Freshers' fare

It's a student standby - but mince can still be luxurious. Mark Hix shows how
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Indy Lifestyle Online

AS A student at catering college I wasn't faced with the problem of how to feed myself on a budget the way most students are. Not just because we were cooking all day. But because I wasn't living in digs but with my grandmother who fed me when I was home. Most of us also had evening and weekend jobs in hotels and restaurants, so we rarely went hungry.

AS A student at catering college I wasn't faced with the problem of how to feed myself on a budget the way most students are. Not just because we were cooking all day. But because I wasn't living in digs but with my grandmother who fed me when I was home. Most of us also had evening and weekend jobs in hotels and restaurants, so we rarely went hungry.

Even so, I've always liked the challenge of cooking economically. And seasonally. Buying food in season is cheaper than shopping for things that have come halfway around the world from where it's summer in our winter. Try shopping in markets and look for cheaper cuts of meat and, with a bit of cooking nous, you can knock up an impressive meal. Fiona Beckett's new book, Beyond Baked Beans: Real Food For Students (Absolute Press, £8.99), will steer anyone interested in real food away from pot noodles. Also just published, by Quadrille (£9.99), is my new book British. It's one of the Simple Ways to Success series, exclusive to Sainsbury's.

I learnt a love of traditional British food from my gran and it has stayed with me ever since I was a student. Many of the classic dishes use cuts of meat that aren't expensive but can still result in a luxurious dish. After all, shepherd's pie is always on the menu at The Ivy and meat loaf sometimes appears at Le Caprice.

Both of these dishes are made with that staple of budget cooking: mince. It's a versatile and tasty way of enjoying meat. A student kitchen without mince is, I imagine, like a Club 18-30 holiday without lager. Without mince there would be no proper Bolognese, shepherd's pie, meatballs or even hamburgers. Imagine if every McDonald's became a Turkish kebab shop or bratwurst bar. That would be amazing. If only. My favourite Turkish restaurant barbecues coarsely minced chicken and lamb, with plenty of seasoning, on long metal skewers. It's fresh, healthy and easy-going. I doubt that it'll turn into a chain of kebab shops, but it's been getting so much publicity recently, it no longer seems to be a secret local diner. (So I'm not going to tell you the name again - you've had your chance.)

I wouldn't want to see real hamburgers disappear. By hamburger I mean a handmade burger, prepared with freshly minced beef and a good proportion of rib fat to keep it moist during cooking. Give the humble meatball a second chance, too. If it comes out of a can it'll taste like it, but think about those real American/Italian meatballs with spaghetti, or wild boar meatballs with creamed polenta - and we're talking mince as it ought to be.

The best way to buy mince is to stand over your butcher while he physically minces the piece of meat you've just picked from the counter. In France, if you order a steak haché from a butcher, he will mince it and mould it in front of you, so it's ready to put on the griddle or whatever. Pre-packed mince has improved though, and you can buy different grades now, with different levels of fat.

A mincer attachment for a food mixer is handy. Or even a small, table-top mincer, although I'm not so keen on mincing up the Sunday roast and boiling it up with gravy. My gran used to do that with one of those mincers you bolt on to the table. But I haven't had that sort of mince since I was a student.

Meat loaf

Serves 4-6

I had never made meat loaf until a few years ago, when my friend Jason persuaded me to put it on the menu at Le Caprice. It went on the brunch menu with a fried duck's egg and wild mushrooms and we made vinaigrette with HP sauce, which complemented it perfectly. Occasionally, we bring it back to tempt unadventurous British palates. You can vary the meat you use - try some smoked pork, or even omit the pork - but make sure you have some fat from veal or beef in there or it becomes very dry once cooked. Veal can be produced to a high welfare standard and, if it is, you needn't have any more qualms about it than about young lamb. But you can replace it by doubling the quantity of minced beef in the recipe if you prefer.

2 small onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp thyme leaves, chopped
1tbsp vegetable oil
250g minced pork belly
250g minced beef (preferably rib)
250g minced veal
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
1tbsp Dijon mustard

Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Gently cook the onions, garlic and thyme in the oil until soft. Leave to cool then mix with the minced meats, the breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. Season with salt and pepper and fry a small piece to test for the seasoning. Season again if necessary and pack into a lightly-oiled terrine mould or similar with a tight-fitting lid. If you don't have an ovenproof dish with a lid, use a loaf tin and cover tightly with foil. Place this in a roasting tray, pour 3-4cm of boiling water around your meat loaf container and cook for 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Test the meat loaf with a skewer or point of a knife by inserting it into the centre and touching it with the tip of your tongue. If it's hot, it's done. Remove from the roasting tray, remove the lid and leave to cool. Once the meat loaf is fairly cool it can be removed from the mould by running the point of a sharp knife around the edge and turning it upside down. Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate until required. To serve, cut it in thick, 2cm slices and fry, preferably in a non-stick pan with a little oil, for 3-4 minutes on each side, until crisp. Serve with a fried egg on top and wild mushrooms. Or mash.

