Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Rich Braised Beef

It's all a bit 'things that go with mash' this week. Partly because the weather is iffy and squally so crying out for comfort food and partly too because I have started buying Yukon Gold potatoes from Booths and they are blissfully fantastic when mashed. Peeling them reveals a pale gold flesh that looks like it has been dipped in melted butter. They have a high dry matter content - which means in the eating they are wonderfully stiff when mashed with butter and cream rather than reducing to a creamy cow pat on the plate. The perfect match with meaty juices.

The juices in this instance comes from slow-roasting a joint of beef. I used a corner of silverside but a piece of chuck would work equally well. Larding meat is a long established method of introducing flavour and moisture into a tough piece that it may be cooked for a long time to become tender. This recipe uses the end knob from either Parma or San Daniel ham. It is sufficiently fatty to melt into the surrounding tissue and it adds the richness of the dry cured ham as a subtle layer of flavour when it is carved. The juices from the meat add to the braising liquor to create the sauce.

The recipe comes from Anna del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy which was first published in 1997 and is well worth searching out. I was lucky - I bought my copy in a charity shop for a couple of quid - a great find.

Rich Braised Beef

200g/7oz fatty prosciutto, thickly sliced
1.3 - 1.5kg/3 - 3.5 lb piece of beef - chuck or silverside but not topside as it will stay tough, ask the butcher for it securely tied in a roll to keep its shape during cooking
salt & fresh ground pepper
60g/2oz unsalted butter
2 tbspn olive oil
100g/3 1/2 oz Spanish onion
4 cloves
30g/1oz fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
60g/2oz carrot, cut into chunks
30g/1oz celery leaves
150ml/ 5fl oz meat stock

Cut the prosciutto roughly into large peices. Put the pieces into a food processor and whizz for a few seconds until it is very coarsely chopped. Scoop it out onto a board.

Take the meat and stand it on one of its extremities. With a sharp pointed knife make a deep incision into the meat along the grain. Take a lump of minced prosciutto between your fingers and push it into the cut. Push it down to the bottom of the cut using a round chopstick. make 4 or 5 incisions and then turn the meat over and repeat the operation. If your incisions are deep enough you should be able to lard half the meat from one end and the other half from the other end.
Put a tablespoon of salt onto the board and mix it with plenty of fresh pepper. Roll the meat in the mixture and pat the seasoning hard into the meat. Pat in any bits of leftover prosciutto.

Choose a heavy flameproof casserole with a lid into which the meat will fit snugly. Heat the butter and oil and, when the foam of th butter begins to subside, lower the meat into the pan. Brown it on all sides on a lively heat. Let one side get lovely and brown before you turn it. This operation is very important for the final result: caramelizing the outside of the meat gives the dish the right flavour. To do it properly takes about 10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas2.

Cut the onion in half, or into quarters if its big, and stick i t with the cloves. Throw it into the casserole together with the parsley, carrot and celery. Give the vegetables a good stir and then pour in the stock. Put the lid on and place the casserole in the oven. Cook for 3 - 31/2 hours. Keep an eye on it and turn the meat every 20 miuntes or so.

When the meat is tender, ie when the prongs of a fork can penetrate easily, lift it out onto a plate and loosely cover with foil. Let the juices rest for a couple of minutes and then skim as much fat as you can from the top. If you keep what you skim in a bowl in the fridge it can be used later to fry potatoes or cabbage or as the base for a stew. Use a stick blender to puree the juices till smooth.

Carve the meat into thick slices - about 1cm/ 1/2 inch - any thinner and the meat will crumble. Reheat the sauce and serve with the meat and mash and steamed cabbage.

We had the rest of it cold for lunches with white bean salad and it was very good.

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