Poultry and meat

Poultry and meat

By
Stefano de Pieri
Contains
14 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740661713
Photographer
Earl Carter

Australia is a meat paradise. There is everything one wants and more. Beef and lamb are abundant in all sorts of cuts and from different kinds of animals. Australians are spoilt because prices here are still relatively cheap compared to other parts of our world. And what’s more, immigration has brought in another set of cooking styles to complement the barbecue and the Sunday roast. Braising and slow-cooking of parts such as shanks and cheeks are relatively recent additions to the modern Australian repertoire.

On top of that, the quality of poultry has improved out of sight. Free-range chickens are readily available; duck, quail and pigeon are no longer regarded as weird things to eat. The public is offered a great number of choices out there, especially in the most advanced and sophisticated restaurants.

As for me, I remain very keen on offal, even though I get the distinct impression that I am not converting many followers. I came to offal simply because I was brought up on a farm and money was tight. The availability of meat was directly proportional to what we could grow by way of poultry and pork, but beef was out of reach. That’s why, on a rare visit to the butcher, my father would return with such strange things as a calf’s head, transported on the handlebars of his bike, or some tongue or shanks.

Many offal dishes are about enjoying texture. What may be fat to someone is sublime jelly to another, especially if dressed with a little salt and olive oil.

Lesser cuts are very delectable when poached or ‘boiled’. Think of brisket, which is not offal, but when boiled, melts in the mouth and makes a great warm salad to be had with mustard sauce. The chapter on preserves features a recipe with ox tongue, which is poached. Ox tongue is great served with boiled spuds and a green sauce made with flat-leaf parsley.

Tripe, which I like serving with polenta, is best if cooked from raw. It requires long, slow cooking, as with any other ‘casserole’-style dish. Tripe and oxtail, cooked for long enough without hurry and with a little care, produces a rich sauce. The addition of aromatics such as citrus rind improves the dish out of sight.

Eat it raw

I used to think beef was suss because I associated it with machismo and beer drinking – I have always felt uneasy about both. I guess I have also disliked it as the one-dimensional dietary preference of the majority, especially in its meat and three veg form. I mean, why be obsessed about steak when there is so much other food to enjoy? And why be obsessed about steak, anyway, when meat eaters could enjoy so many other parts of a cow?

During my early days in Australia, I could not escape the impression that steak and beer were not only a part of the national diet, but were also somehow connected to the notion of being a ‘real man’ and a real Aussie. Such an exaggerated perception certainly slowed down my real understanding of things, but then there are things that stick to the mind, like it or not, and colour your initial perceptions of your new neighbourhood.

Beef or meat generally, I understood later, is an important part of the diet simply because this country has always produced an awful lot of it. And the fact that most people like it well done, by the way, is just the same as in every other country.

What concerns me about beef now are two other issues: the first is that given its abundance, people have forgotten how to use the non-prime cuts. The second – and perhaps the more important issue – is the difficulty in purchasing beef with a degree of confidence about its quality. We have all tended to rely on the trusted butcher – as one should – or on the price as a reflection of quality, but without any reliable guarantees. I have purchased, time and again, some premium cuts at a premium price only to be bitterly disappointed. The high cost of a product is not in itself a guarantee. This problem has preoccupied meat producers for quite some time and extensive programs are now being tested in the market place to come up with schemes that ensure that price and quality are roughly in proportion.

I once had a most interesting experience when, on a short Tasmanian trip, by chance I met the Hammond brothers, who run a cattle property on Robbins and Walker Islands and on the mainland, in the vicinity of Stanley. The Hammonds produce top of the range beef and would have no problems giving a cast iron guarantee about the quality of their meat. People like them are at the top of the quality pyramid. The only problem is that they tend to export almost everything they produce.

The Hammonds are lucky because their grandfather, James Holyman, had the foresight to purchase these two beautiful islands from the Van Diemen Land Company in 1916. (The islands were an original grant of King George IV to the Van Diemen Land Company.) The Holyman family were pioneers in shipping and aviation in Australia, having over 60 vessels in the early 1900s and starting and managing ANA airways before the company was bought by Sir Reginald Ansett in the late 1950s.

The islands are accessible at low tide by four-wheel drive vehicles or, I’d imagine, on foot. The trip from the mainland farm, along the beaches, with cattle, across Robbins Passage to Robbins Island, is 28 kilometres from paddock to paddock.

In these stunning landscapes, which are so typically Australian, the Hammonds run only Wagyu beef, commonly referred to as ‘Kobe beef’. They prefer this Japanese breed of cattle for their ability to produce the most marbled meat in the world. Nearly all of their production, like many other good Tassie products, goes straight overseas where it fetches high prices.

I understand that a high price can put people off, but then many people are prepared to pay for lots of outrageously expensive habits, so why not pay more for beef that is outrageously good? The important thing, for me at least, would be to know that I can buy standard good quality beef, properly priced, or Wagyu or Angus or similar and pay accordingly.

I found myself grappling with one large piece of strip loin donated by the Hammonds for the 10 Days on the Island Festival event in Stanley and in the Stanley Golf Club kitchen, with a tiny electric domestic stove and the task of cooking for 140 people. When I sampled it myself, raw, not knowing what it was and who had given it, I was struck by a thunderbolt. I had never tasted anything like it in terms of flavour and texture. So I resolved, there and then, that the guests would eat it raw, which is what they did.

If you want to be a real man, then, eat it raw, I say! Raw beef is sometimes called ‘carpaccio’, a word that is now used for any raw food cut thinly. This method of presenting meat comes from Venice. Vittore Carpaccio was a sixteenth-century Venetian painter. For a carpaccio of beef it is preferable to use eye fillet, because it involves the least amount of waste.

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