2 Golden Rules for Substituting Meat & Fish

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] A[/dropcap]s you’ve probably guessed from the ‘variations’ I include at the bottom of my recipes, I’m a huge fan of ‘tweaking’. Unless I’m testing recipes for a book or my online cooking school, I rarely cook the same thing twice.

There are many benefits to being a chronic ‘tweaker’. The biggest is I rarely feel bored with my cooking, or like I’m ‘stuck in a rut’. Tweaking keeps thing tasting fresh and interesting.

The other plus is that it allows me to use the ingredients I have in the house. Which minimizes waste and also cuts down on trips to the store.

Recently I got a lovely email from a Stonesoup reader who had purchased one of my ebooks, that made me realize there are people who struggle when it comes to substituting meat…

“There are some great recipes in the book, and I’ve been enjoying it, but I was disappointed that very few recipes use pork. I enjoy beef and chicken, but both are very expensive, and I often can get pork for a much better price. Even to just include some adaptations for substituting pork would be helpful.”
Thank you,

As I explained to Susan, just because a recipe calls for a certain type of meat, it doesn’t mean you can’t use something else. Sure the end result will be different, but there aren’t many occasions that a little substitution will lead to something that doesn’t taste as good as the original.

You just need to know the 2 golden rules…

Golden Rule 1. It must ‘sound’ good in your imagination.

There can be the odd ‘surprise’ in cooking. That thing you thought was going to be amazing that doesn’t quite work and vice versa. But these ‘surprises’ happen less often than you’d imagine.

So the first test is to ‘imagine’ the dish in your mind. If you think it’s going to taste great, then odds are you’ll be right!

Golden Rule 2. Keep the ‘type’ of cut consistent.

There are two types of meat:
i. Tender cuts like steak, which are best for cooking quickly at high temperatures.
ii. Less tender cuts like beef short ribs, which will be tough if cooked like a steak, but will turn into something melting and tender if left to simmer for long periods of time.

My rule of thumb is that you need to keep the ‘type’ of cut consistent. So the ‘tender’ cuts can be used pretty much interchangeably. And same with the less tender meats.

So when you’re substituting stick to one of the columns below and you’ll be fine.


More Tender Cuts

Fillet / Tenderloin / Sirloin / New York Cut / Porterhouse / Entrecote / Striploin / Ribeye Steak / Rib Fillet / Scotch Fillet / Cube Roll / Minced (ground) Beef.

CHICKEN: Breast / Tenderloin / Whole chicken / Thigh Fillets / Minced (Ground) Chicken.

PORK: – Fillet / Tenderloin / Pork Cutlets / Loin Chops / Pork Chops / Pork Belly (Side Pork).

LAMB: Fillet / Tenderloin / Lamb Cutlets / Rack of Lamb / Lamb Loin Chops / Leg (Gigot) / Minced (Ground) Lamb.

FISH: All Fish Fillets / All Whole Fish.

SEAFOOD: Prawns / Lobster / Shrimp / Crab / Oysters / Calamari.

OTHER: Sausages. [/one_half] [one_half_last]

Less Tender Cuts

BEEF: Chuck / Brisket / Beef Cheeks / Beef Shin / Osso Buco / Ox Tail / Beef Short Ribs.

CHICKEN: Drumsticks / Legs with the bone in / Thighs / Marylands.

PORK: Ribs / Spareribs / Shoulder.

LAMB: Lamb Shanks / Shoulder / Ribs / Neck chops / Minced (Ground) Lamb.


SEAFOOD: Octopus / Large Squid.

OTHER: NA.[/one_half_last]

pirri pirri chicken with carrot tabbouleh-2

Pirri Pirri Chicken

It’s hard not to love the fresh heat of Pirri Pirri sauce. While it’s traditionally paired with chicken, like I’ve done here, it’s equally delicious with pork or fish. I’d even be happy serving it with beef and lamb. Just remember to stick to the ‘tender’ cuts.

Enough for 2:
1 red capsicum (bell pepper)
1 teaspoon chilli
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 chicken thigh fillets

1. For the sauce, whizz the capsicum (pepper) with the chilli, smoked paprika, lemon juice and 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a food processor or blender. When smooth, taste and season.

