It is well documented that I have a long held belief that the Great British Sunday Roast needs a serious upgrade. Last month to celebrate Organic September I gave the classic roast chicken an upgrade with a black bean and tomato salsa, watercress and some fajita spiced potato wedges, and now it is the turn of your Sunday beef. I'm using a piece of brisket here, one of those great cuts of beef where you get some beautiful marbling on a good quality piece of beef, there is no bone and therefore no carving to worry about, and is best cooked low and slow so you can put it in when you get up and just forget about it until it is time to eat.
But let us back up for a moment. The reason I'm currently all about the brisket (almost an entire draw of my freezer is now full of it) is because the other week I took a delivery of Scotch beef brisket after the Observer Food Monthly Awards, where Scotch Beef were sponsoring the Best Sunday Lunch category.
You've probably learnt a fair bit about Scotch beef from my trip to Edinburgh and the Scottish Boarders with Scotch beef and lamb last year, and my quick, weeknight recipe last month for a Bloody Mary Steak and Avocado Plate, but here is a quick primer: there is a big difference between Scotch and Scottish beef. Scottish beef is any beef from Scotland, but 'Scotch' beef is a bit more special. To receive the Scotch beef certification the meat not only has to be from Scotland, but everything from the farm the animals are reared on and what they are fed, to any transport they travel in, to where and how they are slaughtered, has to comply to a certain level of quality and welfare standards. So if you're buying Scotch beef (or Scotch lamb, for that matter), just like with the Soil Association's organic certification, you always know what you're eating.
The Observer Food Monthly Awards for me was a night of delicious food, and the chance to have normal, casual, everyday conversations from some of my food heroes. We all enjoyed great presenting from Sue Perkins (who was cracking Bake Off/ unemployment jokes aplenty) and Jay Rayner (who was awesome for food writer career advice when I caught up with him for a chat about one of my up and coming projects later in the evening), and I got to talk growing vegetables with Nigel Slater. All together what I'd call a good night, but I was not accounting for one of my food heroes who I'd have had no idea was going to be there: Marcus Samuelsson. For the uninitiated (basically people who have not been food people in America), he's an Ethiopian born, Swedish/ American chef, who runs the acclaimed Red Rooster in Harlem. For now, I recommend a primer of watching all of the clips from the Parts Unknown episode where Samuelsson accompanied Anthony Bourdain to Ethiopia. However, the Red Rooster is coming to Shoreditch, and if you'd tasted the food they were serving at the awards, you'd be excited as I am. Seriously, as soon as it opens, go.
Just look at all of this mouthwatering Swedish/ American food. These were my three favourites: Swedish meatballs and dumplings, picked cucumber and red currents, luscious chunks of pickled herring (even better than the Icelandic herring I had last Christmas, and that's saying something) with dill on rye pieces, and mini hotdogs of the most rich smoked sausage I've ever tasted, topped off with crispy shallots and creamy shrimp.
Anyway, back to the beef. Partly informed by Jamie Oliver's Bloody Mary Beef in Comfort Food, it's inspired by my favourite, next level Bloody Mary brunch drink: the Red Snapper. I've used The Botanist, a wonderful, super botanical Scottish gin from the island of Islay, and a couple of dried juniper berries to up the gin flavour. By way of tomatoes, you can either go for a big jar of passata (about 700g) or two tins of chopped tomatoes, whichever you have to hand. Oh, and for cooking low and slow, in my kitchen a Le Creuset casserole dish like this one will always be king. An investment, but Christmas is coming up, right?
For a 900g-1kg piece of brisket, you'll make enough to serve 4-6 people, depending on the sides. Beef, tomato and mustard are fantastic bedfellows, and with all that unctuous meat and sauce I'd recommend making up a big serving of my Mustard Mashed Potatoes. 'Tis the season for curly kale, my all time favourite green vegetable, so a whole mountain of that sautéed in a bit of avocado oil (you can use olive, but I find avocado works best for kale) with a touch of sea salt would be perfect. Last weekend home grown carrots and roasted butternut squash, and a couple of brussels sprouts were also enjoyed.
- 900g-1kg (approx. 2 lb) piece of Scotch Beef Brisket
- Freshly Ground Sea Salt and Black Pepper
- Generous Splash Light Olive Oil
- 1 x 700g Jar (3 cups) Passata or 2 x 400g (14 oz) Tins Chopped Tomatoes
- 5 tbsp Gin
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 5 Generous Dashes Tabasco
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- 3 Large Sprigs Rosemary
- 5 Dried Juniper Berries
Remove the beef from the fridge about half an hour before you're planning to cook so it can come up to room temperature. Also, pre-heat the oven to 120 degrees (250 fahrenheit). Alternatively, if you have an AGA like me, all you need to do is stash the brisket in the simmering oven to cook.
Heat a heavy bottomed, lidded casserole dish that the beef can fit in snugly (or with a little room, depending on the size of your dish) over a high heat with a splash of oil. Cut off any trussing from the beef, and season it well all over with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper. Brown the beef on all sides, before adding the passata or tinned tomatoes, gin, Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, rosemary sprigs and juniper berries to the pan. Pour over enough cold water so that the meat is just covered (this typically will be half the passata jar/ one of the tomato tins full) and season well with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to the boil, and then remove from the heat. Put on the lid, and leave in the oven for 5 to 6 hours, until the beef is tender.
Now, depending on your beef, the size of your casserole dish and what sort of oven you're using, you may get a unctuous sauce already, but you may need to ladle out enough liquid so it comes only half way up the piece of beef before you shred it and mix it into the sauce with two forks. Return to the oven while you're preparing the vegetables ready to serve. At this point you'll also want to open a bottle of red wine to breathe and enjoy with your (alternative) roast.
You can find out about Scotch beef here, and find a list of suppliers here (hint: it includes several major supermarkets). Or you can opt for an independent butcher that sells Scotch beef, a list of which you can find here. Also, for more alternative Sunday roast inspiration, why not try my One Pot Roast Chicken Thighs with Lentils and Rosemary, or my Sausage and Onion Roast with Mustard Sauce. And don't forget, if you are roasting something with a bone, it's soup season so remember to save any bones to turn them into homemade stock.
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