During our two recent holidays to Japan, we discovered a real love for yakiniku.*

I was determined to recreate this indoor barbecue experience at home. But there were obstacles: no smokeless charcoal; no indoor barbecue container; no working extractor fan in the kitchen (it died and we’ve not had it fixed); and it can be tricky to find the kind of tender and beautifully marbled beef that is prevalent in Japan.

The first two, I decided to ignore. The third too, though we opened the large kitchen window as wide as it would go. And Provenance Butcher came to the rescue on the fourth.

Founded by a team of three Kiwis and a Brit, this Nottinghill-based butcher’s shop opened just eight months ago. None of the founders have a background in the butchery business – Erin, Guy and Tom grew up on farms in New Zealand and Brit Struan gave up a career in marketing to retrain as a butcher a few years ago – but all four are committed to sourcing and supplying top quality meat. The team have a deep love for 100% grass fed beef, which they currently source from New Zealand wagyu herds. These cattle spend their entire lives outdoors, eat a natural grass diet and are not given growth promoters, hormones or antibiotics. The meat is broken into sub-primal cuts at a New Zealand processing plant, vacuum-packed and transported to the UK by boat. It’s chilled rather than frozen, so further wet-ages during the six week journey. Here, it’s butchered into individual cuts, ready for the customer. Of course, Provenance also sell lamb, pork and chicken and this they source in the UK; the lamb comes from two British farms, one in North Yorkshire and the other in Wales; two fourth-generation farming brothers in Staffordshire supply free range pork and chicken.

When they asked if I’d like to try their New Zealand wagyu I figured it would be perfect for my yakiniku experiment.

One of the cuts they sent was Flat Iron. According to this 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal, Flat Iron is filleted out of the chuck. Care must be taken to avoid a line of tough connective tissue running through the top blade of the shoulder area and, as there are only two such steaks in each cow, many butchers don’t bother, hence the cut is not that widely available. In the UK, it’s more traditionally known as Butler’s Steak or Feather Blade; the Aussies and Kiwis call it Oyster Blade.

Regardless of what name it goes by, it’s a very tender cut that is perfectly suited to being cooked rare or medium rare.

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When our Provenance wagyu Flat Iron arrived, we were hugely impressed at the deep colour and beautiful marbling of fat.

Pete sliced this 500 gram piece thinly across the grain. I arranged some of the slices on a plate and the rest I submerged in a bowl of miso yakiniku marinade (see recipe, below).

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As well as the marinade, we had three sauces in which to dip cooked meat – some beaten raw egg (with a few drops of soy mixed in), a goma (sesame) dipping sauce and another yakiniku sauce I made with dark soy sauce, sesame oil, shichimi (seven spice powder), sugar, fresh ginger and garlic.

The raw egg dip didn’t add much (I was way too stingy with the soy) and my yakiniku dipping sauce just wasn’t very balanced – way too much sesame oil and soy, not enough sugar, ginger and garlic. We quickly discarded these as failed experiments.

Our favourites proved to be the miso yakiniku marinade (which we dunked beef into before cooking) and the goma sauce (which we dipped the non-marinaded strips of beef into once cooked). We bought our goma sauce back from Japan; it’s Mizkan brand, a Japanese vinegar and condiments producer and available online from Japan Centre.

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Vegetable wise, we had some thin spring onions, mild long peppers (from our local Turkish grocery store) and thinly sliced sweet potato. We’d meant to have mushrooms too, but forgot to buy them!

The sweet potato didn’t cook well, blackening on the outside before softening at all inside. It’s definitely a vegetable we’ve been served in Japanese yakiniku restaurants so I’m wondering if they par-cooked it first, though I hadn’t thought so at the time. Or perhaps some varieties of sweet potatoes are better suited than others? I am on the hunt for the answer!

The spring onions and peppers worked very well.

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We used a disposable barbecue, which Pete lit outside, and bought in once the worst of the initial smoke had died down. We placed it over some old cork boards on a folding garden table we’d set up in the kitchen. It worked well enough, and wasn’t as smoky as we’d feared (though the smell did linger in the house for several hours afterwards). But the main weakness was that the disposable barbecue didn’t generate the level of heat we needed for a sufficiently long time, which meant the last several items took too long to cook.

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Oops! It was only when Pete took the disposable barbecue back outside that we discovered this little scene underneath!

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All that said, I was utterly delighted with our first home yakiniku!

I was also hugely impressed with the New Zealand grass fed wagyu which was full of flavour and wonderfully melt-in-the-mouth because of its beautiful marbling.

 

For next time:

  • I want to find food-grade smokeless charcoal – the British brands I have found seem to be sold for use in fireplaces rather than barbeques. What I’d like to use is Japanese binchōtan, a white charcoal produced from Ubame oak steamed at high temperatures; it is prized for burning characteristics which include very little smoke, low temperatures and a long burning time. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty expensive.
  • I’ll need to source a small bucket barbecue that can safely be used indoors.
  • And perhaps a cast iron trivet or a concrete paving slab might fare better than our cork boards to protect our table from the heat of the barbecue; they did protect the table but didn’t survive themselves!
  • The miso yakiniku marinade was super but I need to find a better recipe for the yakiniku dipping sauce. I might investigate some other tasty dipping sauces too.
  • We definitely need more vegetables and I’ll need to think harder about which ones will work well and whether they need to be par-cooked ahead of time.

