Tomorrow (April 23) is the start of Great British Beef Week. Now in its seventh year, this celebration of our national iconic product, has never been more pertinent.
About 25% of the UK’s beef is imported from countries where animal welfare is not as stringent as it is here. If an animal is distressed at the abattoir no amount of aging or marinating will take away from the leather like texture and loofah like taste. After an animal has been slaughtered the glycogen in the muscles, in a rested and healthy animal, turn to lactic acid and that results in tender tasty meat.
If you buy packaged steaks in a supermarket and it says “product of Northern Ireland” this may only mean the imported beef has been put in a packet in this country. To get the best produce go to a good local butcher and they should be able to tell you the provenance of the steak down to the nearest field.
Beef from rare breeds in Northern Ireland is much sought after from high profile London based chefs. Mark Hix and Angela Hartnett both name check Glenarm Estate’s Shorthorn beef on their award winning restaurant menus. Other chefs across the water would love to get their hands on this prized meat but demand outstrips supply. Thankfully that’s not the case here and there’s plenty of it in good restaurants across the province. Their meat is aged masterfully by Peter Hannan in his salt lined chamber in Moira.
Before Christmas, on a visit there, I tried a 100 day old aged steak – it was so blissfully tender and flavoursome that it almost would have been too good to cook it. Inspired by Italy my favourite way of eating really good steak is to make a carpaccio. Fillet steak is sealed quickly, rested, sliced paper thin and arranged over a plate. Parmesan shavings are scattered over and a good balsamic vinegar drizzled – perfection.
On the other hand a close second is steak and chips. Grilled steak served with homemade chips and not those pre-packed chilled ones that have no flavour at all. Peel Maris Pipers, cut into chips, soak in cold water, drain, pat dry and blanch at 140oc. Crank the heat up to 170oc and cook until crisp and golden. Drain and serve with the steak.
I’ve included a recipe for Bearnaise sauce – a classic Hollandaise with tarragon added. Burren Balsamics are about to launch a tarragon vinegar. Thanks to Susie, who produces it, I got a sneak taste of it when she was on a tour of the North Coast. It brings this classic sauce to a different level and is well worth sourcing from local delis. I also use half Abernethy smoked butter in the mix – that subtle smoke just adding subtle earthiness to the whole flavour.
We’re blessed with many brilliant butchers throughout the province and it’s vital that we support them. Apart from anything I find butcher meat to be of a better quality and cheaper than any supermarket packaged variety.
When I was growing up my late grandfather, Jim used to make roast beef that was out of this world. The secret was in the onion gravy that accompanied it. I’ve replicated as best as I can, using oven dried onions, but ultimately good beef and onions is a match made in heaven regardless.