Beefing up breakfast
There's no denying that pork products often dominate breakfast menus – and for good reason; bacon is a must-have for a lot of morning diners. But a little creativity with beef can go a long way, writes Danielle Bowling.
"Why do people eat pork for breakfast and not beef?"
It's a fair question and one that more and more chefs and foodservice operators are asking themselves, including chef at Sydney's Black Star Pastry, Eddie Stewart.
He and the company's owner, Chris The, were pondering this recently and, in true Black Star style, decided to turn the tide and show consumers that beef is a versatile and tasty breakfast ingredient.
"The first thing that came into our minds was corned beef. I've got this really bad childhood memory of corned beef being really stodgy and horrible, so I'm on this mission to make nice corned beef."
The pair developed a corned beef toastie, which comprises corned beef, caramelised onion, Emmental cheese, sauted mushroom and a spinach pesto (picture and recipe below). "The corned beef is stripped down roughly, the swiss brown mushrooms are roughly sliced and sauted in butter and garlic. It's just simple, and really breakfasty, that's all it is.
"We've got a Turbochef oven at the Rosebery store which we stick them in and it warms them, melts the cheese and grills them. They're really, really nice.
"You look at it and you think 'there's so much going on there' but it's actually quite nice. It's really perfect. You get a nice balance, and you think it's going to be really filling, but it's not," Stewart told Hospitality.
The toastie has been on the menu for about six weeks, and regularly sells out by midday. "It's going really well and so it's probably got a longer future than other specials we've run," he says.
Black Star's corned beef toastie.
Stewart says there's definitely growing interest amongst chefs in broadening breakfast menus to include beef items, adding that they're just as easy to prepare as pork products – it's just a matter of convincing patrons to try something new.
"I'm seeing beef hashes quite a bit, and especially smoked beef. I think it's just a matter of getting people to think outside the box a little more. I think that's why we took it on, because we don't like to follow trends. We like to go out on our own – We've done bacon toasties before but it's just like what everyone else does. I don't see the point of doing things that everyone else does."
Starting the trend
Owner of the Duchess of Spotswood in Melbourne, and executive chef of the St ALi group, Andrew Gale agrees that beef will become more popular once chefs bite the bullet and add it onto their breakfast menus.
"I just don't think it's been on offer all that much. Had it been, then people would be eating it more. It's only the fact that people like myself and a few other chefs are doing these things are starting to get these [trends] moving. Melbourne in general is a pretty carnivorous city," he says.
Beef items are frequently on the breakfast menu at Duchess of Spotswood, with favourites including hanger steak with chips, with a red wine sauce and a duck egg; as well as a dish compiled by the venue's head chef, Graeme Nutt, comprising smoked brisket, corned ox tail hash, char-grilled ox tongue, house-made Branston pickles and a fried pullet egg (pictured below).
"At St ALi we do a 72 hour slow cooked short rib with poached eggs and a kimchi hollandaise," Gale says. "Now that we have a wider audience at St ALi, we're starting to be a little more experimental and push the boundaries a little bit. When we first started here, south Melbourne was not too adventurous, to say the least. We have the ox tongue on at Duchess all the time, we always have, but I've put it on at St ALi in the last two months and it's just going crazy."
Low and slow
Like with any menu, putting secondary cuts of beef on your breakfast menu is a sound business decision, adds Gale.
"It is a bit more economical to be able to use those bits. It's a bit more challenging for a chef as well, because you have to think about it a little bit more, but generally, those cuts lend themselves to much more flavour, and once you've gone through the slow cooking, the results are amazing.
"I've always tried to use secondary cuts because generally, I think they have better flavour and they're more economical because the prices that you can ask for breakfast are at least 35 percent less than what you can ask for dinner. So being creative with those cuts is a bit more challenging – turning a secondary cut into a breakfast dish – but it's rewarding if you nail it."
Key to 'nailing' a beefy breakfast dish is ensuring it evokes a sense of familiarity from the diner, he says. Creativity is of course a must, but dishes need to tantalise consumers with ingredients or flavours that they remember enjoying in the past.
"For the short rib dish at St ALi, once we had that [element] it was quite easy because we know the kimchi sells well in south Melbourne, and everybody loves hollandaise, you can see that with the popularity of eggs benedict. It's just a variation of that, really.
"So we try to reinvent old dishes because they're familiar to people," he says. "Familiarity with dishes is definitely the key to the popularity of a dish."
One of the most popular dishes at popular north Fremantle cafe, Bib & Tucker, was created with the same theory in mind.
Its pulled spiced beef brisket with fried green tomatoes, woodfired eggs, chipotle crema, pickled pumpkin, coriander and sourdough (pictured above) is up there with the caf's best sellers, says chef and part owner, Scott Bridger.
"It's a dish that sounds a bit far out, but it's worked so well that I've just kept it on the menu – I wanted something on the menu that was a standout dish where people could come if they'd had a big night the night before, or they just wanted a big, hearty breakfast without going for the traditional big breakfast with bacon and eggs and sausages.
"So I thought about what people love when they go out and they're drinking – things like pizzas, kebabs and burgers. I took all the elements of the burger and basically deconstructed it and turned it into a breakfast dish. So we have the smoked brisket as opposed to the beef pattie but it's not formed like a pattie. Then we have the chargrilled sourdough, the fried green tomatoes which are something crispy and act as the tomato element. We have pickled pumpkin because generally a good burger will have some sort of pickle in it, and the chipotle crema is basically a mascarpone cheese flavoured with chipotles, and then there's a fried egg, of course.
"It really works for those people wanting something a little bit heavier, and the familiarity of the tastes is why people love it."
Like Gale, Bridger prefers to use secondary cuts of beef. "The brisket smokes really well. It's one of those cuts that you have to cook low and slow, so you can do it a couple of days in advance and have it ready to go. Because we're extremely busy nearly every day of the week, we have to be smart with how we do things. [Brisket is] something that we can prepare, portion and get ready so that when service comes it's fairly easy to get out."
Putting beef on the breakfast menu not only represents an opportunity for chefs and business operators to capitalise on the versatility of various flavoursome yet affordable cuts, it also allows them to make their morning trade a real point of difference in what is a very competitive market.
"The thing with breakfast is that no one wants to wait. You've got to write a menu that allows you to get it out really quickly, because when people get up in the morning, a lot of them are grumpy before they eat – I'd definitely keep a beef option on the menu moving forward because it's nice to have something different, and it's such a versatile product. It lends itself to so many different flavours and methods of preparation," Bridger says.
"And it's exciting, because people are going out with a little bit more education about food and breakfast, and they're more willing to break the mould of bacon and eggs."
BLACK STAR'S CORNED BEEF TOASTIE WITH CARAMELISED ONION, EMMENTAL CHEESE, SAUTEED MUSHROOMS AND SPINACH PESTO
100g almond meal
2 cloves garlic
Salt to taste
1kg sliced brown onion
100ml chardonnay vinegar
Salt to taste
1kg corned beef
5L beef stock
1 cup vinegar
TO MAKE ONIONS:
Melt butter over low heat, add onions. Bump up the heat to med/high, and season. Cook out until caramelised, then add vinegar.
TO MAKE CORNED BEEF:
Place all ingredients in gastro or pot, place in the oven at 150C for six hours. Once cooled, 'pull' beef and season, then add vinegar.
TO MAKE SAUTEED MUSHROOMS:
Slice 1kg button mushroom to around 5mm. Saute in butter, garlic and thyme, then season.
THE ASSEMBLY ORDER:
- Bread brushed with EVOO
- Cheese slice
- Beef (season with salt and pepper).
- Bread, brushed with EVOO on top