6.1 Beef & Veal – Completed!

#213 Boned Roast Sirloin

The National tendency has always been towards beef, the roast beef of old England.
Jane Grigson, English Food

 I have now completed the Beef & Veal section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter of English Food. It’s certainly had its highs and lows and has covered quite a broad set of dishes; introducing me to the delights of the underused cuts such as shin of beef, marrow bones and wonderful sweetbreads as well as the delectableness of the pairing of beef with oysters.
#319 Marrow-Bones

Britain has been a world leader in both producing and cooking beef; the British countryside being the perfect environment for cattle. We were experts at roasting beef on the spit, it was elevated to our national dish in the early 18th Century when beefsteak clubs were opened in London and we were Christened by the French as rosbifs.
Selective breeding to produce high-quality and high-yield breeds, such as Aberdeen Angus, began in earnest in the mid-18th Century, coinciding with the movement of folk from countryside into the cities to eke a living. In these places, most households couldn’t be self-sufficient and keep their own livestock.
A century later, the population had doubled and we as a country, had to import meat from other countries. It was this point, I believe we started on the road that has led us to pre-packaged meats in plastic trays, losing our connection with nature and our own food chain.
It is nigh on impossible to buy really good beef in a supermarket; carcasses are rarely hung for the three to four weeks required, and if they are, they end up getting vacuum packed, drawing out all the moisture. Good beef should be dark red (not supermarket pink!), dry with just a slight stickiness, marbled with fat and covered in ‘a good layer of fat’, according to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Meat Book.

#204 Minced Veal & Eggs
Veal is slowly losing its standing as a taboo food; in the UK the crate system is illegal (unlike in mainland Europe and the USA). UK calves can walk around quite happily and because of this exercise, their meat is not white, but a pale pink and for that reason is called rosé veal. For more on this, read this clumsily-written early post.
Low point: the BSE crisis


Because of the BSE crisis at the end of the last century, and the safeguards put in place in its aftermath means it is very difficult to source UK calves’ brains, so I had to use a Dutch supplier to cook the two recipes that require them. See this post for more information on the BSE crisis.

Calves’ brains


This section of the book covered quite a lot of ground in its sixteen recipes; there were prime cuts, underused cuts and offal recipes as well as two recipes for Yorkshire pudding. All the recipes from this section are listed below with hyperlinks and the scores I awarded them. It scored a mean mark of 7.4 (and a median andmode of 8.5, for those who like their stats), making it the third highest score for a section or chapter so far. It should have scored much higher because three recipes scored full marks! It’s great that a prime #213 Roast Sirloin can score the same as #41 Shin of Beef Stew – proof that ‘low status’ cuts are not poor quality. You really must try the high scoring recipes from this chapter.

The average was dragged down somewhat by the vileness of #411 Calves’ Brain with Curry and Grape Sauce. It really was bad, not because of the brains, but because of that awful cloying sauce. I don’t know what Jane was thinking when she decided to include that recipe in the book! My poor cooking of tougher cuts didn’t help the mean score either; #11 Braised Beef with Carrots being a case in point, I know now that one does not actually boil the meat, but very gently simmer it. The two Yorkshire pudding recipes weren’t great either. Hey ho.
I do notice some glaring omissions in the book – there are recipes using ox cheek or calves’ liver (tongue does appear in the Cured Meat section). Plus, there is no beef Wellington and I would have expected at least a mention of mock turtle soup. I would have liked to have seen some roast veal recipes too. Hey-ho, at least I have some subjects to write about on the other blog.
If you can think of any classic beef & veal dishes not listed below, please let me know in the comments section.

#51 Shin of Beef Stewpart 1 & part 210/10

#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this one – it should have been low-hanging fruit really…
This recipe is the second of two Yorkshire pudding recipes in English Food; the first (#181 Yorkshire Pudding) was a bit of a disappointment, cooked in the early days of the blog when my skills were not quite a good as today. This one supposedly produces a huge, light and crisp pudding which “swell[s] to the height of a coronation crown.” Hmm, we’ll see about that!
The recipe comes from a Mr Tin Sung Chan a Hong Kong chef who skilfully beat five other British chefs at their own game in the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest’ which took place in the great Yorkshire city of Leeds circa 1970.
As we all know, there is nothing more British than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Yorkshire folk have naturally become very proud of their pud; it is certainly the most famous food in the Yorkshireman’s edible arsenal. Unfortunately, the pride is a little misplaced because there is nothing particularly Yorkshire about it. Batter puddings have been cooked around the country for centuries (and not always with beef either). The first recipe for such a pudding appears in the 1737 publication called The Whole Duty of Women where it was called a dripping pudding. However, a few decades later, in The Experienced English Housekeeper, we see it called Yorkshire pudding for the first time. 
In Yorkshire – like many things – the Yorkshire pudding is associated with thriftiness where is not customarily served with the roast but as a starter with gravy; the idea being that the family filled up on cheap pudding and therefore ate less meat!

