Mary Robinson really put the ‘cat among the pigeons’ recently when she called on people from developed nations to consider eating “less meat or no meat at all”, due to the toll its production takes on the environment. Her address to 1,300 current and future young world leaders from 196 nations at the One Young World Summit in Ottawa caused quite a stir around the world but particularly here in Ireland.
The remarks drew a tirade of condemnation from several farming organisations and rural TD’s who seemed to assume this statement was aimed directly at them.
Irish beef farmers are understandably particularly sensitive having been directly affected by the fall in the value of sterling as a result of Brexit.
Because of the quantity of methane and slurry produced by animals, livestock rearing is seen as a major contribution to greenhouse gases. However, here in Ireland our dairy and beef animals are primarily, though not completely, grass fed so consequently they produce much less gas than grain fed animals reared in intensive feed lot systems. A fact that needs to be repeated loud and clear… We are not comparing like with like, it’s simply not the same thing.
Ireland can grow grass like virtually nowhere else in the world so surely it makes sense for our farmers to produce good beef for export to areas that are not so favoured by nature. The quality of Irish beef is highly esteemed, was recently served at the Breeder’s Cup in California on the invitation of the organisers. Good Food Ireland was partnered by Dawn Meats and Bord Bia to showcase Irish beef at this super high profile event considered to be the ‘richest two days in sport’
However, back to Mary Robinson, we must be careful not to ‘shoot the messenger’. There’s no doubt that many people nowadays eat far more meat than is beneficial for their health.
Much of that meat is produced in extremely intensive units which raise animal welfare and chemical input concerns.
Although I eat mostly plants, copious amounts of vegetables, fresh herbs and wild foods, I’m certainly not a vegetarian. I love good meat but increasingly find myself eating less meat but better quality totally free range and organic. I am happy to pay more to those who are rearing animals and poultry in a more extensive way.
We urgently need a system where food producers can be identified and rewarded for producing a superior product. We also need to create a new paradigm where the contribution of organic and chemical free farmers to the environment is acknowledged in tax breaks.
So Mary Robinson would like us to consider a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle for the sake of the planet and future generations. Scientists have confirmed that a widespread change in our eating habits would cut food related emissions by two thirds. Nonetheless many are reluctant to forego meat altogether.
Nonetheless, we can’t ignore the validity of the arguments so why not seek out an organic chicken. It will cost you €18-€22 as opposed to €3.50 –Ouch……. and that’s if you can even find one. That is the real price of rearing and feeding a chicken with organic GM free feed for approximately three times the length of the bargain chicken without antibiotics, hormones, growth promoters or anti-depressants. Organic always means free range but free range certainly does not mean organic. Free range is a very ‘elastic term’, so ask some questions…..
So back to the days when chicken was a ‘once a week’ or even once a month treat and every single scrap was used, liver for pâté, giblets, carcass and feet for a fine pot of stock soup or broth – there’s nothing more nourishing or restorative particularly if you are feeling slightly poorly – it’s not called ‘Jewish penicillin’ for nothing.
Pork, too needs careful sourcing to find organic or chemical free. Close to us here in East Cork, we have Woodside Farm where Martin and Noreen Conroy and their family work hard to provide us with beautiful heritage breed Saddleback pork and bacon, only problem they simply can’t keep up with demand – catch up with them at Midleton and Douglas on Saturday, Mahon on Thursday and Wilton Farmers Markets on Tuesday. www.woodsidefarm.ie
In Curraghchase in County Limerick Caroline Rigney and her husband Joe also do the same. www.rigneysfarm.com
Mary’s right in many ways. We have to change; we simply cannot go on with ‘business as usual’. For the sake of our children, great grandchildren and the planet, we all need to commit to the Paris Agreement. Each and every one of us needs to think about our carbon footprint – we can each make a vital difference.
So here are some recipes, tasty, delicious and super nutritious that use just a little less meat.
Sustainable Food Trust Conference with a focus on Sustainable Food and Health at Bristol University, November 23rd 2016.
Guest Speaker Joel Salatin will speak about The Role of Livestock in Future Farming Systems. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Sushi made Simple
Scared to tackle sushi yourself?
On Wednesday November 30th we will take the mystery out of making sushi. We will start by explaining the ingredients, basic equipment and techniques required, giving you the confidence to serve it to guests at home or in a restaurant. We will use fresh fish straight from the boats in Ballycotton Bay to create sublime sushi and sashimi. Sushi gets the ‘thumbs up’ from cardiologists and nutritionists – not least because it is based mainly on fresh fish, seaweed, vegetables and rice, but it is also low in saturated fat, high in vital omega 3s and rich in vitamins and minerals. Students will have the opportunity to taste all the dishes prepared during the demonstration. www.cookingisfun.ie
Scalloped Potatoes with Beef and Kidney
Tons of flavour, for just a little beef. Season well and serve with some good butter.
