If you’re reading this then the chances are that you have a basic knowledge of cooking. But if not, don't go anywhere just yet! Most home chefs (including me) will tell you that there is one ingredient that you can always fall back on in times of need when you've forgotten about dinner (it happens!), have unexpected guests over or even when you're feeling a little lazy and uninspired... mince!
I love mince - it's tasty, versatile and so wonderfully easy to cook with. And over the years of cooking and experimenting with mince-based meals in my kitchen, I have developed a bit of a secret guide to cooking the best mince ever, no matter what recipe you choose. So without further adieu, here are my tips:
Use your local butcher.
I know, supermarkets are so much more convenient and generally cost less, but when it comes to meat, always spend as much as you can afford. Your local butcher should be able to advise you on what’s best and be able to prepare any cuts that you require, including fresh mince.
Occassionally you may be faced with language of culture barriers as some countries cut meats differently or call them by another name. I’ll always remember asking a supermarket butcher to ‘butterfly’ a leg of lamb for me and he looked at me as if I’d asked him to perform brain surgery on my daughter. He concluded by saying “we don’t sell butterflies” so I ended up doing it myself :)
Mince it up yourself.
Speaking of soing it yourself, go out and buy your own mincer! They’re sold in every cookery shop and most supermarkets, and they are great fun to work with. I am a big fan of knowing exactly what I'm feeding my family especially since mince tends to be cheap and you're never 100% certain exactly what’s in it. Many reports say that mince can contain up to 30 different animals and include all of their parts, from snouts to trotters!
So here are my recommendations on getting started with your own mince:
- Beef - chuck or stewing steak (make sure that there's a little bit of fat to add to the yumminess factor!!).
- Lamb - leg steaks or shoulder.
- Pork - belly with plenty of fat to ensure that it won't dry out during cooking.
- Chicken - breasts and boneless thighs.
P.S. If you buy "ready-made" mince from a butcher, they should be able to tell you exactly what cuts of meat they have used.
Whether you've decided to buy or make your mince, get enough and stock up your freezer. Portion out the mince and pack into freezer bags and flatten them out (you can store loads more and they will defrost quicker too!) And if you forget to defrost the mince beforehand, you can always cook beef mince from frozen, as I have done on numerous occasions!
Add taste to a simple ingredient.
There are gazillions of different mince recipes that you can easily knock up and mince is probably the most versatile thing to cook with - from the classic bolognese sauce and chilli concarne, to lasagne and spicy tacos with sour cream! And you could even swap out the beef for turkey or chicken mince to create a slightly lighter version of these dishes (less calories without losing flavour).
Beef has a strong flavour so tends to handle the addition of extra herbs, spices and marinades very well. I love adding fried garlic, chilli and onions with a dash of mustard to create the perfect homemade burger.
Lamb lends itself to traditional flavours such as rosemary and garlic but I prefer to spice it up with some serious aromatics. Middle Eastern flavours such as roasted cumin and coriander seeds along with cinnamon and turmeric works especially well when making koftas. Or add some dried chillies to create spicy meatballs.
Chicken is a far milder mince, however, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t work well with some spicier additions. Add some lemon juice, garlic and parsley and shape into patties, gently fry in oil and you’ll have a lovely chicken burger.
Pork works well with other meats too. I often mix with a little milk, white bread and beef mince, along with Mediterranean herbs to make authentic Italian meant balls. Or you could go down the Asian route by adding chopped prawns, coriander, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic and spring onions and fry off and wrap into cabbage leaves or rice wraps. Yum!
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