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Local meat not always a tough sell

Local meat not always a tough sell

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090626_wd04a.jpg

They have a reputation for toughness, but Cambodian cows can give a good cut cut of beef to someone who knows what he’s doing, butcher says, and the country’s chickens can’t be beat

Photo by: BENNETT MURRAY

Danmeats butcher Rolf Lanzinger stands by his meat oven.

A problem with the local beef is that it’s slaughtered today and then eaten two hours later.

Cambodian meat may not be the most reputable in the world, with beef particularly notorious for its toughness, but a little searching can yield tasty cuts of both domestic and imported products.

AK Wines has a wide selection of meat imported by AusKhmer, while Phnom Penh butcher Rolf Lanzinger, better known as Lanzi, said he strives to make the highest-quality cuts of meat possible from the local supply at Danmeats.

AusKhmer Managing Director Simon Roe said local slaughtering techniques and hygiene resulted in a lower-quality product. "A problem with the local beef is that it's slaughtered today and then eaten two hours later," he said.

Imported beef, on the other hand, uses better-bred cattle and superior methods of ageing and storage. "[Foreign suppliers] remove the air from the bag and vacuum seal it very tightly so you'll get a prolonged shelf life, and it'll age and you'll get a more tender, higher-quality animal," Roe said.

Genetics also presents a challenge, as Cambodian cows haven't been bred as thoroughly as Western cows to produce high-quality beef. Roe said. And importing foreign cattle isn't easy, as they have trouble adjusting to Cambodia's hot, humid climate.

Lanzinger said producing quality beef in Cambodia was a "nightmare". Though the beef can actually taste quite good,  the animals' cells don't contain as much water as professionally raised cattle in the West. As a result, the beef gets tough very fast when it's cooked.

However, Lanzinger said there were ways to overcome this, with beef tenderloin being one of his most popular products. "The beef tenderloin is good,""he said. "You need to handle it correctly, age it correctly, hang it correctly: You cannot just put it somewhere in the fridge."

Natural meat tenderizers, such as bay leaf and papaya leaf, can help as well, he added.

The Cambodian cattle industry is still in its earliest stages, Lanzinger said, making it hard to guarantee a consistent quality of supply.

"Each farmer raises cows in different ways," he said. "Sometimes [the meat] is more dark, sometimes it's more light, sometimes its bigger, sometimes its smaller."

Home-grown joys

Danmeats is one of the few foreign-owned businesses to only use Cambodian beef, but it is quite common to find locally raised chicken and pork on Western-oriented restaurant menus and supermarket shelves. "Chicken and pork is very good quality locally," Roe said. "It's easy to raise, it's easy to handle and it travels better when it's processed."

Lanzinger believes the pork to be among the best in the world, and even better than the pork in his native Germany.  "The pigs in Kampot are the best in my eyes," he said.

Even though Cambodia still imports many of its chicken and pigs from Thailand, Lanzinger said, the local supply is better. "The real Cambodian chickens are top," he said, explaining that they must be prepared differently from chickens in Western countries.

"If you cook them our way, you'll get a tough thing with some meat on it."

Cambodians in the provinces prepare the meat by placing a spiced chicken in a pot with salt and pine needles with just a little water. It is then steamed over a fire, producing a much tenderer chicken.

Lanzinger said he uses a machine to produce a similar effect. "I would always take a Cambodian chicken over a Thai chicken," he said, explaining that the redder color of Cambodian meat indicates higher quality.    

Lanzinger admitted he was a bit of an idealist for almost exclusively selling Cambodian products and said he took great delight in promoting the local meat trade, especially to Cambodian customers.

"We're getting more of those Cambodians now, from the top and the middle classes," he said, adding they were often shocked when he told them his meats weren't imported.

"You see a huge, speechless face of surprise," said Lanzinger. "We can show to people that you don't need to look to Thailand, you don't need to look to Australia, or you don't need to look to Vietnam to get all those imported things.

"You can do it here, and you can do it in top quality."

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