Tag Archives: beef


28 Oct

One of the few pleasures of unemployment is always having time. Time to read. Time to go for very long walks, dallying in front of shop windows, meandering down untrodden paths. And if you’re me, time to cook a Bolognese sauce that takes over four hours, start to finish.

Now, I can see some of you furrowing your brows, with a fairly distant memory poking up its head. Yes, I’ve already got a recipe for spag bol in this blog. A mighty fine one it is, too. But I was feeling the urge to make something long and labour-intensive, and I had a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking languishing on my shelf.  And why not try the be-all and end-all recipe for something which is a standard in any cook’s repertoire?

And so I went off on a long walk, down the market, along the canal, through Victoria Park. I dawdled on the park’s paths, inhaling the autumn aromas of earth and smoke, watched the magpies and wood pigeons dig in the ground. When I got to south Hackney, I bought mince from the Ginger Pig, wine from Bottle Apostle, carrots and onion from the greengrocer, proper Italian tinned tomatoes from the posh deli.

When I got home, I put on some opera and set about my vegetables. Twenty minutes later (yes, I’m slow, but how quickly can you chop three sticks of celery and four carrots into small pieces?), they and the mince fried in the pan, then simmered with white wine, milk, and a little nutmeg . The tomatoes joined them shortly afterwards, and they all settled down for their three-hour simmer. I added water every 30 minutes to keep everything buoyant.  

And the result? It was good, and I imagine it’ll be even better after a day or two in the fridge. But was it worth all the effort? I’m not sure. It’s possible I’m so used to lashings of herbs and garlic in my food that I can’t appreciate something more subtle. But I also think that if I ever take three hours over pasta sauce again, I’ll use a cut of beef that benefits more from slower cooking, like shin.  The mince on its own doesn’t give enough depth – there’s a reason I put beef stock into my faster recipe.  I’d also cut the vegetables smaller than I did, as even after three hours of cooking they remained a little al dente.

But despite my mixed feelings, I did learn some new tricks for my own recipe. I preferred the white wine in the sauce over the red I’d used before, and simmering the meat and vegetables in milk first did a lot to balance the acidity from the tomatoes and wine.

So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Though these days, I have so much time that a mildly successful cooking project seems a valid way to spend it.

P.S. I just had the leftovers for lunch today, and it tasted so much better. So if you’re going to make this, I would suggest brewing it up a day or two ahead.


Having a Butcher’s

12 Mar

Everyone has someone in their lives for whom it is difficult to buy presents. They seem to already have everything, and nothing gets your creative juices flowing.

I am not one of those people. If you get me something food-related, I will be a happy camper. But my excellent boyfriend went above and beyond the call of duty for my last birthday, and made me the most joyful of the all the outdoorswomen. He bought me a voucher for a butchery class at the Ginger Pig at their shop in Marylebone.

Best birthday present ever!

I won’t write a play-by-play description of the class because I think you should experience it for yourselves. But I will say that if you like to cook meat, and want a much better understanding of what quality and cut of meat to look for, this class is for you. I now know the difference between wet-aged and dry-aged beef, and the parts of the cow from which come sirloin, ribeyes, and fillet steaks.

Some highlights from the class:

– I just barely learned how to tie butcher’s knots! I never got my knot-tying badge during my short-lived period as a Girl Scout, and tying three knots took me about ten minutes of alternating tongue-sticking-out concentration with choice words questioning the knots’ intelligence, parentage, and sexual preferences.

– I also won a steak by lifting 35kg of beef and holding it out with my arms straight for four seconds. The prize-winning effort sounded like this:

Butcher: 1!

Me: OWW.

B: 2!


B: 3!


B: 4!


– At the end of the class, my classmates and I were given an amazing dinner of rib roast, potatoes dauphinoise (AKA kiss your healthy-eating streak goodbye), salad, and chocolate-laced bread-and-butter pudding for dessert. Delicious, but definitely oof-inducing.