 

Miso Yakiniku Marinade

Ingredients
100 ml light soy sauce
1 tablespoon miso
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon garlic, grated or pureed
1 tablespoon ginger, grated or pureed
1-2 teaspoons shichimi (Japanese seven spice mix) or half to 1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon cooking sake
1 tablespoon mirin (slightly sweet Japanese rice wine) or additional tablespoon of sake plus teaspoon of sugar

Method

  • Mix all ingredients together.
  • Either heat gently in a saucepan or for 10 to 20 seconds in a microwave. This helps all the ingredients to melt and combine more easily.
  • Add sliced beef to marinade about 30 minutes before cooking.

Note: As we were using this as a marinade, the slightly runny texture suited us well. However, if you’d like a thicker yakiniku sauce, continue to heat gently to reduce and thicken.

 

* Read more about the history of yakiniku in Japan and what to expect at a yakiniku restaurant.

Kavey Eats received samples of New Zealand grass fed wagyu from Provenance Butchers.

 

The generation of cooks before me bemoan the price of lamb shanks. Lamb shanks were once a really cheap cut, they say, but chefs made them trendy and demand and costs went up and, oh no, now they are just so expensive. And I nod, because I didn’t discover them in the days when they were cheap as chips, so their change in fortunes doesn’t really affect me.

But ox cheeks? That’s a different matter. For the last few years, I’ve become more and more single-minded about ox cheeks being the best cut of beef for braising and, simply put, no other stewing cut will do. So imagine my distress when I noticed that ox cheek is now £7.49 a kilo at Waitrose – yes, the price is creeping up. It’s no surprise really, given ox cheek’s popularity on restaurant and pub menus, but there’s still a part of me selfishly wishing that more shoppers would carry on dismissing it as some odd or offal-ly cut.

And yes, I do realise there are those who’ve been cooking ox cheek for years and years and years; I’m still a Johnny-come-lately in their eyes!

I don’t help my case in hoping the enthusiasm for ox cheek will die down again – when I bought the ox cheeks for this recipe, another customer came to the meat counter while the butcher was carefully cubing it for me (far faster with his sharp knives and experience than I am at home); I ended up telling the waiting customer how wonderful a braising cut ox cheek is and, when she expressed more interest, we chatted about potential recipes. Now I’m torn between hoping she’ll go ahead and discover for herself just how good it is and wanting her to dismiss it as the ravings of a talk-to-strangers crazy lady. Hey, I’m a contradictory creature, what can I tell you?

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A couple of weeks ago, when we made baked chorizo, cod and potato, I mentioned foul weather being the inspiration for hearty dishes. As we move into March it’s still pretty cold, though the rain has been punctuated by some gloriously sunny days. I’m still craving comfort food.

We made this simple Chinese-Style Braised Ox Cheek for visiting friends and it was utterly delicious. We followed this BBC Good Food recipe almost exactly, but added button mushrooms; mushrooms work so well with Chinese flavours plus they’re a favourite of mine in any meat stew. One of the things that drew me to this recipe was its recommendation of ox cheeks as a perfect cut for the dish.

Please note, this dish makes no claims to be authentically Chinese – the technique of flouring and browning the meat is a firmly European method of stew-making, as far as I’m aware. However the Chinese five-spice, anise, garlic, ginger and soy sauce create a distinctly Chinese flavour profile that is very satisfying!

Chinese-Style Braised Ox Cheek

Serves 6

Ingredients
3-4 tablespoons cooking oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed (or equivalent good quality garlic puree)
Large thumb-size piece fresh root ginger, peeled and shredded (or equivalent good quality ginger puree)
1 bunch spring onions, cut into 4 cm lengths
1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced (or equivalent good quality chilli puree)
1.5 kg ox cheek, cubed (or other braising beef)
2 tablespoons plain flour, well seasoned
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 star anise
2 teaspoons muscovado sugar (or any sugar you have in stock)
3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry)
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
500ml beef stock (from cube or melt pot)
200-300 grams small button mushrooms, washed

Note: ox cheek is the common name for this cut of beef, but it’s also sold as beef cheek in some shops.

Note: I was introduced to Gourmet Garden’s herbs and spices last year. These are pureed and packed into tubes, genuinely do taste just like using fresh, and last for 90 days in the fridge after they’ve been opened. We’ve really loved using them in our cooking and I’m really pleased they’re now available in some of the major supermarkets.

Method

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  • Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a large casserole and fry the garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli for a few minutes until soft. Tip into a bowl and set aside.

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  • Toss the beef in seasoned flour, add more cooking oil to the pan and brown the meat in batches, adding more oil as and when needed. Don’t try and brown too much meat in one batch as this causes it to steam. It took us 4 to 5 minutes to brown each batch. Put the browned beef into a large bowl or plate and set aside.
  • Add the five-spice powder and star anise into the pan, add back the spring onion mix and fry together for a minute. Add the sugar and all the browned beef. Turn the heat to high, add the Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry and mix vigorously, scraping any meaty bits at the bottom of the pan into the liquid.
  • Preheat the oven to 150 C.

