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Monday, 23 June 2014

A - Z of Minced Meat & unfortunately including Pink Slime!





has your mother ever told you that if you want to use minced meat (AKA ground meat), you should mince your own? I know many people (myself included) whose mothers are against buying ready ground meat from supermarkets, and instead instruct us to mince the meat ourselves, or at least, pick a proper cut of meat and ask the butcher to mince it in front of us. In fact, I was chatting with a friend yesterday who happened to tell me that her mother insists she does not buy ready-ground meat and instead grind it herself. What is the big deal? Well, there is a reason why many people are not too excited about purchasing ready-packed minced meat, however that does not mean we should steer away from minced meat sold in supermarkets. We just have to choose right. Read on as I explain...

Before we begin - and since we are at it - why don't I let you in on all things minced meat in this post? If you are beginning in the kitchen, this will be useful information, and if you have been cooking for a while, you might find some useful information here too...

Minced Beef / Ground Beef
The Mince
Minced meat is simply a meat that had been passed through a mincing machine to break it into small pieces. Ground meat and minced meat are eventually the same, however some argue that technically there are a few minor differences because the two processes are different (grinding and mincing). You really do not need to worry about such details, because functionally the both are the same and used in the same manner for cooking.


Why and what do we mince?
After the animal is slaughtered, it is cut up into different pieces (known as the cuts), these different pieces and because they come from different parts of the animal, have different properties especially where cooking is concerned. Some cuts are fattier, some meaty, some with bone, some are tougher and others are tender... Therefore, the different cuts have become synonymous with different preparations, for instance it is a crime to use a tenderloin in stews, because this is the most tender part of the animal and you do not want to overcook it. While tougher cuts of meat can benefit from prolonged cooking and so on. As mentioned in my previous post (Your Guide to Cooking Meat To Perfection - Answering your most frequently asked questions) mincing is one way to tenderise meat, therefore it is usually made out of the tougher cuts (again not the tenderloin!), which enables us to experience such tougher meats more pleasantly. Minced meat is also in a way a means to maximise on the meat content of a recipe, as less quantity goes a longer way when using mince (and we are already using the less expensive cuts to create the mince). This is especially true in the case of using the mince in soups, with rice, in lasagne with spaghetti...etc. Therefore minced meat had become a main cut that is very frequently used.



Ready-packaged mince is usually made using the cheap cuts of meat, such as the front shoulders, the flank, and at times could also include scraps of trimmings from other parts that are leftover from creating other cuts such as steaks. That is of course provided that you are dealing with a trusted butcher, and the meat comes from a trusted source, because other things can certainly be used in the making of mince, especially true when you consume meats that are not organic (more on this below) .

Mince comes in different grades and therefore in different prices. These grades are usually determined by the fat content of the mince, as you know there is the full fat version and the other low fat version. It is important to know that fat has to be part of mince as there is no naturally fat-free meat. Fat usually adds flavour to meat, and in the case of minced meat, it is important as it prevents the meat from clumping together as you cook, because the fat will help keep the meat small and separated. Lower fat versions are desirable though for creating meat balls, that you want to clump together and not break. On the other hand, excessive fat content, does no good for flavour nor texture, and with such meat, you are most likely going to have to drain the meat while cooking and so on. Because using less fat in the mince mixture means using more meat, the lower fat versions are more pricy than the fat-laden counterparts.

With that said, by lower fat mince I mean mince that's created by mincing real meat, where the fat content is determined by how much of the excess animal fat that surrounds the meat is actually minced with the meat. I am in no way referring to processed low fat meat here!

Then you will find the organic minced meat, which is becoming more and more in demand these days, especially for people who are more health conscious and do not want to consume chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, additives and so on. The "certified-organic" label means that the animal was reared to organic standards (which include all aspects of the animal life: rearing, feeding, conditions of life, health care, transportation, slaughter and any post-slaughter handling). Organic meats can be slightly more expensive than other meats (not always), but as mentioned above organic meats are real natural meats, where they do not go under any chemical processing nor do they include any additives or processed food alternatives, therefore are in fact more expensive to produce, however are the most trusted for purchasing from the supermarket. Bear in mind that here is a situation where 'you get what you pay for'.

(please note that I do recommend you go organic, at least where meat is concerned, and also recommend OBE Organic meats, including their minced meat as they are clean and really outstanding.)

Uses of Minced Meat
Delicious Kofta rolls made with OBE Organic Minced Meat
Minced meat is used in a variety of applications. Perhaps the most popular is in making hamburgers, as well as a variety of sauces such as chilies, ragus and meat sauce for pasta (lasagne, bolognese...), meatballs, as stuffing for various leaves and vegetables, topping for pizza, famously used in tacos as well, and in meatloaf, as well as being regularly used as a garnish in Arabic cuisine, where it is pan fried and poured over many rice dishes, hummus...etc. Not to forget the best loved Koftas and Kebabs. The cut is also used in soups, and mixed in with rice... Really one of the most versatile cuts.

