I have to caution you. I have conspired with others to break the law in bringing you this tale. I had decided I should tell you the story of Spiced Beef and the Spoiled Brat. It would be relevant and would allow me to post something festive without having to deck the kitchen with holly. All I had to do was cook the spiced beef. That’s where my descent into the murky underworld of international criminal activity began.
But, let me begin by telling you the story of the ‘Spiced Beef and the Spoiled Brat’. Back when I was 13 years of age, I got myself a pre-Christmas job in Grehan’s Butchers in Blackrock. Grehan’s was an institution. They had two shops in the village. The larger of the two acted as a mini processing facility as well as a retail outlet. It was there that I was employed for a brief few Seasonal days. My duties included preparing turkeys by removing the feet and sinews as well as pulling out the tough wing feathers from hundreds of birds. Both were hard work.
To remove the feet and sinews, I would hack half way through the knee-joint of the bird, hang the foot on a hook high on the wall and swing from the bird until the foot came free, bringing the sinews from inside the leg with it.
The big wing feathers had to be gripped tightly and pulled energetically to get them out. If they slipped, as they often did, they would cut the sides of the fingers. These cuts would inevitably turn septic. Not pretty. But for a 13-year-old back in 1971, the £14 earned was a king’s ransom and made it all worthwhile.
There were three of us working the back room that year. Myself and another chap, who diligently put in the hours of hard graft, were joined by a relation of one of the Grehans. He was a kid of about our own age. Boy, oh boy, was he a brat. He refused to do his share. He got in the way of the butchers. He moaned, complaining that he couldn’t do any hard work and whined about us to his relatives. We hated the little scut.
Thankfully, one of the senior butchers could see what was going on. To get the brat out-of-the-way, he sent him to a shed in the back yard and told him to busy himself spicing the beefs. This involved rolling the beef joints in a very large basin containing a rich blend of spices and herbs and then leaving them to rest before packaging.
An hour or so went by. There was peace in our workroom. We busied ourselves hacking, pulling and plucking. The senior butcher went to check on progress. Our toiling was disturbed by a shout from outside “Holy f****! He’s spiced the hams.” Pandemonium followed as the brat screamed in terror, the butcher kicking and chasing him around the yard. That wonderful man raved and cursed the damage done. We hid in our workroom and laughed and laughed until we cried.
The brat, now in tears and blubbering apologies, was set to washing the pile of spiced hams in freezing cold water. We returned to our duties. That was the last time we set eyes on that miserable child. The whole episode has added an additional zestiness to each and every time I enjoy Traditional Spiced Beef.
The ingredients list is not long. I took it directly from the Bord Bia website. Though what it’s doing there is a mystery, given what I had to do to get the ingredients.
- 2½-3 kgs eye of the round, topside or silverside of beef
- 75g brown sugar
- 25g black peppercorns
- 12g allspice berries
- 25g juniper berries
- 12g ground cloves
- 12g salt
- 12g saltpetre
Side note on my criminal activity: I mentioned above that I have become an international criminal. This was caused by my trying to get my hands on the 12 grammes of saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate). All doors were closed to me. The Butchers (I tried 5) could not get their hands on it. They recommended the Chemists (I tried 5 again). No chance. I was treated with a mixture of bemusement and suspicion. Bemusement because it is illegal to sell Potassium Nitrate in Ireland and suspicion because the reason it is banned is it has a history of being used in bomb making.
My International network had to be pulled into the enterprise. Using some cronies of my Amsterdam connection, I secured my supply, and receiving a parcel in the post, with 24 grammes of illegal white powder, concealed in a vacuum sealed plastic pouch. Game On!
The first thing to do is to trim the beef (I used a cut called ‘eye of round’) of all excess fat and sinew.
Rub it with the sugar (I used Muscavado).
Rub the beef all over. The sugar will melt into a gloopy mess. Cover and place the bowl in the fridge for 48 hours, turning it each time you happen by the fridge.
When you have ground the juniper berries, peppercorns and cloves, add them to the other dry ingredients.
Take the beef out and pour off the remaining sugary mess and reserve.
Mix the spice ingredients well.
Roll the beef in the bowl of spices and cover the bowl with cling film.
This now needs to be returned to the refrigerator and left for at least six days, turning once a day.
I left mine there for nine days, just to be sure.
Add enough water (about a litre and a half in this case) to nearly cover the beef. Add a tablespoon of treacle and add back the sugary mess from the first spell in the fridge. Warm this gently until the treacle melts into the water.
Seal with the lid and a sheet of tinfoil. Place in the oven at 140º C for 5 hours or so. Remove it from the oven and let it cool in the pot. When cold, wrap in tinfoil and place it back in the fridge. After a couple of hours, it will be ready to be carved.
We enjoyed it with some nice homemade brown bread and a nice chutney. The beef was the best spiced beef I have ever tasted.
The flavour and enjoyment were truly enhanced by three things; the chutney, the criminal nature of the endeavour and, of course, the memories of the spoiled brat, screaming in the butcher’s yard.