Tinned meats for survival

Combining tinned meats with rice and vegetables makes for a hearty meal. Picture: LANCE SEETO

As the pandemic and lockdown continue, cooking low budget meals at home for the family is becoming even more prevalent as many conserve what little money they have to see them through the rest of the year. Uncertainty and unemployment has affected many families, especially in the tourism-affected Western district. Stocking the cupboards with tinned fish and tinned meats, instant noodles and other dry goods to supplement fresh vegetables makes total sense during this pandemic. The challenge is to spend as little money possible at home, yet still provide substantial meals that are somewhat nutritious and not completely devoid of nutrition. Most of us are in survival mode right now, so learning how best to eat what food is at home is critical to surviving the rest of the year under a nationwide lockdown.

After last week’s article about tinned tuna, or “Chicken of the Sea” as US servicemen used to call it, many readers have asked about recipes for another staple food in most kitchen pantries – tinned corn beef or corned mutton. Tinned meat is not exactly a healthy food. Although it contains good amounts of vitamin B12 and zinc, corned beef and especially corned mutton, are high in cholesterol, saturated fat, and salt – the trinity of NCD causing ingredients. But like all tinned foods, there is good and bad aspects, and when eaten in moderation with healthier ingredients, you can transform that can of processed meat into a cost effective and hearty meal. 

Good quality corned meats contain no offal or chunky parts. Picture: LANCE SEETO

Wartime rations

Despite its bad rap, I have had a childhood love affair with tinned corned beef, or “bully beef” as we knew it growing up in Australia. My dad learned to love tinned beef when he was growing up in Papua New Guinea, as they were very popular during World War Two, when fresh meat was rationed, and tins of meat were a cheap and fast way to feed families. Australian soldiers stationed in PNG also carried tins of corned beef in their rations, usually eating them with dry biscuits, as they battled the imperial Japanese army in the tropical jungles of New Guinea. Now more health conscious, a tin of corned beef is a luxury food item for me; a rare chance to rekindle a childhood favourite with all its naughty connotations of dietary guilt and badness.


Corned meats with potato is called a hash. Picture: LANCE SEETO

Survival food

Tinned meat’s popularity in our region should not be surprising, especially in rural areas and distant islands where a local butcher or supermarket is non-existent. Like tinned tuna, corned beef and mutton also provide emergency food rations during times of natural disasters, and particularly when electricity is not available to power fridges and freezers. In the immediate aftermath of a cyclone or during the recent COVID lockdown, supplies of corned beef and mutton disappeared within days, as people stocked up on them. Its value as a survival food for short-term nourishment is undisputed. It’s ideal during cyclones, power outages, pandemics and in war zones.

Classic combo of tinned  meat and onion. Picture: LANCE SEETO

 Not an everyday food

For those keeping an eye on your weight or cholesterol, tinned meats should be a luxury item eaten very rarely – maybe once a month. According to the US site Nutritionix, a 225 gram serving packs a whopping 600 calories, 68 per cent of your daily fat allowance, 50 per cent of your salt and 48 per cent cholesterol allowance. Those 600 calories will take you more than one hour to walk off, 30 minutes to run off or 45 minutes on the bike. And you’ll also want to make sure your tin of meat contains just that – meat. Some brands include hearts and other offal, which some may like, but if I am going to enjoy my once-every-few-months tin of corned beef, I want to make sure it only includes meat.

Try this corned meat con carne with paprika and
chilli. Picture: LANCE SEETO

There are some good aspects

Generally speaking, red meat like corned beef and mutton aren’t too healthy for Pacific Islanders, and is one of the reasons why most doctors recommend a meat-free diet for those who get sick when they age. It contains high amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium—all of which are not good for heart health and blood pressure. And to make things worse, tinned corned beef and mutton is cured with sodium nitrite to maintain the colour and flavour of the meat, while impeding bacterial growth. Nevertheless, there’s a bright side to eating corned meats as well. Corned beef contains a good amount of essential nutrients. It is a good source of protein, zinc, iron, and vitamin B complex. These nutrients are useful in maintaining and performing vital organ functions. Corned beef also contains zinc, which helps to heal wounds and acne quickly, maintains proper functioning of the immune and digestive systems, improves metabolism, and controls diabetes and stress levels. The iron content plays a role in the proper absorption of oxygen in the blood and produces haemoglobin. It also prevents and treats anaemia and fatigue. Antioxidants like selenium are also found in considerable amounts in corned beef. The selenium in it has anti-inflammatory properties, promotes good heart health, and can reduce oxidative stress. So eating corned beef and mutton sporadically will not cause any major health hazards. However, people with heart issues and other medical conditions should refrain from eating it, or at least consult their doctor.

Corned meats aredesigned for survival.

Tips on how to enjoy

To enjoy the occasional canned meat there are some little tricks to help reduce the fat and salt intake including draining off the excess fat once cooked, or mixing the meat with more fat-fighting ingredients like fresh vegetables and citrus. If you have a choice of a reduced salt or less oil version, then definitely choose to buy these. Another way to enjoy tinned meats with less guilt is to follow the Chinese principle of flushing. Rather than leave the salt and fat inside your gastrointestinal tract to digest normally, flush it out with hot drinks, not cold. Fats tend to solidify when they come in contact with cold drinks, causing blockages of the digestive tubes, leading to gastric, or if the oil seeps into your bloodstream, can cause blockages of blood vessels leading to heart attack. The Chinese usually drink cups of hot black tea or hot water when eating any oily foods, to push the fat through the digestive tract and eventually out the back door when you visit the washroom – as quickly as possible. Also, try to not eat tinned meats late at night, especially after yagona, as the fatty meat will stay stuck in your tubes whilst you sleep. It’s not a very appetizing way to talk about tinned meats, but you need to balance the bad with the good.

