Minced meat is a favourite ingredient of frugal housewives across the world. Here we explore the history and types of mince, as well as blast some rumours as to what exactly goes in. Plus, we share our mum's favourite recipe for chicken rissoles!
The word 'mince' usually refers to minced beef, but of course you can mince almost any kind of meat you like! Aussie supermarket shelves now stock chicken, veal, pork, lamb, turkey and even kangaroo mince to satisfy every taste bud and recipe.
Americans usually call it ground beef, and it’s had a bad wrap recently. Over half the mince beef sold in America is partially filled out with a chemically processed product recently dubbed 'pink slime' by the media. The good news is that it’s long been banned in Australia, and our minced meat is excellent quality and full of delicious fresh Australian meat.
As a general rule, minced meat does tend to have a reputation for being cheap. And it is, with most supermarkets selling minced beef for about $8/kg. But why?
Firstly, it’s about what goes in.
Now before you start panicking, it’s not filled with horse meat (which, by the way is a delicacy in northern Italy and a lot more expensive than beef) and I’m pretty sure Sweeney Todd isn’t throwing dead bodies in there either. It’s simply made from less expensive cuts of meat, such as chuck steak or flank, as well as a small amount of trimmings from the more expensive cuts.
Standard minced meat will also have about 20 per cent fat (the cheaper cuts naturally have a little more fat), but as we all know, fat is flavour so this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although do check the label, any more fat than 20 per cent is too much). Additionally, the cuts of meat used don’t tend to be aged, so there is a higher water content than in a top quality dry aged steak (that’s why pre-minced meat tends to be pinkish-red rather than dark like a really good quality aged steak). The point is that it’s all meat, good yummy meat! So there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Secondly, it’s business.
Minced meat, along with milk, bread and sausages, are used by supermarkets in an oligopolistic sales strategy called 'loss leader'. Essentially, they lose up to $2.50/kg on mince in order to get price-conscious customers through the door, and then make money off the other items purchased in the weekly shop. To some extent, while supermarkets lose, the consumer wins!
So how do you tell a better or worse quality mince?
Remember, you get what you pay for! There are lots of quality mince meats available at supermarkets, especially the organic varieties. However, to really know the quality of your mince you should visit your local butcher. There you can select a well-aged piece of meat from a cheaper cut (brisket, flank, and chuck are best) and have it minced fresh on the spot. The other advantage is that you can select how it’s minced, you may prefer a finer or coarser grind, depending on the recipe. In fact, there are many different techniques used around the world to prepare the meat.
Mince ain’t just mince.
It’s an ancient technique that crosses borders, uses different animals, different chopping and grinding techniques, and many different cuts both cheap and luxe. Interestingly, the first known recipes using minced meat were, and still are, an indulgence.
Beef tartare is a classic, served from Russia all the way across northern Europe to France, and it’s said to have originated in the 1200’s. It’s made from the best quality aged fillet of beef (preferably the thin end, for tenderness), and should be hand chopped just before eating for best flavour. This also happens to be the national dish of Poland, and I devour it left, right and centre whenever I visit!
In Turkey, the ancient dish çigköfte, a raw lamb version of tartare, was said to have been invented thousands of years before Christ. It requires a technique of massaging/kneading the meat by hand in order to 'cook' the meat, tenderising it into a delicate paste. It’s also a real delicacy, only eaten on special occasions.
But of course, minced meat has moved on from its luxurious historical origins, and become a staple in kitchens of frugal housewives around the world.
It’s a good idea to spend a little bit more on good quality mince, remembering that the real saving is in the way it’s cooked, so you still win! Most mince recipes call for very little meat per serve, so you don’t need to buy as much. A little meat goes a long way!
Some famous international recipes to try are:
- Shepherds pie, a classic family favourite made with minced lamb (or cottage pie, with beef) from the UK
- Sung Choi Bao, minced pork or duck and plenty of veggies wrapped in a lettuce cup, from China
- Larb, a fresh and fragrant salad often made with minced fish, from Thailand. Or you can try Laap, a version from Laos, often made with pork mince and pickled krachai (similar to ginger)
- Chilli (con carne), that timeless tex mex classic with minced beef, tomatoes, and beans is always a winner, especially on jacket potatoes
- Sarma, cabbage rolls stuffed with minced pork and rice, and cooked in tomato sauce, from Croatia (and many more countries have their own versions!)
- Empanadas, pastries filled with minced beef, olives and boiled eggs, an Argentinian staple you must try!
- Lasagne, loved by all (including Garfield!) and made with minced veal and pork, it’s a classic from Bologna in Italy
- Swedish meatballs, made with minced pork which has been beaten into a smooth paste…. Making the ultimate comfort food
- Polpettone, an old school Italian baked meatloaf, often stuffed with all sorts of delicious things!
- Kheema, minced lamb or goat curry with lots of delicious spices and fresh peas, a much loved dish from Pakistan/India
- Scotch eggs, wrapped in sausage meat and deep fried to golden perfection, from Scotland
- Sloppy Joes are a fabulously messy version of a burger from USA, minced beef is slow cooked with tomato sauce and worcestershire sauce and the wet mix is placed in a burger bun. So wrong, but so right!
- Kofta are meatballs and come in thousands of different varieties. Turkey is said to have 200 different types alone! The Greeks serve them with lashings of tzatziki, Iranians mix the meat with split peas, Moroccans cook them in a tagine, and Indians braise them in rich curries. So many to choose from!
- Berenjenas Rellenas is a Spanish stuffed eggplant with minced beef or pork, topped off with béchamel and grilled to golden perfection
- Moussaka, is one of my favourite Greek dishes, spiced minced beef is layered with potato, eggplant and white sauce
- Adana kebabs in Turkey are made with spiced minced meat threaded onto skewers and grilled over charcoal, then wrapped in bread
- Terrine, a French classic that must always be made with the best quality ingredients, that goes for mince too!
- Burgers, burgers, burgers! Let your imagination run wild…
And of course, we'd love to share one of our mum’s Polish recipes with you:
Mum’s chicken and chive rissoles with semolina crust
• 200g (1 cup, packed) white bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces
• 1/2 cup full cream milk, hot
• 500g free range chicken thigh mince
• 1 free range egg
• 1 bunch chives, finely chopped
• Salt and pepper
• ½ cup fine semolina
• Olive oil, for frying
1. In a large bowl, soak bread in hot milk for 10 minutes, or until soft.
2. Into the same bowl, place chicken mince, egg, chopped chives and salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix thoroughly.
3. Shape into eight rissoles, and then coat in the semolina.
4. Heat a non-stick pan to medium with a generous amount of olive oil. Cook the rissoles until golden and cooked through.