2 1/2-3 lbs (1.1-1.35kg) potatoes
1 lb (450g) well hung stewing beef
1 beef kidney
3/4 lb (350g) onions, chopped
2 – 2 1/2 ozs (50-70g/2 – 2 1/2 sticks) butter
water or stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
A presentable oval casserole
Remove the skin and white core from the kidney and discard, cut the flesh into 1/2 inch (1cm) cubes, put into a bowl, cover with cold water and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt. Cut the beef into 1/2 inch (1cm) cubes also. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/4 inch (5mm) thick slices, put a layer of potato slices on the base of the casserole. Drain the kidney and mix with the beef, scatter some of the meat and chopped onion over the layer of potato. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper, dot with butter, add another layer of potato, more meat, onions and seasoning and continue right up to the top of the casserole, finish with an overlapping layer of potato. Fill with stock it will take approx. 13 fl ozs (375ml/1 1/2 cups). Bring to the boil, cover and cook in a preheated slow oven 150ºC/300°F/regulo 2, for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is cooked. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve from the casserole with lots of butter.
Chicken Broth with Julienne of Vegetables
1.5 litres (2 1/2 pints/6 1/4 cups) of well-flavoured homemade chicken stock (see recipe)
50g (2oz) carrots
50g (2oz) celery
50g (2oz) white turnip
50g (2oz) leeks
4 spring onions, cut at an angle
First julienne the vegetables.
Peel and cut the carrot, celery, turnip and leek into very thin julienne strips
Heat the broth, add the julienne, bring back to the boil and simmer gently until the vegetables are just cooked, 5-6 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and scatter with lots of flat leaf parsley and spring onion.
Baby Beef Scallopini with Lemon
We do not serve intensively reared veal either at Ballymaloe House or at the Cookery School but once or twice a year we have naturally reared milk fed calf from our own Jersey or Kerry bull calves. The meat is not so pale as conventional veal but is wonderfully sweet and delicious.
675g (1½ lb) Lean Baby Beef from the top round
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Flour, well-seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh white breadcrumbs
With a very sharp knife cut the top round into ¼ thick slices across the grain. Trim off any fat or sinews. Put between 2 sheets of cling film and flatten a little more with a meat pounder or rolling pin.
Dip each piece in well seasoned flour, beaten egg and soft white breadcrumbs. Pat off the excess.
Melt 3 or 4 tablespoons of clarified butter in a wide frying pan. Fry the scallopini, a few at a time until crisp and golden on one side then flip over onto the other. Drain briefly on kitchen paper. Serve hot with segments of lemon.
Lamb Stew with Bacon, Onions and Garden Herbs
The word stew is often associated in these islands with not very exciting mid week dinners. People tend to say almost apologetically, oh its only stew, no matter how delicious it is.
Well, let me tell you they smack their lips in France at the mere mention of a great big bubbling stew and now these gutsy, comforting pots are appearing on many of the smartest restaurant menus.
3 lb (1.3kg) gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb not less than 2.5cm (1 inch thick)
12 oz (350g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)
seasoned white flour, preferably unbleached
a little butter or oil for sauteeing
1 lb (450g) onions, (baby ones are nicest)
1 lb (350g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
1 3/4 pints (750ml) approx. lamb or chicken stock
12 ‘old’ potatoes (optional)
sprig of thyme
roux – optional
Mushroom a la Crème (optional)
Lots of freshly chopped parsley
Cut the rind off bacon and cut into approx. 1/2 inch (1cm) cubes blanch if salty and dry in kitchen paper. Divide the lamb into 12 pieces and roll in seasoned flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sauté the bacon until crisp, remove and put in a casserole. Add the lamb to the pan and sauté until golden then add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn’t burn yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If it is cool the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then quickly sauté the onions and carrots, adding a little butter if necessary, and put them into the casserole. Degrease the sauté pan and deglaze with the stock, bring to the boil, pour over the lamb.
Cover the top of the stew with peeled potatoes (if using) and season well. Add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, cover the pot and then put into the oven for 45-60 minutes, 180C/350F/regulo 4. Cooking time depends on how long the lamb was sautéed for.
When the casserole is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease and return degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary. Add back in the meat, carrots, onions and potatoes, bring back to the boil.
The casserole is very good served at this point, but it’s even more delicious if some Mushroom a la Crème is stirred in as enrichment. Serve bubbling hot sprinkled with lots of chopped parsley.
Lamb Stew with Haricot Beans
Add 8oz (225g) of precooked haricot beans to the stew about two-thirds of the way through cooking, omit the potatoes. This will add even more nourishment.
Substitute half the Tomato Fondue recipe for the Mushroom a la Crème recipe and you will have quite a different but equally delicious stew.
Add 1 teaspoon each of freshly roasted cumin and coriander seeds in with the carrots and onions and proceed as in master recipe.
This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets, then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get best value for your fuel.
Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5–6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!
I’ve recently come across some very good Silkie chickens reared by Sean Ring from Castlecomer in Co Kilkenny. We can get them with their feet and heads on which adds immeasurably to the flavour and nourishment of the broth…not for everyone I know….
Makes about 3.5 litres (6 pints/15 cups)
2–3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck, heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, split in two
2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves
1 carrot, cut into chunks
a few parsley stalks
sprig of thyme
Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints/17 1/2 cups) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer for 3–4 hours. Strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.