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  • Pour in the soy sauce and stock, bring to a simmer, place the lid onto the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2.5 to 3 hours, stirring after the first hour.

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  • An hour before the end of the cooking time, add the button mushrooms and stir them in.
  • If the stew has a lot of liquid, remove the lid half an hour before the end of the cooking time, to allow it to reduce a little.

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  • When the cooking time is up, the beef should be very very soft. Taste, season if necessary and serve.

We followed the original recipe’s serving suggestion of pak choi (which we stir fried with a little garlic and sesame oil) and basmati rice.

As we were cooking for four, we had some leftovers. These were delicious the next day, re-heated, the beef shredded into small pieces and served mixed into big bowls of pasta!

Does winter weather make you long for hearty stews too? If so, what’s your favourite recipe and which cuts of meat do you like to use?

 

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Ask an Argentinian or Brazilian to recommend their favourite cut of beef and there’s a good chance they’ll choose picanha. Most commonly it’s barbequed or grilled, and is a core churrascaria menu item. With it’s thick layer of fat comes lots of flavour, and it’s tender too.

Yet this prized South American cut is one we haven’t really cottoned on to in the UK. We call it the rump cap but it’s seldom offered as a distinct cut; more often the rump is simply sold whole. It’s not completely unheard of in Europe though – in the region that once formed the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the rump cap is boiled in broth and served with horseradish, a traditional dish called Tafelspitz.

When invited to review some samples by Farmison, I asked for some picanha steaks to be included in the mix.

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Farmison was set up by two restaurateurs, John Pallagi and Lee Simmonds, who wanted to make quality British produce from small specialist suppliers more readily available to the regular consumer. For customers, it means being able to select items from a range of suppliers and have them delivered in a single parcel. I really like being able to shop in the online store, browsing and selecting by meat and then cut; then on each product page, the individual farmers are clearly listed (alongside information on breed and maturation), allowing me to choose which farmer’s produce I buy.

My picanha steaks were from Highland breed cattle, produced by Snowdrop Villa Farm in Cumbria.

Although I initially considered roasting, I really wasn’t confident on timings, so I decided to fry them, the same as I usually do with steak. Alongside, we enjoyed roast potatoes, baby spinach and a port and stilton cream sauce.

 

Picanha Steaks

Serves 2

Ingredients
2 x 250 gram picanha steaks
Vegetable oil, for cooking
Salt, to season

Note: If you can’t get picanha, substitute rump, or whichever cut you like.

Method

  • Put a heavy-bottomed pan on the hob to heat.
  • Pour a little vegetable oil into your hands and rub all over the steaks, making sure they are nicely oiled all over.
  • When the pan is really hot, sprinkle a little salt over the steaks and put them straight into the pan, fat side down.
  • Don’t move the steaks around, just leave them where they are.
  • Because of the thick layer of fat, the oil will probably spit so pop a lid on if need be, but offset it on the pan so that the steam can still escape.
  • Once the steaks are well cooked on the first side, turn them over and again, avoid the temptation to move them around.

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  • Giving exact timings is difficult, as it depends on the thickness of your steaks, the exact temperature of your pan and even the cut of beef itself. Ours had several minutes on the first side and about half that on the second side, for medium rare. I always wing it, using the finger test and feeling the meat to gauge when it’s ready. It always works for me.
  • When cooked, set the steaks aside to rest for about 10 minutes, during which time, make your sauce.

 

Port & Stilton Cream Sauce

Serves 2

Ingredients
Approximately 75 ml port
Approximately 100 grams Stilton, diced or crumbled
Approximately 150 ml double cream

Note: You can substitute any blue cheese of your choice.

Method

  • Pour any excess oil out of the pan but don’t clean.
  • Pour the port into the hot pan and quickly stir to incorporate the caramelised, meaty juices. Cook on high heat for 30 seconds to a minute, stirring constantly, until the port has reduced and become a little syrupy.

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  • Reduce the heat and stir in the double cream.
  • Once the cream has warmed through, add the blue cheese and continue to stir until the cheese has completely melted into the sauce.

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  • Once the steaks have rested, serve with your choice of vegetables and the delicious port and stilton cream sauce.

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So, how were the steaks? Absolutely delicious, the tastiest we’ve had for a while. I’d thoroughly recommend them and at approximately £11 for 2 (current price, prices may change), they’re a lovely treat.

Here’s a little snapshot from my phone camera giving a glimpse of the inside.

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Another recipe I made with some of my Farmison delivery was this delicious butter, sage and lemon roast chicken.

With thanks to Farmison for the selection of samples.

 

I’ve never cooked beef short ribs before. I’m not sure if I’ve even eaten them before but I think I may have. Certainly I’ve seen much talk about them being a great value cut that benefits from long slow cooking such as a braise.

My beef short ribs came from The Ginger Pig, and I asked them to cut them in half, through the bone for me so that when I cut between the bones, I was left with smaller, more manageable pieces.

