Tag Archives: Beef


It does seem churlish to moan about a bit of meat while the cities of Britain are on fire.

Still, I’m fed up to the back teeth – the front ones are pretty sore too –  with eating average-to-bad steak as well as having to listen to my food writing friends extolling the quality of Irish beef, a quality I must say I’ve rarely found.

This particular carnivore’s nightmare – almost the worst I’ve ever had – was one of four sirloin steaks, purchased for me down the country, from a craft butcher of some local repute. To compound the crime the person who bought the meat is actually related to the butcher! God help his enemies.

The meat – cooked approx 4 minutes a side and then rested – was tough as teak. It was also tasteless. What’s more a 300g steak yielded  a good 80g of  inedibles (fat, gristle, sinew and even bone).

Personally I doubt it was sirloin, except that the person who bought it assured me it was “cut fresh from a big loin”.

There is a deal of arrant nonsense perpetrated by Irish food writers concerning the quality of Irish beef. Many of them are, of course, pampered by restaurateurs and fall for the hype. This lures them into pronouncing that the finest beef in the world comes from the Irish Angus or the Dexter. That is so wrong, in my opinion. There is absolutely no reason why a Charolais, Chianina or Hereford, well fed, pastured and pampered, could produce beef at least the equal of the Angus – which, almost invariably, is only a half breed in any event. As for the Dexter, its fame rests in its compact size, not in the quality of the meat. The Dexter is an all-rounder – fair-to-decent beef and a high milk yield too. It was traditionally a cow for the smallholder who wanted to look down on his pig-owning neighbour.

There are a couple of restaurants in Dublin who make a feature of Dexter beef. Curiously enough, theirs comes from Wales.

I’ll repeat what I said on Facebook a couple of months ago – the most memorable beef I’ve had was in Navarre. Second was Tuscany. Third, probably the UK. And while I’m at it I’ll pose the questions “Does the best of Irish beef go abroad? Or (through organisations like Messrs Russell and Kettyle), direct to the restaurant trade? Is the Irish consumer effectively getting third pick when he/she goes to their local butcher?”

Boeuf a la Bourguignonne

bb-ingredsIn response to an inquiry on the forum, I’ve dragged up an article I wrote some years ago and a recipe, in fact, MY recipe, for this classic dish.  Enjoy!

The Culinary History

Burgundy, thanks to its inhabitants having an all-consuming devotion to colouring matters (plus a skilled publicity campaign conducted by the mediaeval dukes who ruled the province), has come to be regarded as the epicentre of French and astronomy. Strange then, that the dish that has become such a worldwide flag waver for the region should be a rustic peasant a thing.

The food writer Elizabeth David described Boeuf a la Bourguignonne as “a favourite among those carefully composed slowly cooked dishes which are the domain of French housewives and owner cooks of modest restaurants rather than of professional chefs.”

although Burgundian origin, it is now regarded as a quintessentially French dish, found on the bill of fare in restaurants as far apart as Paris and Marseilles, not to mention bistros from Manchester to Sydney.

In France itself you often find it written down on menus simply as ‘Bourguignonne’ and, what’s more, in French butchers shops you’ll often see a slab of meat marked out for its culinary purpose, i.e. ‘bourguignonne’ rather than “topside” or “shoulder”.

Simon Hopkinson and Lindsay Bareham have an excellent recipe in their entertaining review of retro cuisine, ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’. I think it’s out of print but if you do come across a second-hand copy, it’s a joy. Paul Bocuse has a recipe in his maius opus, something you would hardly expect from the arch moderniser.

The first English-language edition of the ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ segregates ‘Boeuf Bourguignon’ and ‘Boeuf a la Bourguignonne’. The recipe for the former the mushrooms are omitted. This seems to be the sole difference. The “female version” must be the simplest recipe ever presented, if not exactly the cheapest containing the instructions just “lard the meat and marinate in brandy. Then braise in red wine.” Committing a bottle of cognac plus a bottle of Burgundy to a humble stew would give both  my wife and my bank manager palpitations so I feel I’ll never make this version!

Most culinary experts agree that it is de rigueur to incorporate a pig’s trotter or a calf’s foot to yield a nourishing, rib-sticking gravy. At the same time opinions are divided as to whether to marinate the meat or not.

What you include – according to the experts

The ingredients in this list are, by consensus, the common ones.

