Gordon Ramsay gave a recipe for lamb chilli in the Times on Saturday. You start by softening an onion and some garlic, before adding 400 g lamb mince and browning it. Have you ever tried such a procedure? (The complete recipe is here.)
This sequence -- soften vegetables, brown mince -- is common in recipes, but very hard to achieve satisfactorily. The mince releases water, and stews in it. Once the liquid has evaporated, bits of onion stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
Years ago, I read a Prue Leith recipe that advised a difference method. You form the mince into patties -- about six for 400 g. Get the pan hot, pour in a little oil, and fry the patties at a high heat. The liquid from the mince should evaporate instantly, as you want it to do when you fry a hamburger or a steak, so that browning reactions may take place. In order not to lower the pan temperature, do three patties at a time. Leave them undisturbed, and turn them over after about a minute, or when they are brown.
Put the browned patties on a plate. Empty the oil -- which may have burned -- from the pan, add another tbsp or so, and soften your onion and garlic (and celery and carrot, if using). Return the patties to the pan with any juices they have exuded, break them up with a wooden spoon, and proceed.
Giorgio Locatelli also follows the Ramsay sequence. In his ragu alla Bolognese recipe in Made in Italy, he tells you to soften onion, garlic, celery and carrot before adding the mince, "making sure that the meat is covering the base of the pan", and leaving it undisturbed for five to six minutes. "Take care, though, that the vegetables don't burn," he advises. Well, yes, you would need to.
Browning the mince in an Italian meat sauce is not compulsory, however. Anna del Conte, in her authoritative Gastronomy of Italy, simply tells you to add the mince to the pan and cook it until it has broken up and changed colour.