausages and mince are very unhealthy according to their science teacher during one of their diet and body lessons! I asked them why and there was no real answer that held water. Now don't get me wrong, many of the cheaper sausages and mince options from supermarkets are indeed processed 'junk' foods that contain very little resemblance to the real deal and in fact have very low percentages of meat! The fact of the matter is that minced meat is simply meat chopped by a machine rather than a person with a knife! Whats so bad about that? A little time and the desire to have a go makes mince a wonderful way of preparing meat and opens up a new world of flavour while helping sustainability, giving a little balance to the system.


It's easy for me to talk about creativity and experimenting with a background in food, but for many of you this is a new experience. So where and how to begin... The best place is, no surprise here, the butchers counter in your supermarket or preferably your local butcher. Now sadly there are fewer and fewer butchers around so some hunting may be required. Your time will be rewarded with a friendly face and some invaluable craft knowledge. Have a chat with them and talk through your ideas, simply ask their advice. There are so many advantages to this that stretch far beyond supporting a local business. Shopping with your butcher also brings the relationship with your food to your door, the experience connects you with your food and ultimately brings a degree of learning to what you are buying. Where does it come from, which cuts are best and why, what is in season and traceability. All of this brings about respect for what you are eating and respect for what you are eating will introduce a thoughtfulness. Much of this understanding and respect for our food has been lost with the convenance of supermarket culture which has also led to the explosion of industrial systems surrounding food production. A real distance is then created between us, the consumer, and our food, the animal in this case. With this distance comes a real lack of responsibility. Getting hands on with our food and with the supply chain really changes all of this and for the better! Taking responsibility for our eating and buying choices will effect real change in the industry and ultimately the global situation if enough of us start. On a more personal scale this responsibility and knowledge will lead to healthier eating. Being aware of what we are putting into our bodies and shifting our focus towards real hands on cooking will ultimately be for the better in so many ways with a far reaching positive impact on our environment!


This engagement and understanding brings the richness of Terroir into our lives.

 

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