Cooking ‘local’ with Francesca
Make the most of local ingredients with lovely Francesca.
When the whole world is going ‘organic’ we are so lucky to have the best beef in the world. Vanuatu beef cattle roam freely in green fields of pasture and are raised without antibiotics, hormones or growth stimulants, free of diseases and… happy! Although the quality of our beef is very good, when I buy meat I look for a dark red colour, nice marbling and freshness. I like my beef to be aged, which means it has been hanging for a while to relax the muscles and get much more tender and tasty when cooked. This process of ‘dry aging’ at controlled humidity and temperature is called “frollatura” in Italy and it varies from 24-48 hours to 14-21 days for the most premium meat. We all understand that time is money, so if you cannot find aged meat, preserve your steak in the fridge for a few days before cooking and that will help. When choosing meat, keep in mind that the parts of the animal that work the most and build muscles such as the legs are the toughest and good for slow-roasting or stewing. The softer parts such as the back are tender and suitable for grilling or frying. A bit of fat in the meat is good because it gives taste and moisture while cooking, however it is recommended to discard excessive fat. I’d like to share here the basic pointers to cook a perfect steak and prepare a tasty beef stock for your soups. When it comes to meat lovers, the Italian “bistecca alla fiorentina” is without doubt the masterpiece of beef dishes. In the earlier 1800s, during celebrations in the squares of Florence, it was traditional to cook quarters of beef and distribute slices to the people. Apparently, the name came about as rich English merchants kept asking for ‘beef steak’ (slice of beef) which the people of Florence translated into ‘bistecca’. The traditional cut for the dish is a T-bone steak about 3cm thick, comprising of sirloin on one side and fillet on the other side of the bone. Butchers use only beef from young females as they say ‘female is better’….! Here I have found aged scotch fillet steak a much more tender cut and my ideal size of steak is about 300g and 1.5-2cm thick. I leave the steak to marinate in quality extra virgin olive oil with fresh chopped rosemary and garlic for a couple of days. I cook the steak on a very hot plate or grill. According to the size of the steak the cooking time is 2 to 3 minutes for rare, 4 minutes for medium/rare, 6 minutes for medium and 8 minutes for well-done. You must turn the steak only once or maximum twice, if you wish to have a cross grill pattern on the surface, and season with salt only after the meat is cooked. F or a delicious beef stock, use 1.5kg of beef shin, one peeled brown onion with a few cloves stuck in it, one large carrot, one celery stalk, one teaspoon of black pepper, two bay leaves, a few springs of fresh thyme and flat leaf parsley and a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil. Put all ingredients in a large pot with 5L of water and let it simmer for three hours uncovered. Allow to cool and store in plastic containers in the fridge for up to three days or longer in the freezer. When making stock, the raw meat is added to the water while cold, to release all juices and flavours in the stock, as opposed to when cooking a stew, where it needs to be seared on high heat to keep all juices inside before cooking. A 90g piece of lean beef contains 25g