Food For Thought

Spiced Beef for Christmas

By Honor Moore.

Traditional Spiced Beef was made at Christmas. A piece or brisket was used as  the fat in these cuts of beef fat held the flavour of the spices.   Now it is more often made with a piece of “corned beef” with the spices being added afterwards  but it can be completely prepared at home  if you care to take the time and a little trouble.  In England  the tougher cuts of pork were sometimes  spiced  in the same way.

I usually use my variation of a recipe from Josceline Dimbleby:.   You begin by removing the bones (if any)  from a piece of fresh beef flank, brisket or round, then trimming off any excess visible  fat, using a piece of beef weighing  2 ½  to 3 kg and tieing it up neatly, if necessary.  Put the beef into a bowl.

Ingredients for the spiced brine.

115g sea salt

175g Demerara sugar

1tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp black peppercorns

2 tsp whole cloves

20-25 juniper berries

4 dried bay leaves

3 sticks cinnamon

2 ½ litres hot water.

Make up a brine . Put 115g sea salt and 175g Demerara sugar into a saucepan.  Roughly crush together 1 tbsp coriander seeds, 1 tbsp black peppercorns, 2 tsp whole cloves,   20 to 25  juniper berries, with  4 dried bay leaves.  Break up 3 sticks of cinnamon.  Add all these spices to the salt and sugar with 2 ½ litres of hot water.   Stir well and bring to boiling point.   Simmer for 5 minutes.   Cover the saucepan and leave to become completely cold.   Stir in  1 tsp saltpetre.   Pour  this mixture over the beef.   Cover the bowl and set aside in a cool place (not the fridge)  for 7 to 8 days  just turning the beef over once a day.   Drain well and rinse off any spices.   Discard the brine.

For the dry spice mixture:

2 tbsp black peppercorns

1 tbsp juniper berries

½ level tsp whole cloves

115g soft dar brown sugar

Using a pestle and mortar grind together 2 tbsp black peppercorns,  2 tbsp whole allspice, 1 tbsp juniper berries and ½ level tbsp whole cloves.  Mix with  115g soft dark brown sugar and rub  the spice mixture evenly over the surface of the beef   Wrap the  beef, completely covering it  with foil .  Put the foil-wrapped beef into a casserole into which it fits neatly, cover and set aside in a cool kitchen overnight.   Add sufficient water to half-fill the casserole and cover closely.  Some people  like to refill the liquid half-way through the cooking time, by using a bottle of Guinness.

Cook on the middle shelf of the oven at  140*C,  275*F, Gas mark 1 for  4 ½ to 5 hours.   Lift out the beef carefully, letting the hot juices  pour back into the casserole.

Wrap up again in the foil, set on a deep plate, place another plate or board on top and weight this down with  tins or weights for 24 hours.   Remove any strings. The spiced beef can be stored in the fridge for 10 to 14 days.

When required, slice the beef thinly and serve cold with a salad or use for making sandwiches.

The Mountstewart Dry Spiced Round

6.36 kg Beef  (brisket, tail-end or silverside.)

450g sea salt

350g brown sugar

25g saltpetre

115g whole allspice

115g black peppercorns

Rub the salt vigorously into the beef all over, put in a bowl and cover loosely.   Set aside in a cool kitchen and leave for 24 hours.

Grind or powder the  allspice and black peppercorns finely.   Mix with the saltpetre and sugar and rub, a little at a time, all over the meat quite vigorously.  (Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after this process – saltpetre is poisonous!)

Put the meat back in a bowl, cover and set aside, basting with the spices night and morning for a fortnight.   Rinse quickly in cold water and put to cook in hot water,  simmering slowly for a little over 4 hours, – 2 hours on each side – covering the saucepan or casserole closely.  Finish as above.

If you prefer a short cut, Bord Bia recommends getting a piece of salt beef from your butcher    You should rinse it with cold water before rubbing in your spice mixture and cooking it.

For  a 2 ½ to 3 Kg piece of salt beef allow:

1 tbsp juniper berries

1 tbsp black peppercorns

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp ground cloves

3 tsp ground allspice

2 tsp ground ginger

2 dried bay leaves, crushed

2 tbsp dark brown sugar

1 small onion, finely chopped

Grind the whole spices together and mix with the brown sugar and onion   Rub the spice mixture into the meat.

Put the meat into a bowl or casserole, cover and keep in the refrigerator for  three or four days, rubbing the meat with the remains of the spice mixture daily.

Put the meat into a saucepan, barely cover with cold water, bring to boiling point, cover and simmer gently for 3 ½ to 4 hours, adding 250ml (½ pt) of Guinness half way through the cooking time, if desired.

Allow the spiced beef to cool in the covered saucepan, then drain well and wrap in foil and store in the fridge until needed.   (Spiced beef does not improve if frozen but it will keep safely in the fridge for 7 to 10 days.)   Serve thinly sliced.