I. Beef a la Mode with a Brief Digression Into Salad
It is rapidly becoming springier in Australia, but here we are entering fall, and my life and my calendar is getting meatier again as I shove the last of the harvestables into pickle jars or smush them into jellies and chutneys. Tomorrow is Aspic Day, a whole day of encasing whatever turns up in the fridge in hoofy goo like bugs in amber. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I decided to tackle the crème de la crème of beef dishes, Beef a la Mode. I have always heard of it, and wondered what made people talk about it in the context of old-fashioned, swanky restaurants our grandparents might have patronized. Beef a la mode can be fairly compared to pot roast, which it greatly resembles, due to the fact that both are giant chunk-o-meat, braised slowly in some kind of liquid. The difference I can see is that beef a la mode is browned or cooked with some kind of bacon or ham product for flavoring as well.
As usual, I tweaked Beeton’s a bit to be more logical and suitable for modern techniques without losing the spirit of the original. There are probably not too many extant recipes for beef a la mode that call for mace and port. Mace! How I missed you.
Beeton calls for slitting up the roast a bit to let the flavors permeate, giving it a spice rub, and then wrapping it up in bacon with meat tape. My kitchen is like a day spa for cow parts.
I am not going to lie to you; I have no idea what meat tape is. It sounds awesome, though. I decided to ensure the bacon would stay on with a couple of pieces of kitchen string.
Five! Hours! Later! Bam, there was a fork-tender roast. Really, I should have sliced it thinner but I was feeling impatient. Then I strained the cooking broth and reduced it by half in a skillet while the meat rested in a just-warm oven. I hate letting meat sit out all naked in the cold air to rest.
I made a dressing to go with the salad that my sister, Morgan, helped me whisk together. I did not realize I was making a type of mayonnaise until it got rich and creamy and turned a lovely shade of green from the olive oil. No eggs, though. My reference book to keep me on track is The Joy of Cooking–I see it as a baseline sanity check for modern techniques, and when I looked later I did not see a dressing recipe quite like it.
Morgan thought it needed more sugar, but I said, “Just wait until you taste it on the salad.” She agreed it complemented the greens, tomatoes, and croutons I made that morning really well. I had a feeling it might. Overall, I’d say the recipes like sauces and dressings call for less sugar than modern ones catering to current tastes. I like the interplay and enhancing properties of sugar, salt, and spice that you see in in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, for instance, so sometimes I throw a little extra sugar into dishes that call for salt and cayenne.
Beef a la mode is awesome cold as sandwiches the next day as well–something else it has in common with pot roast.
Beef a la Mode [602.]
2.5-3 lbs of chuck, round, or top blade roast
a few slices of fat bacon
1/2 cup red wine, cider, or sherry vinegar
bunch of savory herbs, chopped
Crush together: 1 tsp allspice, 3 cloves, and 1 tsp peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 onion, sliced
1 turnip, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 cup port
Mode.— Prepare the beef for stewing in the following manner:—Choose a fine piece of beef and with a sharp knife make a few slits deep enough to let in the bacon and other flavorings. Rub beef over with seasonings and minced herbs. Lay 2-3 slices of bacon in your stewpot, which should be heavy and not too much larger than the roast, and turn on the burner to let the bacon warm and begin to brown. Lay the remaining bacon in strips over the herbed roast and tie down with string if necessary.
Set the roast into the pan on the browned bacon, pour the vinegar and 1/2 cup water around the roast, and add the bay leaves to the liquid. Let it simmer covered very gently for 4 hours, or rather longer, should the meat not be extremely tender. Slice and fry the onions of a pale brown, and in the last hour add the onions and other vegetables, which should add flavor but not disintegrate into the liquid. When ready to serve, take out the beef, remove the string and bacon, and hold in a warm oven to rest. Strain the vegetables and other pieces out, skim off every particle of fat from the gravy, add the port wine, and reduce sauce by about half, using a skillet to speed the process if desired. When the sauce is ready, salt to taste and send it to the table in a tureen; it should be of a lovely garnet color. Send the beef to table on a hot plate, thinly sliced and attractively arranged.
Great care must be taken that this does not boil fast, or the meat will be tough and tasteless; it should only just bubble.
II. Bunny Gravy Goodness
Originally, this recipe called for some leftover roast hare that was just laying around the hunting lodge or whatever, but most people don’t have rabbit just taking up space in the icebox, so I modified this to use a whole uncooked one. It also called for mushroom catsup, something else we modern pantries don’t feature often. It a delicious jointed rabbit stewed in gravy that is made from stock using the carcass. Amazing. As with most cold-weather Beeton, scratch stock makes all the difference. The red current jelly you serve it with acts a bit like cranberry sauce with turkey.
I did not know until this year that a rabbit’s front legs are not attached to their skeleton. You just slice straight through the muscles.
Hashed Hare [1030.]
A whole rabbit, skinned and prepared for cooking
1 blade of pounded mace
2 or 3 allspice
pepper and salt to taste
1 onion, sliced
a bunch of savoury herbs (thyme, oregano, bay, parsley &c)
3 tablespoonfuls of port wine
2 tablespoons drippings or butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoonfuls of mushroom ketchup or Worcestershire sauce
Mode.—Joint the rabbit, slicing the saddle into bite-sized pieces. Put the bones, trimmings, and organs, if any, into a stewpan, with a cup and a half of water; add the mace, allspice, seasoning, onion, and herbs, and stew for an hour, covered. Strain the resultant stock allowing any herb leaves to remain if liked. Whisk together the drippings and flour at the bottom of the stewpan, and add the strained stock gradually, whisking to keep the gravy smooth. Add the wine and Worcestershire, season with salt and pepper, and bring the gravy to a gentle boil to thicken it. It should not be terrifically thick. Lay in the pieces of rabbit so they are mostly covered by the gravy. Allow the rabbit to simmer for 20 minutes, turning once and serve on the bones, or allow to simmer for an hour and shred the meat into the gravy. Excellent over mashed potatoes. Garnish the dish with sippets of toasted bread. Send red-currant jelly to table with it.
Last weekend was Pickle Weekend. Why not learn how to can, right?
I decided to make Indian Pickle (Very Superior), and it is superior, and gorgeous. You prep the veg for a couple of days in salt, and then you have carte blanche to throw anything seasonal in as it ripens. This made John Smythe, my canning consultant, very nervous. “You don’t want it to ferment, or worse,” he warned me.
I promised I would get it all together and can it sooner, rather than later. I included napa cabbage (Beeton called for “lettuces’), green and wax beans, pickling onions, cauliflower, garlic, chile peppers, and probably something I am forgetting.
As a bonus, my sink is a lovely turmeric color for the time being.
I also made Bengal Mango Chetney, which charmingly contains NO MANGOS. It is fricking delicious and spicy as hell, in part because I found some fresh and evil ginger powder at a halal store, rather than relying on that milquetoast baloney you find at Large Gringo Chain Grocery. This stuff is going to be the bomb with mulligatawny.
Finally, here is the fruit of my efforts (green pickles belong to John Smythe):
And this is not even including all the Very Superior Indian Pickle. This is going to be a spicy winter, and [SPOILER ALERT] I know what some people are getting for Christmas.