2. Trim the chicken thighs and bash out using the palm of your hand until the thighs are roughly even in thickness.

3. Place thighs in a bowl and cover with half the sauce. Marinate for a few minutes or up to 48 hours (if marinating for more than an hour keep refrigerated).

4. Heat a little oil in a pan and cook the thighs for 3-4 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in the middle. Serve thighs with the other half of the sauce.

carnivore – any tender cuts of meat or fish will work well here.

can’t find smoked paprika? – just skip it or use regular paprika.

vegetarian – replace chicken thighs with thick slices of halloumi. Skip the marinating and pan fry halloumi until golden on both sides and serve with the sauce.

vegan – replace the chicken thighs with thick slices of firm tofu or seitan. Sliced eggplant would also be lovely – just cook until tender.

grilled peppers – make the pirri even more intense and smoky by using 2 grilled and peeled red peppers instead of the fresh capsicum.

Video Version of the Recipe.

pirri pirri chicken with carrot tabbouleh-3

Carrot ‘Tabbouleh’

Using carrot instead of bulger wheat makes for a much fresher and crunchier version of tabbouleh. The carrot also give a sweetness that I love. I’ve kept it super simple here to use as a side but you could dress it up to work as a meal in its own right… See below for ideas. As with regular tabbouleh, this salad will keep in the fridge without wilting too much. So you can make it ahead of time if needed.

Enough for 2 as a side:
2 carrots, grated
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Combine lemon juice with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Season.

2. Toss in carrot and parsley.

herby – replace some or all of the parsley with other leafy herbs such as mint, coriander (cilantro) or basil.

crunchy – toss in a handful of almonds or pine nuts.

more substantial – serve with a big chunk of feta.

tomatoey – a handful of cherry tomatoes will also work well here either as well as or instead of the carrot.

With love,
Jules x


  • Thanks for two excellent ideas, Jules. The wheat free tabbouleh is inspirational and the chicken another wonderful low FODMAPS option. Love these x 2

  • I’d love to know what brand of chilli powder you use before I dare to make the pirri pirri sauce! I normally use chilli flakes as at least I know what degree of heat I’m going to get, whereas with chilli powders the heat intensity varies so much. Baby Fergal is gorgeous – there can never be too many photos!

    • I use Herbie’s spices…
      But just use what you have… add a little then keep tasting and tweaking until you’re happy

  • I am always tweaking recipes unless it is something complicated that I have never cooked before. These are great tips!

  • That chicken looks really good! I have some smoked paprika I’ve been wanting to find more uses for. I used it in a taco seasoning blend last night, and the smoky flavor was excellent. I’m sure there are some wonderful ways to use it!

  • yeah
    thanks for this mail and the update of your soooo cute big boy
    all my best wishes

  • Hi Jules- I’m glad you wrote about this- while I have always appreciated the substitutions you include in every recipe, I think this guide makes it more complete. Thanks again! Also love the picture of your little guy- he has grown SO fast in such a short time. Hope you are finally catching up on our sleep!

  • The first time I make a recipe, I follow the instructions to the letter so that I know exactly what I’m getting. After that, all bets are off, and the recipe might end up tweaked into something totally different. It’s sort of like starting off with an apple bread recipe and ending up with a squash spice loaf on the second time around. Fun!

    And oh my, look at the eyes on that little Fergal! It’s vaguely unfair for a boy to have eyes like that.

  • I made the carrot tabbouleh with finely chopped kale instead of parsley (the market was all out) and although probably quite different than the original version, it was very tasty! I also threw in some balsamic vinegar, and next time I think I’ll add some garlic. Yum.

    PS, Jules: although I haven’t commented before, I LOVE your blog. You have been a huge influence on my development from ramen-eater to actual cook, so thank you!

  • Thank you so much! As someone with a poultry allergy, I always get frustrated and upset seeing delicious looking chicken recipes but can’t eat it! Now, maybe I CAN eat it, with a pork/beef substitute!

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