A batter pudding made in the traditional way under spit-roasted meat (source: historicfood.com)


The traditional way to cook a Yorkshire pudding was to lay a large tin called a dripping pan beneath the roasting meat so that it could heat up and catch some meat fat. Once a good layer of it had formed, the batter was quickly tipped into the pan. All of this could happen underneath a spit-roasted joint or within an proper oven (something to consider next time you cook a roast, perhaps..?).
One of the biggest points of conjecture between cooks is the method of cooking – just how does one ensure a good rise? I have had many arguments. What are the proportions? Plain or strong flour? Beef dripping or sunflower oil and just how hot should it be? For how long should you beat the batter and for how long should it rest? How much batter should be used and should it be chilled or at room temperature?
With all this fuss and debate, it is good to see that this recipe is pretty straight-forward:
In a bowl beat together half a pint of milk (I went for whole milk), four eggs, a scant half-teaspoon of salt, a little black pepper and half a teaspoon of tai luk sauce*. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes and heat the oven up to 230°C. 


In another bowl sift eight ounces of plain flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in around a third of the milky mixture. Beat in with a whisk. Pour in the next third and whisk until smooth and then the last of it, beating again. This technique of adding the liquid in stages should give you a nice lump-free batter.


If you’ve just roasted a joint of meat, pour the dripping fat into a clean roasting tin. Alternatively, add your own lard, dripping or oil and heat in the oven or hob. Once good and hot, pour in the batter and pop in the oven for precisely 20 minutes and 52.2 seconds.


#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding 6/10. This was an okay Yorkshire pudding, but it certainly did not ‘swell to the height of a coronation crown’! I reckon my own recipe is pretty good and definitely beats it…unless of course, there is a nifty trick or two the Chinese chef did not divulge. (By the way, my current recipe is different to the one I posted on the blog many years ago, I need to update it I feel.)

*which does not exist: ‘For years’, says Jane, ‘I puzzled over tai luk sauce, asking at Chinese groceries without success. Then an enterprising niece found what seems to be the answer: her request for tai lukwas greeted with much laughter: apparently it means ‘mainland’, i.e. ‘mainland China’. So tai luk was a kind of secret-ingredient joke, an amiable joke at the expense of Yorkshire patriotism.’

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce

Brains have never really been that popular in England, often banished to a messy tray, at least that’s when they could be found at all. They’ve made appearances in other British cook books but they are few and far between.

The final nail in the coffin for the brain in British cuisine was surely the BSE or ‘Mad Cow’ crisis of the 1990s where cows were infected by a prion which causes the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). A prion is an infectious protein, and is therefore not alive, and cannot be denatured by regular heat-treatment. It may have been derived from the prion that causes the encephalopathy in sheep known as scrapie, but this link is unclear.

The BSE prion infects the CNS causing the brain to appear spongy under microscopic observation. The symptoms, unsurprisingly, are behavioural: infected individuals become solitary, aggressive and frenetic, they become anorexic and their milk yield drops dramatically. Eventually they lose all coordination. BSE is all-consuming, infecting not the just the CNS but the peripheral nervous system, bone, intestines, placenta and tonsils. It is also found in saliva and excrement, and can sit in the soil perfectly viable for years. I remember watching the pictures of the wretched stumbling beasts on the television news in shock and in horror as they were bulldozed into mass burning graves. A total of 4.4 million cattle were killed during the crisis.

The source of the outbreak was the cattle’s feed, where ground up cadavers of sheep and cows were included in their diet. Shockingly, this practise had been going on since the 1920s, so it was just a matter of time before infection spread. In retrospect, it beggars belief that it could ever have been considered a good idea to turn herbivores into not just carnivores, but cannibals

There was of course worry that BSE could be passed onto humans, not just in food but in bovine insulin for diabetics and in bone meal for gardeners. Though bovine-human transmission was possible, there was no real initial evidence to suggest it actually occurred. Nevertheless, in 1996 the EU banned the UK from exporting beef and beef products including semen, embryos, gelatine and fat. Within the UK sales of beef plummeted, the government blaming the media storm. Secretary of State, John Gummer, famously said it was the British public and not the cows that had gone mad. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, was adamant that there was no link between the new variant CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the equivalent disease in humans). In the Government’s desperation to calm the country and show just how safe British beef was, the Right Honourable Mr Gummer fed his little daughter a beef burger in front of TV cameras. Idiot.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation had been collecting data, and reckoned that nv-CJD was probably caused by the BSE prion. Hogg and Gummer had been desperately slow to act, but now the country had to tackle the crisis swiftly.

