You know that sinking feeling when you realise you’ve had something in your freezer for, ooh, way too long? We all have them. Large blocks of unidentifiable meat, sitting ominously in the corner.
Ours was a gift from a cousin; she came for Sunday lunch and left far more than she ate. Now, it was a while ago (I’m not going to tell you how long) and every time I ventured near that particular corner of the freezer I though “I need to do something with that meat.”
That something happened one Sunday when most of the family decided to turn up for lunch. They were invited, of course, it’s just that I didn’t expect them all – both parents, sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend – to gather. It was time to dig out the corner of the freezer. By that stage, the label was long gone but it looked sort of like a round roast of indeterminate age. I decided to cook it low and slow, using some Irish craft cider as the braising liquid, until we could pull it apart with a fork and pile it, together a good dollop of the gorgeous gravy, on top of some buttery mashed potatoes.
The experiment was so successful that it’s been worth repeating several times since and smaller cuts of meat (cook for less time) work well too.
* the mash was made in minutes using the pressure cooker, a new-to-me gadget that I
stole borrowed from my mother (or do baked potatoes);
* the lentils are a perennial favourite, based on this recipe: Puy Lentil Salad with Balsamic Dressing – I subbed lemon juice for the balsamic vinegar and sprinkled it with feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and chopped chives;
* I also roasted every vegetable that I had in the house – multicoloured carrots from the Mahon Point Farmers’ Market, beetroot, regular carrots, butternut squash, fennel – along with a tray of chickpeas, that had been tossed in cumin/salt/olive oil, and tipped them all into a serving dish together.
Slow Cooked Beef with Irish Cider
There’s an amazing selection of Irish craft ciders that you can play with in this recipe. Go for something marked dry or medium – this is not a place for a sweet cider (Bulmers need not apply). Some of my favourite producers are Stonewell, Tempted?, Longueville House, Long Meadow, The Apple Farm, Dan Kelly’s. Well worth seeking out. Make sure you buy a few so that you can try pairing the cider with your lunch. Serves 7 adults + 2 children and the leftovers make the best sandwiches.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1.5kg beef – round roast works well
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 onions, sliced
3 carrots, sliced lengthways
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons apple sauce or unsweetened stewed apple (if you haven’t any in the freezer from the autumn apple glut, Ballymaloe make a good one.)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
3 star anise
2 sprigs thyme
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 150C (130C fan).
Season beef well with salt and pepper. In a deep oven-proof casserole dish, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned on all sides. Remove. Add vegetables and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Cover the pan and cook for another 5-10 minutes until vegetables have browned – not burnt!- and slightly caramelised.
Pour in the cider, water, tomato paste, apple sauce and Worcestershire sauce, stir well and bring to a simmer. Return the beef to the pan, along with any juices, and tuck in the bay leaves, star anise and thyme.
Place covered dish into a 150C oven for about four hours or until the meat is falling apart. Baste every hour or so with the juices in the pan, adding more water if necessary.
Remove from the oven and put the meat on a serving platter to rest, along with the slow roasted vegetables. Skim any fat off the juices, taste and add some mustard, Worcestershire sauce or seasoning as necessary and pour into a warm gravy bowl. Cut or pull the meat apart and serve with mashed potato or baked potato, horseradish sauce, quantities of roasted veggies and lemony lentils with feta and pomegranate.