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Minced meat chronicles

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 29, 2021 6:00 am

In professional sports teams, they always have their “superstar” players – individuals who are celebrated and hyped, but people forget that teams also have their “role” players. These players may not get the hype or the adulation, but they are important to the success of their teams.

In the food world, I see the luxurious and more well-known cuts of meat, like the rib eye or tenderloin, as the “superstar” ingredients, while the lesser-known cuts, those that end up being ground up, are the “role” ingredients. I’ve always rooted for the underdog, so I thought it would be nice to direct the spotlight onto the beauty of minced meats for a change.

Coach’s tips

Before working with minced meats, here are three of my tips to make the kitchen experience with ground meat much more successful.

First, when sautéeing ground meat, especially when they’re frozen, you’ll notice that some water will come out. This is why I suggest cooking the ground meat first before adding the usual aromatics like minced onions, ginger or garlic. Adding these aromatics before the water hasn’t fully evaporated will have the effect of boiling the aromatics, diluting their flavor.

Let the water cook off first and then add your aromatics. What will result is a flavorful and fragrant dish.

Cook the ground meat first before adding the usual aromatics like minced onions, ginger or garlic.

Second, when working with batches of minced meat to make patties or meatballs, make sure to fry up a small test portion before forming them. That way, you can still adjust the seasonings.  Nothing is worse than forming all of your meatballs before discovering that they need more salt.

Lastly, as much as you want to avoid fat, you do need a certain percentage of fat (like 20-30 percent) in your patties and meatballs to prevent them from going dry after cooking. It will not only keep them moist, they will have a lot more flavor, too.

If fat is truly a problem health-wise, adding some crumbled silken tofu to the meat mixture helps keep it moist. You may need to add a touch more flour to maintain the shape, though. 

Local player

If one day you have that craving for Bicol Express but don’t have the patience to cook it with pork belly, my version of Bicol Express Baked Rice will be your new star recipe.

Bicol Express Baked Rice 

Here’s what you need for two people: 300 grams ground pork; 1 small carrot, cut into small cubes; 2 green finger chilies, sliced thin; 1 clove garlic, minced; 1 cup coconut milk; 2 tablespoons oil; 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated; salt and pepper to taste; plus 2 cups of cooked rice.

Start by cooking the ground pork in the oil for 2-3 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Once the pork is brown and dry, add in the chilies, carrots and garlic, cooking for another 2 minutes. Then, pour in the coconut milk and let simmer for another 2-3 minutes.

In ovenproof bowls, layer in some rice, then the pork mixture and then the grated cheese. You can bake under the broiler or in the oven until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Savory, spicy and rich, this is one of those really hearty dishes that satisfy the soul.

Naturalized player

Because of the presence of the US Army bases in Okinawa, an enterprising Okinawan created a Japanese-American dish that became the legendary Taco Raisu, or Okinawan Taco Rice.  I think this is a dish we Filipinos would welcome as if it were ours.

 Taco Raisu is an Okinawan favorite you can make at home.

Here’s what you need for 2 people: 300 grams ground beef, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons minced onions, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 2 cups cooked Japanese rice, 2 handfuls of shredded lettuce, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese and 2 diced ripe tomatoes. As for the seasonings, you’ll need cumin, chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper, with the amounts according to your taste.

Start by cooking the beef in the oil for 2-3 minutes, seasoning it with all the seasonings in the ingredients list. Once the beef is brown and the pan is dry, add in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add in just enough water to barely cover the meat and let it simmer until almost all the water is cooked off. This helps make the meat tender and also lets all the flavors meld together.

To assemble the dish, top each cup of freshly cooked Japanese rice with the meat mixture. Then add on the lettuce, the grated cheese and the tomatoes. You can finish by seasoning the tomatoes with salt and pepper to release the fruit’s sweetness.

Mix this all together and you get a dish that may seem crazy and silly in the beginning, but the flavors you get certainly are not. It’s spicy, tangy and bright, and will have you reaching for extra rice soon after. It will be a part of your kitchen’s team of dishes for sure.

Foreign import player

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Sometimes even I have to admit that cooking can be a chore, so why not order in your minced-meat happiness?

The Wagyu Chili from Neechilita is the reinforcement that you need. It’s super meaty, with a great balance of salty, sweet, and sour that screams satisfaction.

Grab a piece or bread or a cup of rice. Your body will definitely want it. Not too many people make American chili these days, and I definitely welcome this one to my team.

Here’s to the role players

As much love as the “superstars” get, I can’t help but wax poetic about the “role” players, too. How can I not when they can be this delicious?