The most important and easily implemented regulation was the ‘over 30 months rule’, a simple ban on killing cattle for beef older than 30 months. When it came to using any part of the CNS for food, the cattle must be under 12 months old, with the same rule applying to sheep. Pigs are not considered a risk.

Simple rules such as this helped deal with the crisis swiftly. In 1992 there was 37 000 cases of BSE, in 2004 there was just 90. By 2006 the EU beef ban was completely lifted; now the UK is back in line with the rest of the EU

Now with all this behind us, you can get hold of them from a good butcher. Order well in advance though, and expect to have to buy in bulk.

First of all you need to prepare your brains – you’ll need around 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains, which I reckon to be 2 sets, or thereabouts. For some advice on preparing and poaching brains, see this previous post. For this recipe, poach them in milk, as you’ll need it to make sauce.

Strain the milk into a jug and slice the brains on a large plate. Keep them warm as you get on with the sauce, a cross between a béchamel and a velouté.

Start by melting an ounce of butter in a saucepan, then stir in a rounded tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of curry powder. Mix all around in the butter for a couple of minutes, then add ¼ pint of hot chicken stock, adding a little at a time to prevent lumps forming, then add the amount of the milk the brains were poached in. Simmer the sauce gently for 20 minutes, stirring every now and again, then add ¼ pint of double cream


Meanwhile, get on with preparing 8 ounces of peeled grapes. To do this put them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let them sit for a few seconds and then strain them. The skin should now peel away with relative ease. When the sauce is ready, season with salt and pepper and tip in the grapes, including any juice. The sauce is now ready, but if it seems a little thick – it should be the thickness of double cream – add a little more stock or milk.

Pour the sauce over the brains and tuck in triangles of bread fried in butter and serve.

#411 Brains with Curry and Grape Sauce. Well I am glad I cooked the other brain recipe first, as this monstrosity would have put me off for life! The sauce was simply horrible; cloying in such a way, that when in the mouth, you couldn’t tell where sauce started and brain finished. The grapes simply did not go with the sauce. Obviously a thing of its time. I enjoyed the fried bread. 1/10.

#409 Calf’s Brains with Black Butter

Many years ago when I began this blog, I winced in fear at prospect of eating brains but after scoffing sweetbreads, wood cock intestines, lamb’s head and jellied eel mousse, the prospect has become an exciting one. The only reason it’s taken me such a long time to cook the brain recipes in this book that you have to order a huge box of them – it’s how butchers buy them from their suppliers and they’re not going to be able to sell the rest of them after you have bought the one or two you need for your recipe. Of course, these days I do my pop up restaurants and so thought it’s about time they appeared on the menu. When it comes to recipe-testing, I always look to Jane first, so I cooked the two brain recipes in quite quick succession.

If you want to try and cook calves’ brains yourself, find a good butcher and ask for a box of brains. You’ll probably receive ten in all, but give him plenty of notice as it could take a couple of weeks for him to get his hands on them.

Before I go on with the recipe, a few words on the preparation of brains:

First, you need to get them ready for the pot by removing any pieces of bone and then gently peeling away the thin membranous network of blood vessels that surround the brain. To do this, you need to soak the brains in salted water for a few hours in the fridge, preferably overnight. This toughens up the membrane so that it peels without breaking so easily. This is a little fiddly to do, but you soon get the knack. You might find it easier to do it under a running tap. Large calves’ brains are difficult to hold in one hand, so cut them in half. Better have two, neat hemispheres than a dropped, destroyed whole. With a little perseverance, you should end up with a nice, milky-white very delicate brain ready for the next stage.

The prepped brains can now be very gently poached in milk for five minutes so they get nice firm (if going by Jane’s exact words, but a good court-bouillon is a good other option), then cut up appropriately.

For this recipe you’ll need 1 ½ pounds of calves’ brains (about two) that have been poached in milk and cut in slices about 1/3” thick.

