Remember when ground meat meant ground beef? Not any more. Ground meats today include reduced-fat choices such as turkey and chicken as well as lamb, pork or veal.
And while ground meats generally can be used interchangeably, the flavor sensation will be wildly different. Imagine a meatloaf made with ground chicken and pine nuts or meatballs that pair lamb with Persian spices.
Ground meats have always been popular in ethnic cuisines, says Rick Rodgers, author of "365 Ways to Cook Hamburger and Other Ground Meats" (Harper Collins Publishers, 1991). Ground meats have joined mainstream cooking because they are easy to work with, versatile and can be quite economical.
"In most recipes one pound ground meat will yield at least four servings," he says.
Ground lamb, for example, can cost one-third less than leg of lamb on a per-serving basis. A staple of Middle Eastern cuisines, ground lamb can be substituted easily in everyday dishes such as meatloaf or casseroles, says Priscilla J. Root, director of product information and publicity for the American Lamb Council in Denver, Colo.
"Its become more popular in the last year or two as people have become more concerned about the economy. It's a way to get the lamb taste without paying a whole lot for it," says Ms. Root.
For decades, beef was the only ground meat available. Ground turkey changed that, skyrocketing in popularity about six years ago as health-conscious consumers searched for ways to lower dietary fat, says Teresa Farney, vice president of consumer affairs for the National Turkey Federation in Reston, Va. Most ground turkeys have about 15 percent fat.
Ground turkey was so popular that Perdue Farms in Salisbury introduced ground chicken about two years ago. It has about 10 percent fat. Ground turkey breast, made exclusively from white meat, has been on the market less than a year; it has only about 1 percent fat.
The fat content in other meats varies considerably, says Mr. Rodgers. Ground veal, lamb and pork may have up to 30 percent fat, he says.
By comparison, ground sirloin will have about 10 percent fat, ground round about 15 percent fat and ground chuck about 20 percent fat.
Ground beef and turkey are the most readily available, and other ground meats may need to be special-ordered, he says. Most supermarkets will grind meats for you if they do not carry them, Mr. Rodgers says. Having a meat custom-ground also allows the consumer to decide how much fat will be included.
Ground meats can be used pretty much the same way as ground beef. Bland meats, such as turkey, will need some extra seasoning for oomph, says Ms. Farney. Mexican- or Italian-inspired recipes are perfect. On the other hand, don't overshadow the delicate flavors of more costly lamb or veal.
Meat loaves and casseroles are traditional ways to stretch ground meats, and Mr. Rodgers' cookbook has plenty such recipes. "I tried to choose recipes which would show off each ground meat to its best advantage," he says.
Ground meats are also excellent in dishes where the meat is a supporting ingredient rather than the star. Recipes with the emphasis on pasta or vegetables are also thrifty choices, Mr. Rodgers says.
This recipe is from Mr. Rodgers' "365 Ways" book. Lots of tangy spices make a perfect foil for bland ground chicken.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, choped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 pounds ground chicken or turkey
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 flour tortillas
1 cup salsa
Prepare a hot fire in a grill. In a large skillet, heat oil. Add onion and red pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
In medium bowl, combine cooked vegetables, ground chicken, lime juice, chili powder and salt. Using wet hands, from into 4 ovals about 2 inches wide and 4 1/2 inches long.
Place patties in center of oiled grill set 4 to 6 inches from coals. Cook, turning once, until browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer burgers to outside edge of grill and continue grilling, turning once, until burgers are cooked through and meat springs back when pressed lightly with a finger, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and place on sides of grill to heat through.
Place warm tortillas and bowls of salsa and guacamole on table. Let each guest place a burger on a tortilla, top with salsa and guacamole, roll up and enjoy.
Just 1 1/2 pounds ground pork makes a substantial main dish for six in this recipe, also from the "365 Ways" book. Judicious use of seasoning enhances pork's flavor without overpowering.
Chinese stuffed peppers
6 medium red or green bell peppers
1/4 cup long-grain white rice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium scallion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons dry sherry