Spiced Beef

This recipe derives from something similar I read in an Elizabeth David cookery book many moons ago. Throughout my lifetime, Elizabeth David was a pioneer of better cooking in the UK and, in particular, introduced people to the delights of sunny Mediterranean dishes, using different vegetables, herbs and fresh fruit to augment our frugal, post-war diet. Rationing was still in force after the Second World War when she returned to London, having lived abroad for a number of years. Realising how dull our British diet was in comparison with the one she had been enjoying freely whilst living overseas, she began writing expressive food articles about the ingredients she loved, along with simple recipes for home-cooking. Her work grew into a whole series of highly readable cookery books, helping to foster a brand new surge of interest in cooking with fresh ingredients from home and abroad, combining different tastes and flavours in a delectable way.

I was introduced to her books by my older sister’s husband, who was showing a very modern-man’s interest in this new craze for good cooking in the very early 1970s. I was in my late teens and already living in London, where I fell in love with Elizabeth David cook shops. These were selling beautiful terracotta cookery pots and cast-iron utensils from the continent. I longed to own my own kitchen and fill my shelves with brightly-coloured enamelware and Provençal-style earthenware in the burly shape of big bowls, deep crocks, jugs, jars, and terrines. I also longed to travel and discover the places where these beautiful objects came from and taste the food that was designed to cook and serve in the sun.

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I learned a great deal about matching ingredients and combining great flavours, from reading Elizabeth David’s books and also, those written by Jane Grigson, another great food expert of a slightly later era. I had a big collection of these books sitting on the shelves in my kitchen at The Three Chimneys, but alas, quite a number disappeared over the years. I hope they remain prized by those who borrowed them! This recipe for Spiced Beef is perfect to make ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays. It is always described in articles as being something you can store for a long period at the bottom of your fridge, in readiness for unexpected visitors. I am not sure if Food Standards Scotland currently would approve of its place in the pecking order of refrigerator shelves, but it is definitely worth finding a good place to store it - well covered - for a big buffet party for friends and family, or a simple sandwich for hungry, late-night revellers.

The beef is prepared in the old-fashioned method of home-curing. The sugar and salt draw-out the natural meat juices, while the spices impregnate the flesh. This preserves the meat for a longer period. Curing meat in similar rustic ways has been done over generations by people of different countries using the spices they have on-hand. Chillies are perhaps the most commonly used and accepted in modern charcuterie, particularly the range of cold meats available from the delicatessen counter in our supermarkets, or in neat packets on the shelves. Recipes for Spiced Beef date back to olden times. My 1828 edition of Meg Dod’s Cook and Housewife’s Manual has a whole chapter on curing, with reference to making mutton hams and other traditional Scottish things. She uses Jamaica pepper, juniper and coriander frequently in the spice mixture, along with coarse salt and raw sugar. Saltpetre was used too, but this is no longer commonly available. A very good quality sea salt is recommended and perfectly suitable. Naturally, I use Skye Sea Salt, which is produced in small quantities on the island.

Serve the beef carved thinly with a selection of winter salads, such as finely sliced red cabbage coleslaw, made with red onions, grated carrots, apple, mandarin orange segments and pomegranate seeds. Dress the salad with good quality mayonnaise, mixed half-and-half with natural yoghurt and a generous teaspoonful of grainy mustard. Plain chicory leaves drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing are also delicious, particularly if you mix with fresh pear, chopped walnuts and small cubes of Scottish, soft blue cheese. A bowl of horseradish sauce mixed with whipped double cream for luxury, makes another delicious accompaniment for the peppery beef. Pickled walnuts are strong, but very good, as are pickled onions, beloved by everyone at Christmas.

Spiced Beef

(serves 12 or more)

Ingredients:

1 joint of Silverside Scotch beef, weighing approximately 1.5/2.0kg

80g pure sea salt

80g dark Muscovado sugar

25g whole black peppercorns (or mixed peppercorns)

25g whole juniper berries

25g mixed coriander, cumin, fennel and mustard seeds

2 tsps. whole allspice berries

Method:

1. Wash and pat dry the meat. Trim it of all visible fat and white membrane.

2. Place all the spices, including the peppercorns and juniper berries, in a liquidiser or coffee grinder, and grind until turning powdery.

3. Mix together the sea salt, brown sugar and all ground spices in a bowl.

4. Choose a deep dish that fits the beef joint.

5. Line it with double thickness of non-stick baking parchment or greaseproof paper.

6. In a shallow dish, rub the spiced mixture into the beef. Continue to do this until the whole joint is well covered and the spice mix is all used.

7. Place the joint in the prepared dish. Cover with more layers of paper and either seal the dish with a lid, or aluminium foil, or both.

8. Place in the refrigerator and leave for 7-10 days, turning every second day and rubbing any loose spices back into the meat.

9. On the last day, remove from the refrigerator and brush away any residual spice mixture. Take an oven-proof dish or roasting tin which fits the joint of beef snugly. Pour a small glass of water into the base and place the beef on top. Cover the dish tightly with aluminium foil, plus a well-fitting lid if possible.

10. Place in a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 1, or 140°C, and allow to cook slowly for up to 4 hours.

11. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely, without removing the lid or foil covering.

12. Once cool, wrap in clean parchment or greaseproof paper, plus fresh foil and keep refrigerated in a suitable container, until ready to serve, sliced thinly, with a selection of salads.