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Friday, 27 January 2012

The English Market - Corned and Spiced Beef

Cork City is home to the English Market, an indoor market with more good food under one roof than virtually anywhere else. It’s not just me that rates it, Rick Stein is a huge fan and the Queen included it in her Irish Tour last year. More importantly the people of Cork adore the market.

Founded in 1788 the market has been (in their own words) “Serving a City”. Certainly if I lived within reach I would be shopping on a daily basis and ensuring that I only used the freshest, local seasonal produce, as it is, the English Market is an absolute must on my regular forays into Ireland.
So for my Christmas trip I had to get some Cork specialities including Corned Beef and the very special Spiced Beef.

Irish Corned Beef is the real thing, not the homogenous mass in rhomboid tins found in Supermarkets in the UK, and has a long tradition and a close affinity with Cork City.

UK tinned corned beef is very finely minced and usually has some gelatine to achieve the set, Irish Corned Beef is pure Beef and remains in joint shape. It has a lot in common with Salt Beef though Salt Beef is brined whilst Corned Beef is packed in Salt Crystals to cure. As the Salt crystals are generally the size of Peppercorns the term Corned Beef came into use, not because and Wheat or Maize based ingredients are added.

By the 16th Century the newly developing trans-Atlantic trade was demanding foods that would last the several weeks of a crossing and Corned Beef was the ideal choice. Cork, being close to Cobh the last big port before the Atlantic, rapidly expanded production and by 1668 was producing half of Ireland’s annual beef exports.

Ironically, despite producing vast amounts of Corned Beef, it was not widely eaten in Cork, massive exports and the high price meant that the local diet was more likely to include Pork.

Increasingly Corned Beef is being brined, rather than leaving it to develop its own liquid, though the use of Brisket still separates it from Salt Beef.

In the USA Corned beef is huge, a staple of the Barbecue culture which seems to extend across the states and is also hugely influential in the production of Pastrami.

This takes the production a couple of steps further, once brined the beef is hung again, smoked and then spiced.

Cork produces a similar product the Spiced Beef though here the smoking stage is omitted and the beef is smothered with spices, each butcher and family seeming to have their own secret mix. Unlike Corned Beef a bottle of Stout (of your preference – but in Cork either Murphy’s or Beamish naturally) is added to the boiling water. Though a traditional part of Christmas, the Spiced beef is available year round, especially in the English Market, but in the weeks before Christmas every butcher will have a supply for their customers.

Personally I love both the Corned and Spiced Beef and recently a couple of friends went to Matt Tebbutt’s Foxhunter restaurant and enjoyed his Corned Beef. This inspired them to go home and start brining their own. Once tasted real Corned Beef becomes an essential part of life!

Of course the meat is delicious hot, think the old fashioned Boiled Beef and Carrots of Cockney Sing-along Fame, makes a great hot sandwich again highly popular in London – though I questioned a Salt Beef sandwich there once and was told that it was, indeed, Corned Beef from Cork!! The texture and taste gave it away.

Cold Sandwiches are also brilliant though some of our American Cousins have been known to take this to excess!

And of course a real Corned Beef Hash, Crispy Potatoes, Onions and long shards of Corned Beef griddled to perfection and set off with a runny fried egg and a little Sourdough on the side.

It’s time to fight back, form The Campaign For Real Corned Beef and get this traditional dish back on every table and Restaurant menu.

Just in case you have been inspired - or even vaguely interested I am including a recipe for brining your own Corned Beef, taken from Darina Allen’s excellent Forgotten Skills of Cooking and given to her by Michael Cuddington, a Master Butcher, shortly before he retired. The book lso has Spiced Beef and Pastrami recipes but to getv those you will have to buy it!

Start by getting 2.5 Kilos (5lb) of Topside, Brisket or Silverside. Brisket has the best Fat/muscle ratio and is THE traditional cut.
6litres (10 ½) pints of water
800g (1lb 12 oz.) salt.
Stir together in a large Stainless Steel Saucepan.
Tie the Brisket with Kitchen String to keep a nice shape and make Carving easier.
Place the Brisket in the brine and add another 110g (4oz) salt on top of the beef.
Place a cold Sterilized plate on the beef and a weight on the plate to ensure that the beef is totally submerged. Leave the meat in the brine for 5 days. (Some People like to leave it in the fridge).

After 5 days remove and cook. Matt Tebbutt recommends washing the beef in clean water and keeping it in the fresh (unsalted) water for a day to remove excess salt, I haven’t done that and have not noticed an excess saltiness.

Don’t just throw the brine away – it makes an excellent weed killer for paths and gravel areas!

To Cook
Bring the meat to the boil in fresh cold water and then simmer gently for 3 hours. If you want to serve the meat cold leave it in the cooking liquor until cold and – if you have one- put the meat into a Meat Press to firm up.

Corned Beef, simple, traditional and Great!

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