Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mince by any other name

Would it taste the same?

Mince as I know it (that I get from my butcher) is ground 'chuck'. Chuck steak is as tough as old boots if left in its roast form and, if you ask me, is good for precious little else other than mince. I take that back.. that is, unless you've got 5 years to cook it into a spicy stew or curry. Then, it's gloriously flavourful. Still, with it's natural fat level and inherent texture, it is undeniably the best cut for burgers.

I'm not sure whether it is a health conscious trend or clever marketing (or both) that have led to the use of other cuts that don't have as much flavour as the chuck roast. Round is another common cut that can is used or mince but lacks flavour and the structure can lead to very dry burgers. Fat is often added to round from other cuts/parts to provide that essential fat component. Same with sirloin, it is also commonly used for mince but I don't think that the flavour is improved so much as to warrant the celestial cost per kilo. Choose your beef wisely.

Besides topping toast, at a loss for what to do with versatile mince? How about adding a little spice?

A few months ago, I received some wonderful dried chiles from México. Of these, I use the earthy ancho chiles (ground into a powder) and rehydrated the chipotles in a sauce using vinegar and spices (adobo) for a bit of flavourful kick. You don't need to start this recipe the night before thanks to tinned beans and tinned chipotles now readily available. Don't worry about opening a small tin and only using a few. Once opened, tinned chipotles (with their high acid level), when moved to a plastic container, will last for a long time in the fridge. They are great to add to refried beans, as a marinade for steak filled tortilla or as a condiment for huevos rancheros.

Chilli is a great one pot meal to start on a weekend afternoon either for friends at home or to take along whenever you need a plate for a wintery work do (aka potluck). This recipe can use any mince, but preferably the aforementioned 'lesser' cut of beef with more flavour.

And what would chilli be without beans?? Our Italianised version uses the homegrown equivalent of borlotti beans but kidney beans or a mixture of red and black beans are also good.

The chiles and spices used here are quite fresh and very pungent. The mexican oregano is recently dried from this years harvest. The comino (cumin) and dried chile preparations likely have a bit more bite than their supermarket counterparts. If, using the amounts in the recipe, your chilli seems lacking, you could up the ante a bit with a little more of everything plus the optional cayenne or try mail order for some of these really unique flavours.

For veg, the basic onion, garlic and capsicum mixture make for a great flavour base. Roasted for that rustic smoky flavour is optimal. I've used some of the last of the years sweet sheperds but roasted capsicums (aka sweet bell peppers) are a perfect substitute.

Now, I suppose you could use beef or veg stock but, beer is my choice of liquid to deglaze the pan of any bits the adhere to the pot while browning the beef. Select a beer with some substance because, unlike beer can chicken, this will benefit from using a beer made with darker (but not chocolate) malts. Choose something in the amber colour department that isn't overly hopped. Save the well-hopped goodness to drink, you'll need something to complement the spice (as well as put out the fire).

Chilli for several people:

1 kg minced beef
1 large yellow onion
3-4 green and/or red capsicum (depending on size)
2 cloves of garlic (or more to preference)
1.5L stewed tomatoes
1L prepared beans (and liquid)
3 chipotle peppers and 1-2 Tbsp adobo sauce
2 1/2 tsp dried ancho chile powder
2 1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 -2 tsp hot smoked paprika (or cayenne pepper) optional
salt and pepper
pinch cinnamon

To a few tablespoons of olive or grapeseed oil, add the chopped onion and garlic and saute until soft (1-2 minutes) and add the mince. Season with salt and pepper and brown the mince lightly then add chopped capsicums, chopped chipotles and spices except 1/2 tsp of oregano and cinnamon.

Add 150-175 mL (or a little more..) of beer to mince, scraping bottom of pot and add the beans and their cooking liquid. Mix and add tomatoes (do not drain).

Allow to simmer on low for a little over an hour. Add remaining spices with adobo and check for seasoning. Adjust salt, pepper and heat, if required.

Serve alongside some crusty bread rubbed with garlic, buttered and/or sprinkled with a favourite cheese. And to drink?

Beer, of course.

Mangia!

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