I’m increasingly dismayed by the often ill-informed debate on climate change. For many, ‘stop eating meat’ is considered to be the solution to all our planetary and climate change ills. Farmers of all persuasions are being tarred with the same brush and vilified.
Some farming methods certainly need to be reviewed and there is a growing consensus that business as usual is no longer an option particularly for very intensive pig and poultry units which, despite economies of scale, rarely even yield a decent income for the farmers themselves, many of whom feel trapped in the system, fuelled by our assumption that cheap food at any cost is our right.
If you ask most young people what we should eat to be sustainable and healthy, their immediate and well intentioned response will be, go vegan or vegetarian. They are convinced by the argument that meat, particularly red meat, is bad for us and damaging to the environment.
However, there is a world of difference, in health and environmental terms, in meat from pasture-reared livestock and intensively reared animals from feedlot systems. Cattle are crucially important to a sustainable agricultural system; it is worth noting that worldwide, about 80% of the land that cattle graze on cannot be used for tillage or other forms of agriculture.
It is also important to understand that cattle, other animals and poultry build soil fertility, a crucially important factor at a time when the UN warns us that there are less than 60 harvests left in many intensively farmed soils.
In Ireland we are favoured by nature, with optimum conditions to produce superb food. Many farmers desperately want to be a part of the solution to global warming. They urgently need wise advice, training and support to embark on regenerative agriculture that encourages continual innovation and improvement of environmental, social and economic measures. The primary priority in regenerative organic agriculture is soil health. This is vitally important when you realise our health comes directly from the soil.
For optimum health enjoy a little of all the bounty of nature. Eat vegetables, herbs and foraged foods in season and seek out humanely-reared meat with a nice covering of juicy fat and include some beautiful wild fish when you can get it fresh.
This week, let’s show support for our farmers who work 24/7 to produce nourishing meat for us. Buy from your local butcher, preferably one with their own abattoir, who knows the source of the meat and buys directly from local farmers or the local mart. Let’s eat a little less but seek out pasture-raised meat, from native breeds.
If you are confused about what to eat for optimum health start by cutting all processed and fake food out of your diet, just eat real food in season. One could do worse than listen to the sage advice of the Weston A. Price foundation (www.westonaprice.org) and wise tradition podcasts (www.westonaprice.org/podcast).
Nutrient-dense sustainable food can be more expensive to produce. As tax-payers we all contribute to a farm-support system.
Meanwhile, back to the comfort of the kitchen and a few of my favourite recipes for super delicious beef dishes.
15g (½oz) butter
75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped (optional)
450g (1lb) freshly minced beef — flank, or chump or even shin would be perfect
½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp finely chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pork caul fat, optional
Oil or dripping
25g (1oz) butter
75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped
225g (½lb) mushrooms
125ml (4½fl oz) cream
Freshly chopped parsley
½ tbsp freshly chopped chives (optional)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
20g (¾oz) nibbed almonds, lightly toasted
6 large potatoes unpeeled
Beef dripping or oil for deep-frying
Green salad and cherry tomatoes (optional)
First make the Burgers
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat, toss in the chopped onions, sweat until soft but not coloured, then allow to get cold. Meanwhile mix the mince with the herbs, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the onions and mix well.
Fry off a tiny bit on the pan to check the seasoning and tweak if necessary. Then shape into burgers, four to six, depending on the size you require. Wrap each one loosely in caul fat if using. Keep refrigerated.
Next make the Ginger Mushrooms
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until it foams. Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for five to six minutes or until quite soft but not coloured. Meanwhile slice and cook the mushrooms in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream, ginger, toasted almonds and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add parsley and chives if used. Keep aside.
Scrub the potatoes and cut into wedges from top to bottom — they should be about ¾ inch (2cm) thick and at least 2½ inches (6½ cm) long. If you like rinse the chips quickly in cold water but do not soak, dry them meticulously with a tea towel or kitchen paper before cooking.
Heat the beef dripping or oil in the deep fry to 180C/350F, fry twice, once at this temperature for five to eight minutes depending on size then drain.
Meanwhile fry the burgers and reheat the ginger mushrooms.
