I HOPE you’re not too full after last week’s double helping of brisket and chips.
I have a confession to make on that subject. To show none of us are perfect – even we chefs – I must admit I pot-roasted a home-brined brisket last night and it was terrible.
I left it in far too low an oven upstairs in our ‘home’ kitchen, while I worked the evening service downstairs. Excitedly I finished the shift and ran upstairs just in time for the oven timer to ring and I opened the oven expecting a tender, melting piece of meat, sitting in its rich, tasty broth. Instead I had a piece of meat about the texture of teak sitting forlornly on top of a miserable-looking heap of half-cooked vegetables.
Nothing can rescue brisket when this happens, especially not simply turning up the heat. So Tracy and I chewed our way through a depressing supper like Charlie Chaplin trying to eat his shoe is that old classic film ‘The Gold Rush’. For the record, Tracy’s accompanying dumplings were sublime. As usual!
So there, we’re not infallible. I’ve had a few poor dishes in restaurants I’d consider amongst the best in the world. It’s not an exact science, and often it’s discovered that some of the great recipes of the world arise from such kitchen cock-ups or desperation. The now-famous ‘flowing’ chocolate pudding? Simply an under-cooked cake mixture! And the famous Eggs Benedict were a hastily-cobbled-together hangover cure for a grouchy hotel guest.
We’re still on the beef theme this week, utilising another of those value cuts of meat, requiring a little more care, but yielding incredible results.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to befriend your local butcher. Ours, the very excellent J Brindon Addy, when he’s not on TV (joke! Sorry, Brindon!) provides us with the most superb quality meat and offal, and is always happy to advise his customers about how best to cook the various parts of the beasts!
Beef ‘Bourguignon’ is one of the cornerstones of classic French ‘paysanne’ cuisine – this one tweaked my way for a bit of added flavour. A slightly tougher cut of beef rendered mouth-wateringly tender by slow-cooking in wine and stock with the simple addition of a few vegetables and herbs. You could serve this with creamy mash or even tipped over a big baked potato for a quick supper. It’ll taste better when re-heated the day after you make it and is simplicity itself to knock up.
1 kg beef (flank, chuck or neck), cut into nice big pieces
250g unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into pieces (those little boxes of Italian pancetta work well here)
2 nice fat carrots, cut thickly on the angle
2 red onions, sliced into quarters through the root, to hold them together
2 sticks celery, cut thickly on the angle
1 clove garlic, minced finely
seasoned flour (plain flour, mixed with a little salt, pepper and English mustard powder)
4 bayleaves, a sprig of thyme and a few parsley stalks (tied together)
1 bottle red wine
250ml Madeira (optional)
1 litre veal or beef stock (if using a stock cube, make it a weaker stock than the packet suggests)
Clean the beef pieces, dust with seasoned flour, heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the meat well in batches, reserving them on a warm plate.
When you’ve finished the last few pieces of meat, quickly brown the bacon pieces, then deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine, and pour this into a large saucepan or casserole.
Tip in the beef and bacon. Add the onion, celery, garlic and carrot pieces, and cover with the stock and the rest of the wine.
Bring to a gentle boil, then cover and braise in a low oven (Gas 3) for about an hour, or until the meat is tender and falling apart.
If necessary, when cooked, remove the pieces of beef and boil the remaining liquid until it has thickened slightly.