We have many Saint’s days in these islands, and the one that comes along this week on April 23rd, Saint George’s day, normally heralds the start of the summer: cricket replacing football, and long evenings spent outside in the (we hope) sunshine.
In our kitchens, Saint George’s Day has always been associated with roast beef, bread and butter pudding and, if you are lucky, a good tea of scones, strawberry jam and cream.
Depending on who you listen to, there are 38 ‘primal cuts’ of beef to choose from, so here’s a lesser known one that we love, and which costs about a quarter of your normal roast.
By and large, the more work a muscle has to do, the longer and gentler it needs to be cooked for. (Great chefs know this, which is why so many of the top restaurants use cuts of beef like clod, shin and brisket that many of us never see around today: it demonstrates their art). The other good news is that, if you follow the simple rules, almost nothing can go wrong, and you can go out and about all day in the knowledge that a wonderful meal awaits your return.
Take shin, for example. First, ask your butcher for a kilo of it (rolled), assuming that you are feeding 4-6 people. You will be amazed at the price (about 10% of the cost of fillet steak!). Once home, dice the shin into small squares of around 2 centimetres. Preheat the oven to about 140C, and take it out of the fridge so that the beef starts the cooking process at room temperature and, while you are waiting, make a classic mirepoix by finely chopping up about 500 grams each of carrots, onions and celery. Fry these off for a minute or two in a good vegetable oil, add some tomato puree and fry a little longer. When they have become soft and very slightly darkened (it’s called a ‘pincage’ in France), transfer to a cast iron casserole dish or similar so that they make a nice, deep layer and carefully place the diced shin of beef on top.
Meanwhile, fry off some pancetta and add it to the mirepoix. Pour in equal quantities of cheap red wine (the remains of the bottle you had last weekend will do!) and of beef stock until the mirepoix is covered, but the beef is more or less dry. Then add some Worcestershire sauce to taste, a couple of bat leaves, some tomato puree and a tin of whole tomatoes. Place a lid on, and then cook in the oven for around seven hours. You can add whatever flavours you like during the cooking process (garlic, mustard, horseradish, nutmeg for example), but my advice is to let the flavour of the beef do most of the talking, and to leave the lid on as much as you can bear, so that you don’t lose the liquid.
When you take it out to rest, prepare some tagliatelli and then some braised cabbage with a few caraway seeds sprinkled on.
What you will have in front of you when you serve it is a Ragu, and one of the most delicious things that you have ever eaten, and it will have cost you under a tenner.
Happy Saint George’s Day!