Allyson Gofton in France: Cooking with mince
For me, the catch-all term “minced meat” often debased to just “mince”, does no justice to this popular cut — if we can call minced meat a cut. The Americans do it no better, calling it “ground beef”, which to me, conjures up images of paste-like textures.
The French seem to have the nicest expressions, hache de boeuf and chair de porc. Importantly I will not have to search through containers of beef of differing levels of fat, with or without health ticks, on absorbent pad lined, polystyrene, plastic-wrapped trays, rammed into a supermarket shelf with little care. Non, non, non!
Here my butcher, Serge, will mince the beef on request and, like so many things in France, I am taken aback at the consideration given to its preparation. I suspect that’s because we have regarded mince as a cheap meal, while in France, mince is a considered choice, like any cut of meat.
There are only so many primary cuts on an animal that can be grilled as a steak, though the French, prepared to “chew harder”, do grill more secondary cuts than we do. The cuts of meat not sold to roast, grill or casserole, are trimmed of fat but left in the piece, ready to be minced on request.
Before mincing, the butcher will proffer the cut of meat for your approval, slice off the amount required and proceed to mince it. In addition to making completely fat-free hache de beouf, minced beef is regularly shaped into a totally fat-free burger; it’s an ideal way to enjoy lean meat, in the manner of a steak.
This style of “steak” is also a popular choice for les enfants — avec frites — on cafe menus, where the price for this healthful beef-steak lunch is considerably cheaper. Mostly, beef is sold finely minced and totally lean; if I want gras (fat) added I have to ask for it. Lamb is simply too precious to mince, though duck is minced and made into sausages; chicken mince is simply nonexistent. For me the real winner in the mince stakes is pork.
Lean pork meat is very coarsely minced with creamy smooth back fat and seasoned with salt and pepper before sale. It’s chunky, textured and delicious. When ground in the proportions of 75 per cent lean meat and 25 per cent back fat, packed into pork intestines of around 3cm in diameter and sold, as tradition dictates, in a coil, you have the famed saucisse de Toulouse (pictured above). Sealed in a hot pan and cooked in the oven, it is like eating a mini roast pork meal.
Mince with fat, or sausages fabricated with cereal or filler and flavourings like curry or dried fruit, simply render the village butcher aghast. I am asked pourquoi (why)? How can you taste the meat? Now there’s a topic for discussion!
Pork mince, unlike beef mince, does not require an egg to help hold it together when making burgers or meatballs. The oats here will add some fibre and texture. They can be omitted if you wish. However, if you only have flaky oats, cut the amount back to about one third of a cup. You could also use cooked rice or lentils in place of the wholegrain oats. Get the recipe