Trying to narrow down recipes, I found many appealing ones on the web including Barbecued Beef Ribs & Molasses Bourbon Sauce, Coffee-Marinated Bison Short Ribs (which I figured would translate well to beef ribs), Cherry Balsamic Short Ribs, Stout-Braised Short Ribs and Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs. I even contemplated adjusting this recipe for Dr Pepper Pork Ribs, but figured best to use a recipe intended for my cut of meat, at least the first time.

The recipe that called to me most strongly was this Braised Hoisin Beer Short Ribs by Dave Lieberman, posted on the Food Network.

Although the total cooking time is nearly 4 hours, the prep is fairly quick and easy and the ingredients list is short and simple. The original recipe calls for rice wine vinegar but as it’s only a small amount, I substituted cider vinegar which I already had in stock.

The recipe worked well, and we enjoyed it. The meat was tender and falling off the bone and the sauce was nicely balanced,. Although the beer didn’t really come through, it probably did its job of tempering the hoisin. But I’m not yet sold on beef short ribs. I think many of the recipes I’ve found could be made with ox cheeks, which I adore and are the same price per kilo or cheaper.

HoisinShortRibs-4601

 

Braised Hoisin & Beer Beef Short Ribs

Adapted from Food Network

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1.5 kilos beef short ribs, cut into approximately 10 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 to 12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
340 ml mild beer
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
240 ml hoisin sauce

Method

  • Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the oil in a large heavy casserole dish with a lid. Brown the ribs on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove the ribs. If you have more than a couple of tablespoons of oil and rendered fat, pour away any excess before continuing.

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  • Lower the heat to medium and fry the garlic and ginger for 2-3 minutes.

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  • Return the ribs to the dish. Pour the beer and vinegar over them.

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  • Once the liquid has reached a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2.5 hours.
  • Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.

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  • Pour the hoisin sauce over the ribs, transfer the dish to the oven and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the ribs from the sauce. Strain excess fat from the sauce, if necessary, and serve the sauce over the ribs.

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  • Serve with mashed potatoes and green vegetables.

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Do you have any favourite recipes for beef short ribs to share?

 

Back in summer I shared my Pickleback Ice Lollies with the world. The reaction was mixed, with some readers horrified by the very idea but one of those who came down firmly on the “genius” side was Nicola Swift, Creative Food Director at The Ginger Pig.

To cut a fairly short story even shorter, we agreed on an exchange. I’d take in a bottle of (unfrozen) pickleback ice lolly and The Ginger Pig would help me create a custom burger mix for a burger to accompany the lollies. And they kindly offered to throw in a few other samples as well!

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At the Moxon Street branch, in Marylebone, one of the butchers showed me how to break down a side of beautifully aged beef into a variety of cuts.

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For my burger, I chose to combine chuck steak and fat, picanha and bone marrow.

I’ve come across picanha only through Brazilian steak restaurants, where it is a much prized cut. Not mentioned often here, the cut is called rump cap, also referred to as top sirloin or culotte in the US.

Beefy chuck was the main body of my burger mix, a cut that is affordable and good in flavour. Picanha is tender, juicy and gave more excellent flavour. Moistness in the finished burger was provided by the inclusion of bone marrow and added fat.

Once my cuts were finalised, the butcher passed them through the mincer twice to ensure they were not only properly minced but also well combined.

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With such a large volume of burger mince, I divided the mince into portions when I got home. We had the first burgers plain with freshly dug Yukon gold potatoes and butter. The flavour of the burgers was phenomenal! Moist and with just the right texture, they tasted absolutely fantastic!

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The next batch we had as burgers. For the buns, Pete used this trusty Tom Herbert recipe.

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Buns, pickled gherkins, raw red onion, fresh tomato and some mustard ketchup was all the beautiful patties needed.

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Fantastic burgers and definitely better than any single-cut burger mince we’ve used before.

Of course, the pickleback ice lolly I had afterwards hit the spot too, though Pete continues to insist they’re crazy rather than genius!

 

With thanks to The Ginger Pig for the custom burger mix and other samples.Hope you enjoyed the lollies, but am sure I got the best end of the swap!

 

You’ll likely have heard of Japan’s wagyu (beef).

Wagyu refers to several Japanese breeds of cattle, the most famous of which is the Japanese Black. Wagyu are genetically predisposed to yield a high percentage of fat, and their meat is known and prized for its intense marbling. In Japan, the best wagyu is often labelled according to its area of origin; Kobe beef is probably the best known of these outside of Japan.

Until I started researching our trip, I hadn’t come across Hida Beef, one of the most prized beef brands in Japan. Raised in Gifu Prefecture, cattle must be at least 14 months old and the beef must be checked for quality and grade by both the Hida Beef Brand Promotion Conference and the Japan Meat Grading Association. Beef that does not make the grade is not sold under the Hida Beef label.

Locals suggest the superiority of Hida Beef is down to a single bull named Yasufukugo. Although he died nearly 20 years ago, Yasufukugo sired many thousands of calves; more recently, he has successfully been cloned from frozen cells; his genetic heritage lives on in the continued excellence of Hida Beef.

