The Corkonian love of spiced beef

Yes, I know Christmas is over and the time to talk about spiced beef was really weeks ago but I’ll never remember to post this tale next December so here goes. A friend of mine was telling me on New Year’s Eve about the lengths she went to so she could have a taste of home in Australia on Christmas Day.

Like me, she’s from Cork and if you’re from Cork, you have spiced beef as part of your Christmas dinner. Sure, you have turkey and ham like everyone else but you also have to have spiced beef. It’s a Cork thing.

My abiding memory of Christmas Eve will always be standing in my mother’s kitchen, chatting with the family, all of us shivering because she had the windows open as the smell of spiced beef cooking is truly rank. I couldn’t even eat it for years because the sight of it reminded me of the cooking smell, which immediately made me feel sick.

If you can get past that, spiced beef is just lovely – tender, salty and aromatic. We normally buy ours from the lovely Cork butcher O’Donovan’s (which sells it online if you’re having a belated hankering).

But my friend’s family always prepared their own, leaving it to marinate in a pot outside the back door for a week. As she pointed out the other night, however, it’s too hot in Australia in December to do that so she had to leave it in the fridge, something that did not best please her vegetarian Australian husband.

Far more hassle was getting a prescription for the saltpetre, necessary for making proper spiced beef but also employed as an ingredient in explosives. Anyway, she managed it all and was very happy to have spiced beef as part of her Ozzie Christmas dins. She used Darina Allen’s recipe. You’ll find it here but you’ll have to scroll down quite a bit.


10 responses to “The Corkonian love of spiced beef

  1. As a Leinster lass, Spiced Beef was never part of our Christmas celebrations till my hubby joined the family.

    He’s a Dubliner, but with Munster roots, and he remembers his granny spicing her own beef, even in East Africa, where his dad grew up.

    Now, my mum makes Spiced Beef and serves it on Christmas Eve, whenever we’re with my family for the festivities. Her local butcher in Meath does a great version. Next year I must have a go at spicing it myself – if I left it out the back door, I fear local animals would find it hard to resist though!!

  2. I’m an Australian, living in the USA, I had similar troubles trying to make an Aussie Christmas in the freezing northern hemisphere weather. I hope it wasn’t to hot for her. Oh good thing about keeping it in the fridge the flies would have been all over that if left out.

  3. As an ex Corkman myself I harbour a similar passion for spiced beef.
    To get the necessary saltpetre I have to get a special permit from the guards and then bring that, like a perscription, to a chemists.
    The guards are very strict about giving this out and I was given a strict interrogation before I was given my half ounce perscription but basically it was because they knew me that I got it..
    They then call back after Christmas to make sure it is all used up.
    This made we wish that I could spice the thing with something simple to heroin,…or cyanide.

  4. Or maybe some other more easily accessible explosive, Martin 🙂

    I didn’t realise that saltpetre was equally difficult to get here in Ireland as it is in Oz. Will have to get organised early next year so…you too, Jenny. We can have a spicedbeef-off or spicedbeef-a-thon!

  5. I hope ye are up to the challenge!

  6. My son lives in Cork and bought his spiced beef at the English Market in downtown Cork. We cooked it here in Maine, USA, for Christmas dinner—–made a special change from the usual Swedish smörgåsbord we serve (Swedish family trying to preserve customs this side of the pond). Great cold, too.

  7. Just wondering if anyone know what happens if you make spiced beef without saltpeter …. I used kosher salt and meat tenderizer instead … The meat is in the fridge now in all the spice minus the saltpeter … Please email me at …. Cheers

  8. I’m a Corkwoman living in Australia and we have Christmas in July every year with a bunch of irish & english ex-pats who have trouble feeling christmassy in 40C heat in December! Obviously I have to spice my own beef and also use Darina’s recipe. I just omit the saltpetre and it turns out just fine. I’ve also managed to convert all the christmas-in-July’ers to the taste (including a couple of Aussies).

  9. I’m a Corkman living in San Francisco. Last June I was home and for the first time thought ahead and bought the entire spice recipe from a butcher in the English market and brought it back with me. I didn’t even know there was saltpetre in it, and I am glad that U.S. customs didn’t either. Given that they don’t allow us to bring back rashers and sausages any more, I am sure that the saltpetre would be a no-no.

    Only two weeks to go!!!!

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