It is more than 50 years ago since I left my home in Yorkshire and came to work in the Savoy Hotel, London – it seems like an eternity ago. I had been working for about four months when I found a flat to live in, instead of the hostel that had looked after me on my arrival in the big city. Neil, the only other student in our year besides me who had chosen to move to London, moved in and there we were, our own bosses and in control!
It is quite a while ago but I remember perfectly how we organised our eating – it all revolved around minced beef. We took our responsibilities in feeding ourselves very seriously; we bought the mince and loads of everyday products. Then we took it in turns to brown the onions, brown the meat, chop the carrots, prep the rest and make our very own mouth-salivating minced meat stew.
It was cooked slowly and with plenty of juice because the first day we would have our minced meat soup to which we added a little chopped and cooked chilli, along with crusty bread and butter – a perfect start to the week. The next day saw the addition of sliced potatoes and this fabulous dish of mince and tatties kept us going full of energy. Day three we added tomatoes and garlic, then with carefully cooked pasta sheets and a cheese sauce we made a brilliant British lasagne. The great thing was that the mince got better day by day – who would have thought that such a common, humble product such as minced beef could produce such diverse dishes? Moussaka, cottage pie and chilli con carne extended our repertoire even more.
The quality of the meat is of course paramount to the quality of the dish. I personally don’t like my mince to be too fine – I find it can lack texture when cooked. Different cuts of meat are better for different dishes, some need
more fat and some need to be cooked for longer.
Quite often minced meat is inexpensive and good value so people tend not to take as much care when cooking these dishes – in fact the opposite is probably the call. Attention to what is added to minced meat and the care in cooking is the secret to great minced beef cooking.
Minced beef is so versatile and when mixed with other minced meats like pork or veal can produce some fantastic dishes, loved by all the family. Meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, hamburgers, and Thai style pork dumplings are classic dishes.
However none of these dishes come anywhere near to the flavours, textures and absolute quality of my favourite minced beef dish. In the north
of England we love to cook our mince and then let it go cold before spooning it onto an enamel plate layered with a sheet of short pastry. This is then covered with a sheet of butter rich puff pastry and baked in the oven until golden brown and piping hot. A minced meat ‘plate pie’ was one of my dad’s signature dishes in his transport café and still today I remember the anticipation whilst I waited for it come out of the oven. And there it was, a dash of brown sauce and I was in heaven – over minced beef!