After an offal start, no missed steaks for king of chilled meat
Peter Fransson arrived in Hong Kong from Sweden in 1985. He began his career as the 'Offal King' in the unglamorous world of chicken's feet and tripe. Today, his company, Saison Food Service, delivers chilled meats to upscale supermarkets, hotels and restaurants. Fransson tells us what will be sizzling on his barbecue this summer and why grey meat is good.
When I grew up in Sweden meat was so expensive. If I had a beef tenderloin, it was on New Year's Eve. It was for special occasions. Meat was always very expensive.
What meat did you eat in Sweden. Meatballs?
Exactly! Meatballs, yes. When I got to Australia in 1981, [when Fransson emigrated] I was salivating.
There was so much choice?
I was spoiled for choice.
Have you been in the food industry all your working life?
Before. My dad was in the ice-cream business from when I was the age of four. From the age of seven, I learnt how to pack and transport ice-cream, and the necessity of keeping it chilled. Understanding the cold chain and keeping food refrigerated has helped in the meat business, I think.
Why are you still so passionate about meat?
It gives you an opportunity to go out there and meet people. You build a rapport with people all around the world. It's exciting to see how the game has changed, not just worldwide but specifically in Hong Kong all these years. Especially the last couple of years, as there's been such development for the meat industry on the restaurant side.
Why are there so many steakhouses opening?
I must admit to knowing quite a bit about meat, but I don't know why this trend is happening. It's certainly been good for business.
More steakhouses are promoting dry-aged meat. Why?
Ageing, whether you dry age or wet age, is a bacterial process. But it's good bacteria and enzymes that, through the ageing process, help to break down the muscles and make the meat more tender.
The process of dry ageing is when you concentrate the flavours. You lock in the flavour. If you do it on the bone, the bone helps to give it what we call a 'nutty' flavour.
Aged meat is dark and grey. It can look a little scary. Should we be buying aged meat in the supermarket?
When people go to a supermarket, they like steak to be fresh looking, almost pink. It has to have white fat and, preferably, some marbling. It usually costs an arm and a leg. But it's probably no more than 14 days old, or even fresher than that.
What's wrong with that?
A fresh piece of meat will not be as tender as an aged piece of meat. We would like to average no less than 45 days' ageing in beef that goes out. If it ages longer, for 60 to 70 days, it will taste much better.
People here are certainly ready for a dry-aged piece of meat. But they prefer their dry-aged piece of meat to look like a non-dry-aged piece of meat. That's the quandary.
Some restaurants are promoting huge tomahawk steaks. Has any piece of meat defeated you?
Before I came to Hong Kong, I worked for a company in Australia. We went to Saudi Arabia, and an American guy who ran a food distribution company invited me to dinner. He had some porterhouses that, I swear, probably weighed 2kg each. They took ages to cook on the barbecue.
They were sensationally good. It was my first experience of US beef. At dinner, because wine was not allowed in Saudi Arabia, the Johnnie Walker Black Label came out from behind the Kellogg's Frosties in the cupboard. That was our dinner drink! It helped with this massive half a cow, but I couldn't finish.
What's on your summer barbecue?
My personal preference is rib-eye. It has more flavour because, more often than not, it has more marbling. It is also, by nature, more tender than strip loin.