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Before leaving home, I tried to do a little research into Hida Beef restaurants in Takayama, indeed I even asked our ryokan owner to make a reservation for us in one that I saw recommended on Chowhound. However, on arrival, we realised that the location was not ideal, and that there were a great many options in our little neighbourhood. We asked our ryokan host to make a recommendation instead and she said that although she hadn’t visited very many of the restaurants serving Hida Beef, she and her extended family had recently very much enjoyed a celebratory family meal at nearby Maruaki restaurant. What’s more, it was less expensive than the place we had originally considered. Sold!

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Takayama draws many tourists, and Maruaki is on one of the main roads in the centre of town, so we were not surprised that they had English translations on the menu.

As the menu explained, only beef ranked at quality levels 3 to 5 may be labelled as Hida Beef. The standard plate consisted of ranks 3 and 4, with the premium plate offering rank 5 only. (Ranks 1 and 2 are not sold under the Hida Beef brand, but as regular beef).

We chose the standard Hida Beef plate featuring 300 grams of different cuts of beef, and a small serving of vegetables. We figured we’d quickly get through 300 grams, and could order an individual dish of one cut of Hida Premium Beef afterwards.

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In the end, we were so blown away by the standard Hida Beef, that we really didn’t feel we could be any happier with the next grade up, which was more than twice as expensive. We bought an additional 100 grams of standard Hida Beef sirloin and savoured every bite.

Go on, look again at that incredible marbling! People often describe tender meat as “melt in the mouth”, but never has that phrase been truer than for these morsels; the meat just disintegrated on the tongue releasing a really fantastic flavour.

Each table features a round charcoal grill, on which diners cook their own meal, at their own pace. Clever venting means the smoke is drawn away, so there’s no unpleasant smokiness in the room. Metal tongs are provided for cooking, and wooden chopsticks for eating, though we kept forgetting, and reaching for the grill with our chopsticks.

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Alongside our beef, we ordered an extra round of vegetables, which consisted of cabbage, onion, mushrooms, a slice of sweet pumpkin and a couple of jet black peppers. From the shape, I assumed the black peppers were chillies, but they were mild, like sweet peppers, with no heat at all. If you know the variety, do please let me know! Cabbage is a little strange cooked on a grill, but seems to be the most common offering, as we discovered when dining at other yakiniku restaurants during our trip. We also ordered a side of noodles in broth, which were inexpensive and tasty.

We ate well throughout our trip, but still I’ve been dreaming about the Hida Beef ever since Takayama!

Address: 6 Tenmanmachi, Takayama
Telephone:+81 577-35-5858

 

This post was originally published as a guest post on Pete Drinks.

We eat first with our eyes, so it’s no surprise that I’ve pinned more food images to my Pinterest boards than any others. One of the recipes that caught my eye was this Guinness & Cheddar Meatloaf from The Galley Gourmet blog. Admittedly, it was the sight of bacon-wrapped meat that drew my eye, but I also liked the sound of the beef, lamb and cheddar meat loaf and the beer and honey glaze.

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We made a few small changes to ingredients, and halved the recipe to serve 4 (or two with generous leftovers). There was some leftover glaze, as indicated in the original recipe, which we poured over the leftovers before reheating.

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf with a Stout & Honey Glaze

Glaze ingredients:
150 ml stout beer of your choice
50 grams light brown sugar
50 grams (2-3 tablespoons) honey
Meatloaf Ingredients:
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
90 ml stout beer
1 slice white bread, roughly torn
60 ml whole milk
225 grams ground beef
225 grams pound ground lamb
1 large egg
100 grams strong cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 heaped teaspoon umami paste (or 10 grams dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted and finely chopped)
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
200 grams good quality streaky bacon, approximately 12 rashers

  • First make the glaze by bringing the stout, honey and sugar to a boil, in a small pan, then cooking on a medium heat until the the liquid thickens and reduces to half of the original volume. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180° C (fan).
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion until just softened and beginning to take on colour.
  • Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
  • Add the stout and simmer briskly until the excess liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.
  • Set onion mixture aside in a bowl to cool down.

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  • If using porcini mushrooms, add boiling water to reconstitute, soak for 10 minutes, drain and finely chop.
  • In a bowl, soak the bread in the milk, tossing lightly until soggy but not falling apart.

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  • In a large bowl, combine all meatloaf ingredients except for the bacon. Mix by hand until thoroughly combined. (You can use a food processor for this step if you prefer).

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  • Line a rimmed baking tray with aluminium foil, transfer the meat mixture onto the foil and shape into a rounded loaf.
  • Drape the meatloaf with slightly overlapping strips of bacon, tucking the ends under the loaf. Carefully cover the ends of the loaf with additional rashers.

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  • Brush the top of the meatloaf with a few coats of the glaze.

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  • Bake for 45-50 minutes, basting with the juices, or extra marinade, 2 or 3 times during cooking.
  • Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

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We both loved this recipe, and will definitely be making it again. Hope you enjoy it too!

 

One of the many great street food traders at Food Blogger Connect 2012 was Tongue N Cheek.

