I have actually made two early modern beef recipes today, but you’ll have to wait to see what the second one is. Here’s a clue: it’s appropriate for the time of year. The background and recipe posts for that will be appearing very soon, but for now, here is the conclusion to my recent post on beef.
The recipe book I used for this recipe was Robert May’s The Accomplist Cook (1660) . It contains a section entitled “A hundred and twelve ways for the dressing of beef”. A hundred and twelve! I really had the pick of the bunch there! As the beef I was planning on using was a some ready diced rump steak I was already using for dinner and for the aforementioned mysterious other recipe, I couldn’t really do one of the roast recipes, and because I only had a little to use I decided not to make a stew. I should also mention that amongst the beef recipes there were many recipes for offal – things like ox cheeks but also, to my surprise, recipes for cooking udders! I have never heard of eating udders before, I must say, but I’m not quite brave enough to try that! Besides, I do like to focus on ingredients that are easy to source so others can try them out should they want to.
Anyway, I opted eventually for a recipe entitled “A hash of raw beef”. The beef is not raw in the finished product, I hasten to add, this is not a steak tartare kind of recipe (which I have still never tried, though I think I’d probably like it as I am very keen on rare or even blue steak). I think the reason that the recipe specifies that it is raw is that hashs are usually made with meat that has already been cooked. A hash, which I will do a proper background post on at some time, is basically a mixture of finely chopped ingredients cooked together. Think hash browns, or corned beef hash. We often have the latter for tea in my house, it’s one of my favourite comfort foods.
Without further ado then, let’s get on to the cooking. I haven’t done a recipe this time because I’m not sure this is the sort of thing people will be wanting to cook – it wasn’t bad at all, not by a long shot, but it’s probably not the sort of thing I’d recommend. Also, there were no quantities given at all, so a recipe would be purely my interpretation. If you really want to make it, I’m sure you can work it out from the recipe here:
To make a hash of raw Beef.
MInce it very small with some beef-suet, or lard, and some sweet herbs, some beaten cloves and mace, pepper, nutmeg, and a whole onion or two, stew all to|gether in a pipkin, with some blanched chesnuts, strong broth, and some claret; let it stew softly the space of three hours, that it may be very tender, then blow off the fat, dish it, and serve it on sippets, garnish it with barberries, grapes, or gooseberries.
I got back from the supermarket, having happily found all the ingredients I needed there. Or so I thought. I soon realised I’d forgotten the chestnuts, so I hurried up to the greengrocers in the hope that they would have some. They did, hooray! Usually I would have bought ready cooked ones, but they were fresh, and after a little digging around on the internet I discovered I could boil them. I cut a slit in the shell and then boiled them for 10 minutes or so, until they became soft.
My beef was already cut up, but I cut it smaller. My knives are not as sharp as I’d like so I cheated and used kitchen scissors. I was only planning on making a single serving so I didn’t use much.
I then added all the other ingredients. I used a thick slice of onion, chopped, a pinch of all the spices, a tablespoon full of suet, and a glug or two each of stock and red wine. I chopped up the chestnuts (though I bought 4 I probably only used about 1 and a half). For the herbs I used taraggon, because it’s one of my favourites. Then I put the whole lot in a small saucepan and cooked it over a very low heat.
The recipe stated 3 hours, but after 2 mine was becoming rather dry, and as I had only a small amount of the beef I thought that a shorter cooking time would suffice. Once it was ready, I made some sippets (see this recipe for instructions on what they are and how to make them (it’s very easy!)) and put the hash on top of it.
I know it doesn’t look that great but it was, as I said, not bad at all. I must say I am becoming very familiar with the flavours of mace and cloves! I no longer really associate the flavours of these spices with sweetness, admittedly I have always used them a little in savoury cooking – nutmeg with spinach, for example – but they are much more pronounced in these dishes. They really do bring out the rich flavours of the meat. The depth of flavour in this is rather lovely, benefiting from the long, slow cooking, and the sauce was very rich and thick, I think the suet and chestnuts acted as thickening agents. Not one of my best experiments, I suppose, but certainly not one of the worst. I suspect that a hash like this wouldn’t have been part of the “beef, bread and beer” that I talked about in my last post, that would more likely be roast beef or a stew. A hash was a more luxurious dish, it would have been served as part of a feast. But as I said, more on that another time…
I shall be back very soon with a seasonal special, so watch this space!