Kathie Auton - 11 October 2012
Oh how I love mince! Fine, it might not be the sexiest way to eat meat. It may not have the finesse of a nice piece of Dexter fillet or the chunky gravitas of a lamb shank, but it is homely, comforting, reliably tasty and cheap.
And its cheapness is a good reason to strongly consider buying organic. There are many grades of mince you can buy (and I’m not talking about fat content here, I’ll get on to that), from good quality organic to economy mince. In fact some sort of mince scale akin to diamond classifications might be useful here. My view, however, is that mince is already an economy product and there is no real need to limit yourself gristle and testicles is there? Okay, possibly a slight exaggeration, but the whole point of mince is that, like the mighty sausage, you can make the most of your animal. [A very brief bit of online 'research' shows me that in one major supermarket their organic mince is 72p more expensive than their standard range, but 36p cheaper than their best range. All this really means is that switching to organic mince probably won’t be much more expensive and may even be cheaper!]
Mince is a versatile friend in the kitchen and it likes to be treated two ways:
- Cook it quick – think of a burger – for this, buy minced steak and possibly a lower fat content, although, personally, I think the fattier mince is tastier and there is no point trying to make a low-fat burger really is there?
- Cook it slow – think Shepherd’s Pie or Chilli con Carne. Long, low, slow cooking for these. For this sort of dish there is no point buying minced steak – it’s like making a casserole with fillet steak – buy the fattier mince and let it get lovely and soft in a long cook.
As you may have fathomed here, I very rarely find myself straying towards the ‘lean’ mince. To me lean mince is an oxymoron. If you want as low fat option, buy a steak. To draw the sausage comparison again, it’s like a low-fat sausage, you know it’s just not going to work.
Cooking mince slower and lower will mean that you can feed it to very young children too, before they are really able to chew a lump of solid meat. AND it gives the chance for all that lovely fat in the meat to keep things juicy and tasty. The three main low and slow recipes I think of for mince are also three real kitchen staples:
- Bolognese Sauce
- Chilli con Carne
- Shepherd’s Pie
You‘ll have your own view on how to cook these, but if you are doing it fast, can I suggest that you try upping the liquid and lowering the heat and giving it a good bubble for an hour and half, it may well change your life*.
Like I say, you’ll probably have a view on how to cook the perfect Spag Bol, but may I be as bold as to offer an actual recipe for Shepherd’s Pie? Not because I think you don’t know what you’re doing, but only because I think mine is better. Sorry, just being honest.
- Couple of packs of Organic Mince
- Couple of organic onions (usually smaller, hence two)
- 4 or 5 nice thin organic carrots
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 1 ltr of beef stock – probably two stock cube’s worth
- Tomato ketchup (yep)
- Tomato puree
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Brown Sauce (yep)
- ½ ton mashed potato for the topping – make plenty and freeze the spare, don’t be mean
- Chop onion and carrot into reasonably small dice.
- Fry in a large sauté pan until the onion is starting to go translucent. Move veg to the side.
- Sling the mince in, break it up a bit. Fry on a high heat without stirring, then stir and repeat. I do this instead of bothering to brown the meat properly. Because it is going to have a low slow cook, it doesn’t matter that you haven’t browned all the meat, just let some bits brown up to get the flavour.
- Add the flour and stir.
- Add the stock, plenty of pepper, few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, generous squeeze of tomato ketchup, mean squeeze of brown sauce and a tablespoon of tomato puree – stir.
- Bring to the boil then get on the lowest heat possible (consider using a simmer mat) and simmer, covered, for an hour and half plus. If you can’t get your gas low enough, put it in the oven at 150°C for a couple of hours.
Seeing as I’m already teaching egg-sucking here. I thought I’d further instruct on how to put potato on top of your Shepherd’s Pie. I feel a constant urge to share this method and an anxious that people might be doing it any other way.
- Make sure your mash is smooth and has plenty of milk mashed into it. And use it while it’s warm!
- Use a spatula to smear it against the side of the dish, form a good seal.
- After this piece of engineering, you can then begin to construct inwards to cover your pie completely.
- Neaten your initial smearing up and either create a spiky top which will get crunchily browned or get zen with a fork.
- Cook at 200ish until the meaty bit is bubbling and the potato bit is pleasingly browned.
* or maybe just your Chilli.
Kathie has two young children and is taking a break from teaching to be a full-time mum. She is passionate about cooking and growing good food and takes any opportunity to get her kids involved in the kitchen.