Faggots in gravy

Serves 4

Not the most fashionable food around, but I'm sure faggots are due for a revival. When I was a kid it was compulsory to go to the fish-and-chip shop after youth club or swimming; faggots with chips and gravy served in a polystyrene tray with a wooden fork was my favourite. Kebabs and pretend spring rolls seemed to have taken over in most chippies. Perhaps faggots are just too strange to count as fast food now. With minced pig's liver inside and a covering of caul (pig's or lamb's stomach lining), it's not exactly a dish for beginners to attempt, but if you really want to get into mincing (and have the right food-mixer attachment), try it out. If you can't find caul, replace half the pig's liver with pork belly or the mixture will be too wet to manage. Then roll the faggots in flour before you roast them.

for the faggots

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tsp chopped sage
Vegetable oil for frying
500g pork liver, deveined and coarsely minced by the butcher or with an attachment, or finely chopped
300g pork belly, rind removed and coarsely minced
70g fresh white breadcrumbs
A good pinch of nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A good pinch of celery salt
120g caul fat, soaked in cold water for an hour or so

for the gravy

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
60g butter
50g flour
1tsp tomato purée
Half a glass of red wine
500ml beef stock (a cube will do)
1¿2tbsp Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat a small roasting tray, that will fit the faggots, in the oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Gently cook the onion, garlic, thyme and sage in the vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes without colouring until soft. Mix with all the other ingredients for the faggots, except for the caul fat, and season with salt, pepper and celery salt. Mould the mix into four equal-sized balls. Wrap in 2-3 layers of caul fat, overlapping and remoulding into even shapes. If you haven't any caul, roll them in flour.

Put the faggots into the roasting tray with a little vegetable oil and roast for 25 minutes, turning them 2 or 3 times.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. Fry the onion in the butter, stirring every so often, on a medium heat until lightly coloured. Add the flour and continue cooking on a low heat and stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add the tomato purée and Worcestershire sauce and gradually stir in the red wine and beef stock, bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes.

Take the faggots out of the oven, drain off the excess oil and pour the gravy over them. Cover with foil, or a tight-fitting lid. Turn the oven down to 175ºC/Gas mark 4 and cook the faggots for 1 hour 15 minutes. If the gravy is not thick enough, remove the faggots with a slotted spoon and simmer the gravy in a saucepan until it thickens.

Serve with mashed potato or chips and peas - mushy preferably, which you can buy in tins.

Shrimpburgers

Serves 4

This isn't what most people have in mind when they think of mince, but since I saw this luxurious version of a burger in an American food magazine I have used it several times. It's important to use sea-water prawns, rather than fresh water, as the taste is far superior.

550g raw sea-water prawns, shelled and deveined
150g white fish such as cod, haddock or hoki, boned and skinned
Half a bunch spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1tsp Worcestershire sauce
50g mayonnaise
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh white breadcrumbs to coat
Vegetable oil for frying
4 burger buns

for the spiced tartare sauce

3tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
20g capers, chopped
20g gherkins, chopped
4-5 drops of Tabasco hot pepper sauce

Put the prawns and white fish into a food processor and blend to a coarse purée. Add the rest of the burger ingredients except the breadcrumbs and mix in the processor for another 10 seconds. Pre-heat about 8cm of vegetable oil to 170ºC in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-bottomed saucepan, or use a frying pan with 1-2cm oil. Make a little burger shape with some of the mix, dredge with some breadcrumbs and fry, to test the mix for seasoning and consistency. Add more seasoning if necessary. Divide the rest of the mix into flat patties a little larger than the buns and refrigerate for 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the tartare sauce by mixing all the ingredients together.

To serve, dredge the burgers in breadcrumbs and deep-fry them for 4-5 minutes until golden. Serve in a lightly toasted hamburger bun with a spoonful of tartare sauce spread onto the bun.

Shepherd's pie

Serves 4

I've taken this recipe from my book British. It's not a million miles from what we serve at The Ivy. Before mincing machines came along, the term "mincing" referred to chopping with a knife. Nobody expects that now, but because any old meat can be put through a mincing machine you should know what quality it was when it went in. Buy the best mince you can afford. If you use the cheapest, the pie will be disappointing and you'll need twice as much as it will have lots of fat in it. But even the priciest mince is a better buy than prime cuts of meat - and if you pay a bit more for it you'll appreciate the taste.

450g good-quality, not-too-fatty, coarsely minced lamb
450g good-quality, not-too-fatty, coarsely minced beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
500g onions, peeled and finely chopped
1tbsp flour
1tbsp tomato purée
Glass of red wine
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 litre beef stock (a good-quality cube will do)
500g potatoes, peeled and quartered
200g parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
25g butter
A little milk

Season the minced meat with salt and pepper and mix well. Meanwhile heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan. When it is almost smoking, cook the meat in small batches for a few minutes each, turning it with a wooden spoon, until well coloured, then drain in a colander to remove all the fat.

Heat some more vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and thyme in it until these are very soft. Add the meat, dust it with the flour and then add the tomato purée. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add the red wine, Worcestershire sauce and the beef stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the liquid has thickened. Take it off the heat, adjust the seasoning and allow it to cool.

Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain and return to the pan over a low heat to dry out for a minute or so. Mash the potatoes, season and add the butter and enough milk to give a firm mash.

While the potatoes are cooking, also boil the parsnips in boiling, salted water for about 10-12 minutes until they are soft. Drain in a colander, dry them in the pan over a low heat for a minute or so, too. Purée the parsnips in a food processor or mash them smoothly with a potato masher and mix them with the mashed potato. Season.

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/Gas mark 6. Put the meat into a large serving dish and top with the potato and parsnip mixture, spooning it on and evening and roughing up the surface with a fork. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the topping is golden.

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