After the class, I toddled home with my steak and the standing rib roast I’d learned to prepare.

Sexy beast.

Rib roast in the raw. Love the purples and reds!

It made a fantastic dinner for a group of friends with blanched purple sprouting broccoli, T’s heavenly Yorkshire puddings, and carrot cake for dessert (of which more tomorrow!)

Dinner is served!

Joints of beef like this one exemplify the idea that the more money you spend on a cut, the less time and effort required to make it tasty. While stewing steak takes a long simmer in a flavourful braise to reach optimum deliciousness, all a standing rib roast needs is to be rubbed with a little neutral oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and after a quick sear, to be roasted for 15 minutes per kilogram, plus an extra 15 minutes at the end, in a 180C/350C oven.

My 2.5kg roast (which fed 5) took 90 minutes to cook. After roasting it, I wrapped it in foil and left it to rest for half an hour. You will be tempted by the delicious smell of hot roast meat to cut in right away, but if you do so, you’ll lose all the meat juices and get dry roast beef. Even if your meat is no longer piping-hot when you serve it, it’s worth it for its tenderness and juiciness.

Well-rested roast beef.

Members of the Society for the Appreciation of Roast Beef.

You can find further information on Ginger Pig’s butchery classes on this website. They offer lamb, sausage-making, and pork courses too.

Stilton, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Like Cheese

1 Mar

I’d like to think that I’m the opposite of picky. I’ll try anything once, no matter how unusual, thanks to parents who insisted that I couldn’t know if I disliked something without tasting it first. But while I’ve acquired most adult tastes, I have one prejudice left over from childhood: I don’t like unmelted cheese. Not much makes my heart sink more than the sight of a fistful of shredded cheese on top of a cold sandwich or a salad. I know the taste is innocuous compared so many other edibles in the world, but I just can’t handle it.

My few exceptions to this rule are of a strong-flavoured sort, and Number One is the smelly, craggy magnificence that is Stilton. Whether it’s tossed into spinach salad with apples and walnuts, piled onto crusty bread, or just in crumbles on the cutting board, I am an equal-opportunity consumer of the blue stuff. I just can’t get enough of its pungent umami punch.

Last week I found a new way of using Stilton: in a stew. In this particular concoction, the cheese rounds out the earthy sweetness of the beetroot and red wine and brings out the meatiness of the beef. With some crusty bread and a green salad, it’s a wonderful meal for an early-spring evening when winter hasn’t entirely loosened its hold.

Beef Stew with Beetroot and Stilton (adapted from Alan Rosenthal’s Stewed!)

Serves 3-4

2 tablespoons sunflower oil
750g/1.75lbs chuck steak, cut into 3-4cm/1.5 inch pieces
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
250ml/1 generous cup good red wine
250ml/1 generous cup beef stock
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
400g tin/14 oz can chopped/diced tomatoes
350g/12 oz raw beetroot (approx. 4 beets), peeled and cut into 2cm/1-inch pieces
salt and pepper
150g/5 oz Stilton, rind trimmed off and the rest crumbled

Preheat the oven to 140C/280F. Warm the oil in a Dutch oven over high heat. When hot, add the meat (in two batches if your pan can’t hold all the meat in one layer) and brown it all over for 3-4 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot and leave aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot, then put in the onions, celery, garlic, bay leaves, and caraway seeds. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and sauté everything gently until the onion softens and starts to turn translucent, around ten minutes.

Pour in the red wine, stock, vinegar, and tomatoes and turn the heat back up to high. Be sure to scrape your spoon against the bottom of the pot to deglaze the tasty brown bits. Once everything is simmering, put in the beetroot and the beef and some salt and pepper, then put the lid on and pop into the oven for 2.5-3 hours.

When you’re about to serve, stir two-thirds of the crumbled Stilton into the stew. Ladle the stew into bowls, then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.