Usually at Eat Street, King’s Cross, owners Cristiano and Kirie Meneghin sell tasty food making use of underappreciated cuts of meat. As well as burgers and ox tongue rolls, the menu also includes Italian-inspired dishes, such as the ox cheeks with caramelised onions and polenta.

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As you can see, I was pretty darn pleased with myself when I got my hands on this Heartbreaker burger with pork belly, gorgonzola and other Tongue N Cheek condiments.

The patty is ox heart mixed with other well-aged cuts of beef to create an incredibly succulent texture and wonderfully rich beefy flavour. Even against the silky pork belly and pungent gorgonzola, this patty held it’s own.

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It’s a fabulous burger, and what’s more, it’s not trying to recreate what anyone else is doing. It forges its own utterly tasty path.

 

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1064

Of course I’d heard of a Thermomix. Beloved of chefs everywhere and of many domestic cooks too, this machine comes up in conversations with foodie friends on a regular basis. But there are often gasps of shock when the £800 price tag comes up; that’s a hell of a lot for a single appliance!

So, what is a Thermomix, you might be wondering, and why do so many people swear by it, despite the price tag?

thermomix-functional
Thermomix with varoma steamer basket fixed above main jug; internal basket, whisk, spatula and measuring cup/ lid window to side

Well, it’s a bit of a multitasker – it blends, chops, grinds, whisks, kneads, weighs, cooks and steams!

On paper, it sounds as though this single machine could replace a number of others including a jug blender, a food processor, a mixer, a slow cooker, a steamer and a grinder. But what’s it like in practice? To help me find out, I was loaned a Thermomix to put through its paces for a few weeks.

I was invited to attend a demo first, and was impressed to see how quickly the Thermomix could grind a fine flour from rice or hard lentils. I also watched the demonstrator blend solid frozen chunks of fruit into a smooth sorbet and chop, cook and blend vegetables into a tasty soup.

The Thermomix comes with a cookery book called Fast and Easy Cooking which provides recipes specifically written for the Thermomix. That may sound obvious, but actually, we found that the speed settings and durations for the chopping, blending and grinding functions in particular very different from our experiences with our Magimix food processor. Likewise, we needed specifics on temperatures and times for cooking.

As well as full recipes, there’s also a section at the front that gives settings for common tasks such as grinding coffee, making icing sugar from granulated, melting chocolate, grinding grains and spices, making breadcrumbs, grating cheese, peeling and chopping garlic, mincing ginger, whisking egg whites. crushing ice, mincing meat and making almond, soya and rice milk.

For our first meal made using the Thermomix we made basil tagliatelle (using the pasta verde recipe) and ragu bolognese.

 

Thermomix Basil Tagliatelle

Ingredients

The original recipe calls for 300 grams of flour, 3 eggs and 50 grams of basil, enough to serve 6-8.

We scaled it down to a third and started with 100 grams of flour, 1 egg and 20 grams of basil.

Perhaps our flour differed wildly from the flour used by the author of the recipe, but we added almost 100 grams again to bring the mixture together into a dough, and even then it was wetter than ideal.

Method

  • The first instruction called us to blend the flour and basil for 30 seconds at Speed 10.The results remain one of the single most impressive feats of the Thermomix for me; the flour and leaves vanished to be replaced with a fine and evenly ground pale green powder; not even a hint of dark leaf matter was visible and I was genuinely gobsmacked and delighted!

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-0999 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1004

  • We added the egg and kneaded for 1.5 minutes on the dough setting.

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  • Be warned that the machine moves when it’s kneading and Pete held it down to stop it walking off the work surface! We added extra flour to bring the wet mixture together into a sticky dough and kneaded a little more to incorporate it.

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1007 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1008

  • We wrapped the dough in clingfilm and left it in the fridge for a couple of hours before making the tagliatelle.

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  • We used the pasta attachments for our KitchenAid to make the tagliatelle, which we did just as the ragu bolognese was finishing its cooking time, so we could cook the tagliatelle as soon as it was cut.

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1038 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1044 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1054

  • As with all fresh pasta, it cooked within minutes.

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1057 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1059

Thermomix Ragu Bolognese

Ingredients
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 pieces
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 clove garlic, peeled
50 grams olive oil
450 grams minced meat (ideally half beef and half pork)
50 grams dry white or red wine
400 grams tinned tomatoes or passata
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Small handful of torn basil leaves, washed and dried

Note: The recipe also calls for 80 grams of celery, but since I hate the stuff, we missed it out. We used 500 grams of beef mince, red wine and tinned tomatoes.

Method

  • Put the onion, carrot and garlic into the TM bowl and chop for 5 seconds at speed 7.

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  • Add the oil and cook for 3 minutes at 100 C on Speed setting Spoon using Reverse Blade Direction.

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  • Add the meat and cook for 10 minutes at Varoma temperature on Speed setting Spoon using Reverse Blade Direction.

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1025 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1026

  • Add the wine, tomatoes, bay leaf, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook for 20 minutes at Varoma temperature on Speed setting Spoon using Reverse Blade Direction until the meat is tender and the sauce is reduced.

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1029 ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1031

I must admit, I didn’t believe for a moment that such a short overall cooking time would produce a decent result, as the ragu recipes I’ve made in the past have needed several hours of cooking.

