Land animal protein – beef, lamb, pork, chicken – still rules the Asian tables. Vicki Williams speaks to experts to gauge their opinion on the trends.
Land-animal protein seems to be as popular as ever with diners in Asia, but has there been any shifts in preferences? Also, are consumers becoming more specific in tastes, for example grass feed vs grain feed, organic vs none, and what about provenance?
For managing director, Sutherland Gastronomy, Romeo Alfonso, popular protein options for key clients in Hong Kong and Macau remain pork and chicken, followed by beef and lamb; with pork loin, chicken tenderloin, and chicken mid-joint wings the most popular cuts.
The company has been in operation for over 20 years and carries many premium international brands, with a focus on natural and or organic. “We pride ourselves in carefully sourcing the best meat from all over the world. We are passionate about where the animals are raised but also how they are raised and what they are fed. This satisfaction guarantee means that you are left feeling confident that the meat you’re eating is from reliable farms, raised in a healthy lifestyle and fed only natural feed or grass.”
For Michael Choi, sales director, The Meat Masters Limited, beef is the most popular client choice. “We see a growing demand for chilled beef in particular. The most popular is Australian Black Angus and popular cuts include ribeye, sirloin and chuck eye roll.” The demand for other proteins, including chicken and pork have remained stable says Choi.
The company’s clients include five star hotels and Michelin rated restaurants, with customers drawn to the quality of produce but also its key strengths. “There are only a handful of meat suppliers in Hong Kong who have their own cold store, chilled room and cold trucks and we are one of them. Apart from food safety, this cold chain guarantees freshness and we are able to deliver to customers within 10 days from slaughtering date, chilled products never frozen.”
Not surprisingly the most popular protein that Marc Benkoe, executive chef, Bistecca, Italian Steakhouse, serves is beef, with the popular cuts maintaining consistency for a number of years. “The most popular cuts share pole position. Our signature Wagyu M5 Fiorentina (T-Bone) Steak, and the Delmonico, also Wagyu M5 grading bone-in rib eye. Both cuts are more or less the best wagyu beef has to offer.”
To ensure consistency, something which he says regulars rely on, his protein sources have remained the same. “We are a stable restaurant for many years in the heart of Hong Kong and never changed our meat programme in terms of quality, supplier and even the farm where the cattle is from, customers appreciate the consistency of our steaks and I believe that’s why diner’s preference have not changed.”
The chef is also a fan of less expensive cuts. “Yes we definitely use and have used so called butchers cuts in the past such as skirt steak, and flatiron. Currently our menu features hanger steak which gets very good feedback, as for the preparing method it needs medium high to high heat and most importantly time to rest, besides that we treat it like any other cut.”
Alfonso has also seen a rise in demand for so called secondary or butcher cuts of beef by his clients. “Secondary cuts such as beef inside skirt, thick skirt, oyster blade, and rump cap have been increasing in popularity mainly due to cost and increased farming costs being passed down the supply chain. As a manufacturer purchasing the whole animal for process, maintaining the supply of each prime and secondary cut are the most challenging and require domestic and export markets to balance the cuts in order to make the whole supply chain sustainable.”
In terms of provenance preferences Alfonso says that this can largely be down to consumers and brand building, with a destination being the preferred origin a matter of increased knowledge. “There is an increasing growth of companies focusing on brand building and education of consumers. One example is Welsh lamb, that we introduced to Hong Kong, Macau and China markets almost 10 years ago.”
Choi agrees with a marketing led perception of provenance. “Yes, the market does have preconceptions on the best provenance, for example poultry from France, lamb from New Zealand, and beef from the US. But there are also increasing interest and acceptance from other regions, such as beef from Australia.”
When it comes to grass feed vs grain feed it also depends on personal preferences says Benkoe, while Choi believes that there are some misperceptions regarding grass fed vs grain fed. “While there are differences, it does not necessarily mean that grass fed beef is less tender or has less flavour, with a bit of exploration on the cooking method, it too, can achieve a tender and juicy result,” says Choi.
Benkoe doesn’t see beef’s popularity waning any time soon. “People will always crave a good steak once in a while.”