Increase the heat to 220C/425F and cook the Buffalo chips for a further one to two minutes until crisp and golden. Shake the basket, drain well, toss on to kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt.
Put the burgers onto hot plates, spoon some ginger mushrooms over the side of the burgers and pile on the crispy buffalo chips.
Put a little green salad dressed in a well flavoured dressing on the side with one or two ripe cherry tomatoes and a perky spring onion.
Serve immediately and tuck in.
A good gutsy beef stew which can be made in large quantities — it reheats and freezes brilliantly.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.35kg (3 lb) well hung stewing beef or lean flank
2 large carrots cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) slices
285g (10 oz) sliced onions
1 heaped tablespoon flour
150ml (5fl oz) red wine
150ml (5fl oz) brown beef stock
250ml (8fl oz) homemade tomato purée, otherwise use best quality tinned tomatoes - pureed and sieved
175g (6 oz) sliced
2 tablespoons, chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
Accompaniment: Polenta, mashed potato or noodles
Trim the meat of any excess fat, then prepare the vegetables. Cut the meat into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) cubes. Heat the olive oil in a casserole; sweat the sliced onions and carrots on a gentle heat with a lid on for 8-10 minutes. Heat a little more olive oil in a frying pan until almost smoking.
Sear the pieces of meat on all sides, add to the casserole. Sprinkle in the flour over the meat stir and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the red wine, stock and tomato purée together and bring to the boil. Deglaze the pan, with a little stock, scrape to dissolve the flavoursome sediment, bring back to the boil and then add to the casserole. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Cover and cook gently for 2 to 21/2 hours in a low oven, depending on the cut of meat, 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms and add with the parsley to the casserole, 30 minutes approx. before the end of cooking. Serve with Polenta, mashed potatoes or noodles and a good green salad.
For the marinade
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ tsp crushed chilli flakes
½ tsp ground cumin
2 teaspoon freshly chopped marjoram OR
1 dried oregano teasp
¼ tsp ground allspice
2 tbsp Mexican beer, or lager
1 tbsp olive oil
500g (1 lb) rump steak, cut 2.5 cm (1in) thick
1-2 fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
2-4 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ripe avocados, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 flour tortillas
1 handful shredded lettuce
tomato and coriander salsa (see recipe below)
125ml (4 floz) sour cream
First make the marinade, combine the garlic, chilli flakes, cumin, oregano, allspice, beer and oil. Add steak and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. For guacamole, combine chillies, coriander, lime juice and avocado. Mash with a potato masher until well combined but still chunky. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.
Grill the steak and leave to stand for 5 minutes before carving into 1cm (1/2 in) thick slices. Warm the tortillas and divide steak slices between the warmed tortillas. Sprinkle with flakey sea salt and pepper.
Top with shredded lettuce, tomato salsa, a good dollop of guacamole and sour cream. Roll up and serve hot.
Tomato salsa is best in summer and early autumn when tomatoes are super ripe and juicy. Salsas of all kinds both fresh and cooked have become a favourite accompaniment to everything from pan grilled meat to a piece of sizzling fish.
4 very ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½-1 chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
Squeeze of fresh lime juice Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
Mix all the ingredients together. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
‘Feed on the Farm’ launch of Pigtown festival 2019
The Pigtown Culture and Food Series, which celebrates Limerick’s food culture and heritage, is in its third year.
Inspired by the history of Limerick’s famous bacon industry, it is a programme of themed food and cultural events taking place in various venues in Limerick city and county, starting on Culture Night, September 20 with the popular Pigtown Parade.
For further details visit pigtown.ie or search #PigtownLimerick or ‘Pigtown Food Series’ on social media.
Feast Food Festival, September 1 to 8
This wonderful food festival is based in the market town of Midleton, Co Cork. With its rich food heritage but with a strong focus on the wider region, it will once again be a food and drink festival with a sure sense of place.
It is a festival that happens at harvest time appropriately for a gathering up and bringing of the best of what the area has to offer. Feast Cork is a blend of conversations, dinners, markets, foraging, mixology, produce, producers, heritage and storytelling. For more info over the weeklong event see