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I am able to break mince beef down into a much less coarse material, by

  1. putting the raw mince into hot water in a pan, then

  2. breaking it apart easily with a spoon.

See an example here

It appears that the absorbed water helps weaken bonds in the strands of mince, and it breaks up.

Then, I need to properly brown the mince beef. This is difficult as there is too much water in the mince. The browning of the mince is critical for the flavour of the bolognese, as is the fineness of the mince/ragu.

Is there a good way of breaking up and browning mince that anyone knows? Maybe this whole adding to water thing is a bad idea?

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  • The method in the video does work very well to break down the mince but I know looks wrong and anti-culinary. But perhaps one can then extract the water? I tried baking it on a tray and it dries out a bit.
    – apg
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 16:41

5 Answers 5

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Your profile shows you live in the UK, so unless you buy your mince from 'posh' butchers rather than a supermarket, then water is already an issue - your meat already has 5% added before you buy it*. It most certainly doesn't want any more. It's quite a task to get rid of what there is.
Actually making British supermarket mince truly fry takes a bit of effort and as much heat as you can get into the pan.

If I'm making anything that starts with meat [chunks or mince], onions & garlic etc, then I start with two pans, not one. A regular saucepan which will be what the final sauce will cook in, and the biggest frying pan you own. You can work them simultaneously, as it takes about the same time for each.

Use a wooden spatula, not a spoon. 50p from any supermarket - when they have them in stock. You want that square[ish] edge to work for you.

enter image description here

As you're getting your onion prepped, but both pans on with a bit of oil, full flame, each according to the pan size, so the saucepan goes on a medium-sized ring, frying pan goes on the largest. As soon as you drop your onions into your oil, drop the heat back to half & give a quick stir every minute. Drop your mince in the other, which should just about be smoking by now. Keep the heat on the frying pan up full.

You'll see it lands in 'stripes', or a less appetising image… worms [unless you've seen that horrible new packaging from Sainsbury's which looks like a single compressed block of goo]. Set the spatula across the stripes so were working across not down the grain, then using the square end, start from the far end, working towards you. Push through it, drag back, push through, drag back. Do this rapidly rather than carefully, it will take maybe 20 or so 'strokes' to work down the length of the pack. Each push will separate off half an inch or so. For a standard supermarket pack you'll probably need to do this twice to cover the width of the block in two passes. The heat of the pan is helping you at this point, as even in a decent non-stick the 'block' will slightly stick to the pan, preventing it skidding around while you work. It will free itself up within a minute, no need to worry.

That's knocked it down to much more manageable chunks. By now the underside will be nicely seared, but the rest raw. As you start to now spread this around the pan, give it a good shuffling about, turning a new raw face down as much as you can. About now, all the spare water will start to come out of it. You paid for that water & whatever is being washed out of your meat, so we're not going to pour it down the sink, we're going to evaporate it off & keep the rest.

Once it's really starting to boil rather than frying, you can concentrate on breaking up the last few bits that have survived until now.

BTW, don't forget to keep your onions moving every minute or so whilst you're doing this.

Wait until the water is almost evaporated off. Keep it moving a bit but there's no rush at this point - your pan has been cooled to the temperature of boiling water & cannot get any hotter until it's gone. The full flame is to drive the water off as fast as possible. Right as your onions are nearly ready, you can add your garlic. Another stir. Your meat should by now be about dry & you can at last brown it a bit.
Success.
Separated, browned & ready to go into your onion/garlic, perfectly sautéed; ready & waiting for your tomatoes & herbs.

btw, that Youtube method is terrible. There's no point at which the meat is ever browned, it's just boiled. Browning - Maillard reaction - is an essential part of the flavour. They also mush it into a paste, which isn't really what you want; there should be a little 'body' or 'grain' remaining in it.

Late note:
It turns out to be 5% they can add without having to tell you. I always thought it was 10% [detail above changed]. Government guidelines at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/meat-products-sell-them-legally-in-england

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  • "There's no point at which the meat is ever browned". That's right, but the video shows preparation before browning. Its then stored in bags, and browned if required later.
    – apg
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 16:43
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    Meh. It's a lousy method & looked like it would take much longer than mine. It also needs nursing the entire time by the look of it & comes out looking more like keema [lamb] which is just boiled, rather than minced beef.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 16:46
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    Shall I remove the words 'a bit'? It's no longer wet, you can brown it 'as much as you want'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 16:50
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    …until it's brown. It would be overcooked at that point if you were making burgers, but not for a long-cook. Differnet end result requires a different start-point. With there being so much water in it to start with, you don't really have a choice if you want some maillard on it, unless you'd be happy with browning two sides of a big sab & leaving all the water in it.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 17:09
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    I'm curious about the 10 % added water: is it added as liquid water or is that ice to keep temperature limits during the mincing? Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 11:47
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I personally use a wooden spatula to chop it up into smaller bits as it cooks.

