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Guest Blog: Chef Gary O'Hanlon on the Horsemeat Crisis

Celebrity Chef and VM Restaurant Head Chef, Gary O'Hanlon

This month we hear from celebrity chef and 'VM Restaurant' Head Chef Gary O'Hanlon who writes the January Expert Column. Here he discusses why we should support our local butcher and a bit more about horsemeat in burgers.

"Trot" Along to your Local Butcher

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past three to four weeks, then you will be very well aware of the shocking news coming out regarding a sample test done on some frozen burgers produced in Ireland and available for sale in some of our biggest supermarkets.

Those that indulge in a quick fix dinner and enjoy the odd hamburger will have been shocked when they realised that up to 29% of their 100% Irish Beef Burger actually contained horse DNA. Appalling stats.

Now the problem here is not the fact that people consumed horsemeat, it's enjoyed by many of our European neighbours on a regular basis and is quite tasty, it's more the fact that in this day and age and with supposed strict hygiene regulations and food testing, which is such a rigorous process, that these burgers were able to reach a freezer shelf in the first place.

It has now transpired that the horsemeat filler originated in Poland. It's sad to think that with such high volumes of food being produced in Ireland and with Beef one of our largest and most successful exports, we still feel the need to import cheap "filler" products.

Now I've been in meat producing factories and if I were honest, you would consider yourself lucky to have consumed one of the burgers in question against what can actually be classed as a 100% Beef burger.

You see when it comes to these cheap frozen burgers, it's not the lovely trimmings from a shoulder, sirloin or fillet that they are made of, but more the air blasted bits of meat and gristle attached to joints and bones. Yes it's beef and yes it's Irish. But prime cut, it sure isn’t!

Which brings me to my question. Why are we buying them in the first place?

Most small towns and villages in Ireland are blessed with at least one craft butcher. The one ingredient that they all have in plentiful supply is mince. Whether it’s beef mince, pork mince, lamb mince or even veal mince - chances are you won't struggle to pick some up. It will be fresh, your butcher will be able to tell you what joint it came from and even it's fat content.

The perfect ratio of meat to fat I find is 85% meat to 15% fat. This might seem high to some but food needs flavour and fat = flavour! This is why you see very few thin chefs. We love flavour! You get where I'm going with this one.

The thing with mince is, most of this fat renders away from the meat during the cooking process. What that means is it trickles down through the meat creating that beautiful juicy beefy flavour and onto the pan and then you can simply drain it away but what you’re left with is a very moist tasty burger or meatball. Not a trace of sea biscuit in sight!

When you buy from your local butcher you’re keeping the money in Ireland. You know where your food is coming from and you’re supporting Irish jobs. It's a no brainer.

It takes seconds to make a few burgers and you can freeze them down yourself if you want to have them in reserves to suit a busy lifestyle. Simply weigh out 4 oz of meat, squeeze between your two hands to shape, set on a little circle of greaseproof paper, top with greaseproof and then wrap in cling film or place in an airtight container until needed. The greaseproof is to allow you to take them out one by one and to avoid them sticking.

Now trot along to your local butcher if your craving a burger in future.

Each month I'll provide you with stories from Ireland's culinary underbelly and feel free to email me for any recipes.

I've a great one for Horse Carpacchio for those of you that have developed a palate for the ponies lately.

Chef Gary.

Email Gary for recipes at gary@chefgaryohanlon.com