But to my surprise, the ragu not only had a lovely and balanced flavour but it was perfectly cooked as well.

ThermomixBasilPastaRagu-1062

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It worked very well indeed with the basil tagliatelle and I thought the finished dish looked beautiful.

So far, so impressed. More posts on our experiments with the Thermomix coming soon.

 

Kavey Eats received a loan machine courtesy of Thermomix. (This is not a sponsored post).

May 042012
 

I was recently invited to a tasting event to learn about Scotch beef. It was an eye-opening experience, and I learned a great deal about beef in general and Scotch beef in particular.

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Firstly, why Scotch beef and not Scottish beef or beef from Scotland?

Because they all mean different things:

To be described as from Scotland a beef product only has to have been processed in Scotland. So, for example, beef born, reared and slaughtered in another country, imported to Scotland and processed further into beef products can be labelled as from Scotland.

Scottish beef must be born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland. However there are no specifics about rearing, feed, quality assurance and these vary from producer to producer.

Scotch beef must not only be born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland but also assured from birth by Quality Meat Scotland Assurance schemes. It has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) which lays down stringent guidelines about production methods and controls, animal welfare, traceability, labelling and quality. In addition, Scotch Beef comes from steers and heifers only.

For me, that last sentence made me sit up straight with surprise.

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Bull, cow, young bull, heifer or steer?

Not only had I never thought about whether the beef I was eating was from a male or female, I’d certainly never thought about the age of the animal or which stage in life it had reached. I didn’t even understand some of the terms.

Bull – a mature male, with genitalia intact, which has already mated with cows.

Cow – a mature female, which has mated and given birth to at least one calf.

Young bull – a “teen” male, with genitalia intact, which has never mated with a cow.

Steer – a young or “teen” male, castrated and, obviously, never mated.

Heifer – a young or “teen” female, never mated or given birth, usually under 3 years of age.

Calf – a very young bovine of either sex, which has not yet been weaned, usually less than a year old.

What had never occurred to me, but was obvious as soon as I considered it for a moment, is that the differences in hormones between the above categories can make a huge difference to the taste of the beef. Beef from cows often has a characteristic acidity, sharp like malt vinegar, a hormonal sourness. Beef from bulls has a different kind of sourness, strongly metallic on the tongue, from the testosterone.

Stressing an animal in the weeks before it is slaughtered, whether by changing its feed or environment, or by a particularly long or arduous journey from farm to abattoir, will also have an impact, introducing a bitterness to the beef that comes from the hormones produced as a response to stress.

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Breeds

Cattle are broadly divided into three subspecies: bos primigenius, bos indicus and bos taurus. Bovine species are hard to pin down as not only can cattle interbreed between the subspecies, they can also do so with closely-related species such as yak and bison. The breeds we raise in Europe are virtually all from the subspecies bos taurus.

There are hundreds and hundreds of breeds of cattle, some of which are best suited to dairy, others as draught animals for farm work and of course, some which are well suited to the production of beef.

Laurent Vernet, the head of marketing for Quality Meat Scotland, tells us that, contrary to what I had assumed, the breed of cow will make far less difference to the taste of the beef than the age, sex, stage of life, whether the animal has developed its muscles from foraging and being able to move freely or been reared indoors with restricted movement, what the animal has been fed, how the beef has been aged, and differences between cuts.

In fact, the choice of breed a farmer raises often depends more on how the different breeds handle different terrains and climates, with some being much hardier in cold and wet weather and others coping better with dry heat.

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Feed

We discussed feed only briefly during the session. Beef cattle can be fed on widely different diets, which make a huge difference in the finished product.

Corn fed cattle have a diet that is predominantly composed of corn and soy.

Grass-fed cattle are allowed to forage fresh grass in pasture, and may also be fed legumes and silage. Silage is made from grass crops such as corn and other cereals, using the entire green plant, not just the grain. The plant is cut and stored in silos where it undergoes a two week fermentation that converts sugars to acids.

Supplements, providing additional nutrients, may also be fed to animals.

I’ve since been in touch with by Quality Meat Scotland to learn more about the specific diets of Scotch Beef cattle:

They have “a grass based diet, grazing outside in summer and fed a conserved forage (such as silage) in the winter. Small amounts of grain or distillery by-products (fermented grain) are sometimes added to this ration to provide additional energy but the majority of the ration remains grass based. Any additional feeds the cattle get have to be approved by QMS in order for the beef to carry the Scotch Beef Label.

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Aging

The traditional way of aging beef is dry aging, where an entire half, or large cuts of beef are hung in a cooler fridge for a period of time. During this process, moisture evaporates from the meat, concentrating the beef flavour and taste. The beef’s natural enzymes break down the connective tissue in the muscle, which increases tenderness. Certain fungal species also grow on the external surfaces of the meat, which also complement the natural enzymes in improving flavour and tenderness.

Of course, the loss of moisture means an overall loss of weight. As beef is sold by weight, this affects profits, unless the beef is sold at a higher price by weight. That has resulted in a huge increase in the use of wet ageing, where beef is vacuum-sealed into bags in order to reduce moisture loss. The natural enzymes within the beef will still break down connective tissues, but there is no formation of external moulds on the surface, nor concentration of flavour due to moisture loss.