You want to start cooking over low heat, so you don’t brown it and form a crust before you’ve had a chance to break it up.

I’ve also seen (but have never used) tools that are specifically advertised for this purpose that have an X or * cross section, such as the ‘ChopStir’: https://www.amazon.com//dp/B004N7E174

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    I do the same, but in a wok rather than a frying pan as it it easier to keep the heat very low. Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 14:50
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    When I ate beef, I used to use two wooden spatulas to break up mince. I would chop down with them together, one in each hand, then pull apart to separate into pieces
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 8, 2023 at 15:07
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    I have one of those 'chopstir' things from the dollar store that has 6 divisions on the bottom and works amazingly well. You don't need the name-brand one, my knockoff has worked well for years.
    – stanri
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 14:30
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    as far as the "chopstir" things, my parents and in-laws both have some version of them and both swear by it.
    – Esther
    Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 14:54
  • I use a similar idea, but with the edge of a wooden spoon and sort of break up and stir at the same time. Commented Apr 9, 2023 at 21:31
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Complementing the existing detailed answers that describe breaking up the mince in a frying pan as it browns, you can make things much easier for yourself by breaking it apart with your hand as you add it to the pan. You can easily tear/separate it into smaller pieces which means there is less to do with the spatula while it is cooking.

Additionally, adding the meat to the pan by hand means you can control how much is in the pan at a time – avoiding overcrowding means it will brown faster. If I am making a large batch I will brown a smaller amount at a time, remove it with a slotted spoon to a bowl and repeat until the whole quantity is browned.

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    I do like your idea on not crowding, but through many years of empiricism, I've discovered in a 32cm very heavy frying pan I can get 1KG down faster & to the same end result [on a long cook] if I do it all in one go, rather than smaller 'ideal' quantities. It all changes, of course, if I dig deep into my wallet & go to the posh butcher 5 miles away, who sells 'real meat'. Though I tend to save those trips for when I want short cook, ready as soon as it's fried, meals.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 17:58
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In our family we used to use a pan not damaged by metal implements and a long barbaque sized fork.
When browning lean mince we would start with a little oil (or liquid butter replacement these days) in fatty meat we would just heat the pan and let the heat drain a bit of the fat out of the meat.

Then with a fork, (or the long one if using the big pan,) we would break chunks off the block of meat, cutting it in smaller parts while already browning the meat. By the time you have broken the meat into the size of pieces you need most of the browning has already been done, and the meat has let go of the fat, which allows the meat to sit in the pan.

If the meat is falling apart easily, as some butchers and supermarkets sell theirs, it is less work.
On the other hand, if you have a block of frozen mince you can still use most of this method, only you allow one side to get soft, flip and scrape off the top layer to the pan next to the block, flip again and repeat, as long as it takes for the core of the meat to fall apart under your fork. Do not forget to stir the scraped off meat in the side of the pan.

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  • Ah, the luxury of 'real' meat without the added water. Yup, I can do that if I pay twice the price for good butcher's meat, not supermarket ;) You really have to hunt them down over here, even a regular independent butcher will still sell the same injected rubbish the supermarkets do. You have to find the ones who know the full journey, from field to butcher. One of my favourites even have their own abattoir. Not cheap.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 12:58
  • If the meat is wet (and yes, that happens here at times) it takes longer but you can still use the same method.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 16:37
  • It just doesn't work here. By the time the meat is mainly broken up, the water's all being squeezed out & now you're boiling, no longer frying. Hence my rather over-detailed answer. It's just a 'thing' with British supermarket meat. It needs its own handling rule-set, unfortunately.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 16:40
  • I do the flip & scrape technique when I’m dealing with a block of frozen ground beef. It’s not ideal, but it gets the meal on the table faster than trying to defrost it in the microwave and then cook it. (But I’m also in the US, and it sounds like UK ‘mince’ is different)
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 19:37
  • @Tetsujin,you need the fire so high that the water evaporate at the rate you break up the meat, not so low it sits around in the pan. It takes more stirring and maybe a bit more fat/butter/oil to start with before the meat has let go of enough fat.
    – Willeke
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 20:07
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Most people I've met cooking this popular dish used a small pan and quite a lot of oil, then discarded some of the oil after browning. You might want to try it that way.

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  • Welcome! Before posting more answers, please take a moment for the tour and browse through the help center, especially How to Answer. Your posts could benefit from more details and focusing on the question at hand - for example this post doesn’t directly answer the question, but talks about a “dish”, however, the asker is not describing a particular dish, just inquiring about a method.
    – Stephie
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 21:10
  • Thanks I will do that.
    – turtledna
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 17:34
  • @Stephie : ‘dish’ might have been referring to bolognese. (Which as I understand it just means ‘tomato sauce with meat’ over in the UK, not the slow cooked ‘ragu bolognese’ which has dairy in it and multiple types of meat)
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 19:40

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