How to mince meat?
While a meat grinder is the most optimal way to produce excellent ground meat in a variety of textures (rough ground, medium ground and fine mince), some do not own the machine and some find it too laborious. Really it is a matter of passing the meat through the grinder, and it allows you to control the content of the mince, and ensure using better quality cuts. However, and to a certain extent, I do understand the modern fussiness about time, ease of prep and magically appearing dishes on the family table. If it makes it any easier you can use a food processor to grind your meat.

You must cut the meat into smaller cubes before processing, this ensures a more homogeneous texture to your mince. Also part freeze the cubes before processing to ensure you do not end up with a paste. So lay the cubes onto a lined sheet and freeze right until the edges firm up and start to freeze (about 20 minutes in the home freezer). Once ready, process the cubes in batches (not all at once), pulsing instead of continuously processing. About 15-20 pulses should do the job. Then either use the mince immediately to cook, or immediately wrap and freeze for a handy option later on.


Safety First
When it comes to meat, safety is of the essence, because meats can become contaminated and pass on many diseases that can at time be life-threatening! Therefore when handling meat, you should always make sure:

  • Not to refreeze thawed meats.
  • Keep meats cold in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
  • Never allow meat to come to room temperature except once, if you must, right before cooking.
  • Always make sure all work surfaces are clean, as well as your hands before, during and after handling meats.
  • Cross-contamination is usually the culprit of most foodborne illnesses. This means using utensils and boards for handling raw meats, then for handling vegetables, or foods that are not going to be cooked. Therefore always use separate boards for meats, vegetables, raw and cooked foods. Knives have to be thoroughly washed in hot soapy water after handling meat and before being used for cutting anything else.
  • Meats have to be cooked thoroughly, 72C / 160F to ensure all bacterial contamination is killed.
***

Now that we have the facts and perfect scenarios covered, let's get back to the real world! And allow me to say, without any introductions, What The Hell is wrong with today's food industry? The other day, I was appalled to read that "Pink Slime" is making a come back! The industry are justifying that by saying that meat prices are rising and therefore they have to supply cheaper alternatives!! Focus here is on the word "alternatives"! No wonder many people are going vegan these days. I know most look at those as buzzwords, however to some the issues are so severe that they prefer to go off meat than to support such ludicrous industry! Hormones, antibiotics, post-antibiotic era, chemicals, pink slime.... all that is left really is for them to feed us manure and blame it on rising prices! And who knows we may just have! And this alone is reason why we should not consume anything that is not organic.



Pink slime, otherwise known as LFTB (lean finely textured beef), is a beef product that produces what is referred to as the lean finely textured beef. This product is an additive that is used as a filler to reduce the fat content of ground beef. It is produced by processing low-grade beef trimmings and other meat by-products such as cartilages, connective tissues and sinew that contain fat and a small amount of lean beef. The process mechanically separates the fat from the lean beef, and the recovered beef is then heated and treated with gaseous ammonia, or citric acid to kills bacterias such as e-coli, salmonella and others... This gassing process when in contact with water produces ammonium hydroxide which wreaks havoc in our bodies!
Pink Slime!

Pink slime is believed to have been used as pet food and cooking oil, and then been approved for the public "in limited consumption" in 2011 before it became used everywhere, without the need for any labeling!! The whole issue was brought to public attention in 2012 when ABC News ran a series of reports about the product, including statistics that approximately 70% of ground beef sold in the US supermarkets contained pink slime. Not only that, but that many ready-sauces and products that contained beef were in fact using the pink slime alternative. From then on, the whole issue spiraled and the whole industry was debating the issue, and ultimately many companies and organisations discontinued use of pink slime and manufacturers had to shut down 2 of their 5 production units and law suits were all over the place, some of which continue. It is really a shame that such practices are not yet brought to the forefront and confronted. 

If we are to consume any alternatives, we have the right to be notified! And we have the right to choose whether or not we want to consume any!

There really was nothing wrong with the way
our mothers and grandmothers cooked.
But there is a world of wrong in our food today!
If that is advancement, call me backward thinking!
No wonder our mothers keep telling us to grind meat ourselves, and only purchase meat from trusted butchers and farmers. They want to make sure that we are actually consuming meat (if we must) and not some reconstructed alternative of rubbish perfumed with chemicals, sounding like the perfect health option, when it in fact is hazardous!

This is all the reason why organic is really not a buzzword, a trend, or a stylish fashion statement! Organic today is a must, and we must take back charge and be in control of what we eat. So yes, I do understand the modern fussiness over time, but I also understand how the shortcuts can have severe consequences. 

Slow down and cook from scratch, go organic, know the people who grow your food, go to trusted sources and support them to continue, and take charge of your and your family members' health!

If you are living in the UAE, then you don't have to worry about purchasing minced meat from the supermarket. Because OBE Organic beef which are sold in Carrefour (both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi), as well as Geant and Le Marche... are all organic and do not use any such additives. With organic meats you don't have to worry about such practices and OBE Organic farmers care about your health which is why they are adamant about supplying the market only with "organic beef". With a trusted source such as they, you can rest assured that you are eating clean!

Read more about pink slime, I am not sure what is the status of its use here in Dubai, would love to know if any of you have any information about that. Also stay on the safe side and make your own sauces, they taste better anyway, and the process is actually fun! When it comes to meat, always best to consume organic meats and in moderation.



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