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.