Eat, flush, poo.

Add corned meats toyour favorite soup. Picture: LANCE SEETO

  •  Lance Seeto is the executive chef and owner of KANU Restaurant in Martintar, and the host of FBC-TV’s Exotic Delights.



Grilled cheese and corned beef sandwich

Liven up a toasted sandwich with
tinned meat. Picture: LANCE SEETO

1 260gram can corned beef or mutton

16 slices white bread

3 brown onions, peeled and sliced

butter, softened, for brushing

2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add corned beef; cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until some of the juices have evaporated. Strain and set aside.
  2.      Brush one side of 16 white bread slices with softened butter. Top a bread slice, buttered side down, with ¼ cup each corned beef, cheddar cheese and raw onions. Cover with another bread slice, buttered side up. Repeat to make 7 more sandwiches.
  3.      Heat a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan until almost smoking. Grill 2 sandwiches until browned, about 1 to 1½ minutes on each side, pressing down sandwiches slightly with a turner. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.
  4.      Serve immediately with tomato ketchup or tamarind chutney.

Jamaican tinned meat and cabbage

Tinned meat and cabbage with a Jamaican twist. Picture: LANCE SEETO

1 can corn beef or mutton

3 tablespoons or more cooking oil

1 brown onion, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh or dried thyme

1 teaspoon allspice powder

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced

1 whole bongo chilli (adjust to suit)

2 stalks spring onion, sliced

1-2 fresh tomatoes, chopped

1/2 green capsicum, chopped

1 teaspoons paprika powder

1 small head gobi cabbage , chopped (about 5 to 6 cups)

Salt and white pepper to taste

  1.      Slice or chop gobi cabbage, soak in fresh water and set aside.
  2.      Heat a large frypan or pot over medium heat, then add about 3 Tablespoons or more oil.
  3.      Add onions, garlic, thyme, allspice and bongo chilli. Saute for about 2-3 minutes until fragrant, stirring occasionally to prevent any burns.
  4.      Toss in green onions, tomatoes, capsicum, paprika and white pepper, cook for an additional 2-3 minutes
  5.      Add the tinned meat and fry for 2-3 minutes
  6.      Then add strained cabbage, stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, cover and let cook until cabbage has reached desired doneness depending on preference .
  7.      Serve with rice

Corned meat shepherd’s pie

Mashed potatoes:

Mashed potato and tinned  meat equals shepherd’s pie. Picture: LANCE SEETO

1kg potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 cup Rewa milk

2 Tbsp Rewa butter

Salt (to taste)

Corned beef filling:

2 Tbsp butter

1 cup brown onion, diced

1 tsp Worcestershire or Pick Me Up sauce

1 1/2 Tbsp tomato ketchup

1 1/2 cup chicken broth

2 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/4 tsp dried thyme

1 can corned beef or mutton

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Topping (optional):

1 cup cheese, shredded

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

  1.      Make the Mashed Potatoes: Add peeled, cut potatoes (evenly sized) to a large pot of cold water. Add salt to the water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are tender, 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes.
  2.      Meanwhile, heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over low heat until warm, then keep warm until needed.
  3.      Drain then return potatoes to dry pot. Place over medium heat on the stove top. Add milk/butter mixture to the pot. Mash potatoes until smooth. *Add a bit more milk, if needed. Taste and add salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Cover and set aside (or cover and refrigerate if making ahead).
  4.      Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius.
  5.      Make the Filling: Heat 2 Tbsp butter in a large pan or pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened and starting to turn golden a bit. Add the pick me up, tomato ketchup, chicken broth, parsley and thyme. Simmer over medium heat until liquid reduces by half. Add the corned beef and reduce heat slightly. Simmer 3-4 minutes or until there is only a bit of liquid left in the mixture. You don’t want this mix too wet. Taste the mixture and add additional salt and freshly ground pepper, as needed.
  6.      Spoon filling into an 8-10” round baking dish. Spoon mashed potatoes over-top in an even layer. Top with shredded cheese, then sprinkle with bread crumbs.
  7.      Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until filling is heated through and bubbling and top is golden brown.

Corned meat fried rice

Corned meats can transform fried rice. Picture: LANCE SEETO

1 tin corned beef or mutton

3-4 cloves garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon cooking oil

2 cups cold cooked rice, separated

2 eggs, whisked

2 stalks green onion, chopped

1 tsp light soy sauce

  1.      Heat a pan or wok to medium high heat. Add the oil to the pan, followed by the garlic and corned meat. Fry for 1-2 minutes until the beef is melted through.
  2.      Add the cold rice to the pan, and keep stirring until the rice is heated through, about 2-3 minutes.
  3.      Push the rice to the sides of the pan to clear a hole in the centre of the pan. Add the beaten eggs. Stir the eggs only for about a minute until the eggs are scrambled and no runny, raw egg remains.
  4.      Add the soy sauce and green onion to the pan. Stir for 1-2 minutes longer to soften the green onion.
  5.         Serve hot

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