It’s become quite the thing to laud meat that’s been aged not just for a week or two but for 28 days or 45 days or even 60!

Laurent explained that the tenderising is complete in less than two weeks.

I was already a little conflicted about this since our trip to the Falklands back in February 2010. Weather conspired against our planned itinerary and we spent an extra night on Saunders Island, along with a charmingly batty group of British girl guides. The owners of the island had slaughtered one of their beef cattle two days previously, and generously gave all of us an enormous joint to roast for dinner, as we’d all catered for the number of meals we’d originally expected to eat on the island. Obviously, the meat had not been hung and yet it was absolutely delicious; tender and full of flavour. It certainly made me question the litany of longer aging for better flavour.

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Assessing steak

Firstly, we did a blind tasting of two pieces of red meat, the fat had been removed from both. In my notes I wrote down that A had a more irony, bloody taste and that B was sweeter, softer, with a more hazelnut taste. I could detect a clear difference but I assumed that was down to two different cuts of beef, or maybe what they’d been fed or how long the meat had been aged. I was gobsmacked when Laurent revealed that A was beef but B was actually lamb!

Laurent explained that red meat protein tastes much the same from one animal to another and that the fat is what gives the meats their distinctive tastes.

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However, he also warned us not to fall for the marketing myth that a joint of beef wrapped in a thick layer of fat will result in the fat melting into the meat and improving flavour. That doesn’t happen. However, it does increase the moisture within the meat by creating a cap that blocks the steam that would otherwise escape during cooking.

Marbling, on the other hand, where the fat is distributed throughout the meat, provides flavour in each bite.

Before we started tasting different plates of beef, Laurent ran through the criteria for assessing steak.

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Helly from Fuss Free Flavours

Tenderness is broken down into First Bite and Global. As we take the first bite, we subconsciously make an assessment about whether we think it is tender or tough, moving it to the back of our mouth if we think it will be soft and to the front if it’ll need more chewing. As we go on chewing, we make a more global assessment, based on how much chewing is needed to process and swallow the piece of meat. More than four chews is where we start to perceive a problem.

Juiciness is not about how much moisture the actual food releases, but about the sensation of juiciness in our mouth, something which a good presence of fat can also create. It’s about a natural reaction that creates saliva, and whether this is brief or lasts throughout the eating of that bite.

When it comes to Texture, we really only notice this if there’s something unexpected or if it feels wrong.

Flavour is broken down into three aspects. First is the Basic flavour where our taste buds detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The tongue is not very sophisticated, beyond these key profiles, as we confirmed by tasting some coriander with our noses closed, and again with our noses open. That’s because most of the Taste is detected by receptors in the throat and the olfactory system, our system for sensing smell. And lastly, there is Aftertaste, which is about the residue of taste that remains in the mouth once we’ve swallowed the bite of food. This is most evident when we open our mouths and bring in oxygen. This was the last stage of our coriander test, after tasting it with nose pinched close, then nose open and lastly, opening our mouth and breathing inwards.

I did some additional reading on this when I got home and found a couple of other ways that we assess what we are eating. These are much less relevant for tasting beef, of course. Thermoreception detects temperature and chemesthesis detects chemical-induced reactions – think about the sensations you get from eating menthol or chilli.

 

My Favourites

Our first trio of tastes were all 9 day aged sirloin from a cow, a young bull and a steer.

The juiciness in the cow sirloin dissipated fast. The meat was rather tough, and resistant to chewing. The flavour didn’t stand out hugely. I noted down that it was irony fresh blood, quite neutral. Laurent detected a whole milk flavour.

The young bull was softer and more even in texture and the juiciness lasted longer. It was much more sour and I really felt that in the back of my jaw, where the muscles tightened unpleasantly in response. I have a similar but more violent reaction to most strongly acidic and sour food.

The steer was softer again, I noted that it was silky. It was really juicy and that wetness lasted throughout the eating. The flavour was sweeter, with a nice savoury umami aspect. Not much sourness or metallic notes. My own notes include earthy and reminiscent of fresh raw mushrooms. Others also mentioned a buttery note.

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Next we looked at aging, trying steer sirloins that were aged for 9 days, 16 days and 27 days, respectively.

The 9 day aging resulted in meat that was a touch chewy but acceptable. The juiciness was short lived. The flavour wasn’t strong, but there was a touch of metallic iron from the blood.

The 16 day aged was meltingly soft and with long lasting juiciness in the mouth. It had a deeply rich umami flavour with the oxidised fat giving an almost bacon-like smokiness.

The 27 day aged was not quite as soft as the 16 day, nor quite as juicy, but better than the 9 day aged on both counts. It had a good meaty flavour, though the bacon profile was missing. The acidity was more evident too.

For me, the 16 day aged was my clear favourite.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing what I learned. If you want to know more about Scotch beef, contact Quality Meat Scotland directly.

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of Quality Meat Scotland.
The event took place at The Guinea Grill, which always has Scotch Beef on its menu.
Photographs are by George Powell.

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