1. Well hung, sinewy beef- chuck, topside, shoulder and shin have all been mentioned by various chefs and writers. The beef should be sliced into large pieces, weighing-some recommend-up to 150 grams per piece. From this it will be evident that the miserable cubes adopted by the pub lunch trade clearly have no place in this dish.

2. Red wine – the general consensus is that the wine used should be Burgundy. Obviously, you don’t go rooting down the cellar for a bottle of your finest Domaine de la Romanee-Conti!

3. Pig’s trotter, split lengthways, or a calf”s foot. I can’t recommend this addition  highly enough. It makes the sauce rich, silky, and even more flavoursome.

4. Streaky bacon, cut into thick match length strips.

5. Onions. Around two dozen small round onions, peeled and left whole, seems to be the consensus. I tend to use shallots when I can get them.

6. Mushrooms. Again, around two dozen.

7. Bouquet garni. Parsley, thyme and a bay leaf are the favoured constituents.

8. Brandy. For the sake of authenticity, you would have to use marc de Bourgogne but, considering the small quantity involved, cognac, armagnac,  Greek or Spanish brandy would be fine. Almost every recipe I’ve ever read involves chucking in a glass of brandy and setting it on fire. The addition really does make a difference to the dish and the flames are welcome, alleviating the boredom that comes from slicing 2.5 kg of beef and peeling a mountain of shallots.

9. Garlic. When it comes to garlic, the pundits diverge on the subject of its quantity and even desirability, ranging from nought (Paul Bocuse) to 8 cloves (Simon Hopkinson). I’m somewhere in between.

The Recipe


One bottle of Burgundy, or other red wine

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery ribs, chopped

4 cloves of garlic

bouquet garni – 2 dtdp parsley, 3 sprigs thyme, 2 bay leaves

2 – 2.5kg sinewy beef, chuck, shoulder or shin, approximately 15-20 mm thick

sea salt and freshly milled black pepper

2 to 3 tbsp plain flour

one calf’s foot or a pig’s trotter, sliced lengthways

120 g thick cut streaky bacon, cut into match length strips

1 glass of marc de Bourgogne, cognac or other brandy

500 ml stock

two tablespoons olive oil

200 g unsalted butter

24 shallots, peeled

24 button or small chestnut mushrooms

2 dessert spoons chopped parsley for garnish


1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Put the wine, chopped onion, celery, garlic and bouquet garni into a non-reactive (stainless steel) saucepan and bring to the boil. Ignite the wine and allow the flavours to subside. Turn down the heat and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the wine is reduced by half. Season the beef and roll it in the flour.

Melt the oil and butter in a large frying pan or saucepan on top of the stove.

2. Put in the bacon and fry until  brown, stopping shorty of crisp. Remove and reserve. Brown the beef, cooking only a few pieces at a time. Colour well on both sides, remove and reserve.

3. Put the pig’s trotter or calf’s foot into the pan and fry on both sides until well coloured. If there is a good deal of fat in the pot, remove most of it by skimming with a kitchen spoon. Turn up the heat, toss  in the brandy and ignite. Strain the reduced wine and pour into the pan. Add the stock. Return the rest of the meat to the pan.  Cover the pot and braise the meat for two hours. Remove and skim off any scum from the surface.

4. Add the shallots and mushrooms and braise for another half-hour or until the meat is tender. Added at this late stage they won’t shrink to nothing. Remove the trotter or calf’s foot. Check the seasoning.

Serve with plain boiled or mashed potatoes and a plain green salad to refresh the palate.

To drink… Burgundy?????

The River Cottage Meat Book

Mea maxima culpa! I should have got round to reviewing this months ago but it’s a truly massive, iconic and somewhat daunting tome. The first chapter, titled Meat and Right forms a spirited defence/justification/moral discussion, call it what you will of man’s role as carnivore. Hugh then moves on to a discussion of what good meat is, dealing with good and bad farming, supermarkets, labelling, butchery and associated issues. Next he gives an overview of the various species – beef, lamb, pork, fowl and game – before launching into culinary matters treated as topics – roasting, slow cooking, barbecuing, preserving and processing etc into which sections fine recipes are inserted. Overall, one of the world’s greatest ever food books, essential reading for carnivores and, in my opinion, desirable for vegetarians.

The River Cottage Meat Book By Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, photography by Simon Wheeler
Hodder, hardback, GB£25.00

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]