Swiftly fry them in some butter over a quite high heat so that the brain browns nicely, whilst they remain nice and soft inside. Keep them warm in the oven as you make the sauce by first melting a good 3 or 4 ounces of butter. Soon it will start to sizzle and froth, but then it will go silent. This is the point at which all of the water has boiled away and the butter solids will soon start to change colour. Timing is critical now; ready yourself with 1 ½ tablespoons of white wine vinegar and wait for the pale solids to turn to a deep golden brown. As soon as they do, take the pan off the heat and pour in the vinegar, swirling the pan as you go. Add a heaped tablespoon of capers and level tablespoon of parsley and season with salt and pepper.

Jane suggests serving the sliced brains on a bed of cooked spinach with the sauce spooned over the top, surrounded by triangles of bread that have been fried in butter. 

The photographs are not really doing the process justice. I really need a better camera!

#409 Calf’s Brains with Black Butter. Well I must say this was absolutely delicious! The soft and slightly-sweet brains were contrasted excellently against the fried bread, and the piquant sauce provided the dish with plenty of oomph, which bland brains need I think. I cooked an adapted version of this for a pop up restaurant by making it into a warm salad; every single plate came back clean. What a shame they have gone out of favour these days, perhaps now that the shadow of BSE no longer looms too darkly, they will begin to sneak back into our butchers’ shops again? Get your hands on some and have a go; fun to cook with, and a true gastronomic experience! 9/10

#348 Veal Rolls


Here’s a quickie from the Beef & Veal section of the Meat chapter and I shall Jane Grigson herself tell us what to do for this one:


Allow one large, thin, escalope of veal for each person. Spread it with a thick layer of parsley and lemon stuffing, or herb stuffing and roll it up starting with one of the long sides.

Tie it with thread in three or four places, then cut into three or four pieces.

Brush each piece with beaten egg, dip it into flour and string it on a skewer, one skewer for each person. Grill for 20-30 minutes, preferably on a spit, basting them from time to time with melted butter. Serve them with fried mushrooms and lemon quarters.

#348 Veal Rolls. Well these were a little fiddly to make but not infuriatingly so. I used the parsley and lemon stuffing as I hadn’t made it for a while and I thought it would suit the hot weather we’re having here in St Louis. As much as I like veal, I didn’t find this really worked. I tried to keep the rolls basted and evenly-cooked under the grill, but the whole thing turned out a little dry. I would much have preferred to have had the escalope fried in some butter with stuffing baked in an ovenproof dish served separately. The mushrooms were good though! 4/10

#340 Veal (or Lamb) Cutlets

Here’s a simple recipe from the Beef & Veal section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter. I am trying to get through all of the veal recipes before I move back to England later this year; it’s not because it is cheaper here, it’s just that it is much easier to get hold of.
A cutlet is a chop (rib) from the best end of neck, just above the shoulders. I went for veal, though they were called ‘Tomahawk Chops’ in the shop, I don’t know that’s typical in the US or not. Anyways, it’s a very tender cut of meat that needs very little cooking, what is nicely done here is the meat is breadcrumbed so it is protected from direct heat, keeping it juicy, but with a crunch. Jane says that the thickest the cutlets should be is an inch. You need one cutlet per person (or two, or even three, if doing lamb). Jane also mentions that boned loin can be used, but the slices should be half an inch, maximum. That’s us told.
You need some breadcrumbs first: I use a blender for that job and then scatter them over a baking tray and let them dry out in a cool oven. If the bits are too big, you can always give them a very quick whizz in the blender again. Mind you don’t turn them into dust though. Take the meat out of the fridge so it can warm up to room temperature.
To the breadcrumbs add some grated lemon zest and finely-chopped herbs: parsley, thyme, marjoram and my new favourite herb, winter savory. Coat the cutlets in flour, patting off the excess, then into some beatenegg and then into the herby crumbs.
Heat some clarified butter in a heavy-based frying pan and fry gently on both sides. The amount of time depends on the thickness of the meat and how ‘done’ you want it to be. I did inch-thick cutlets, cooking them around 3 or 4 minutes a side. The crispy crumb protects the meat, so if you do accidentally cook the meat right through, it won’t be dry.
When cooked, take out the cutlets and let them rest while you get on with the job of making a sauce: on a medium heat, stir 2 teaspoons of flour into the pan juices and then whisk in ½ pint of stock– veal, lamb or chicken, it’s up to you – simmer for a little under 10 minutes to cook out the flour. Take it off the heat and then whisk in a good-sized knob of butter. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. “The sauce should be well seasoned, and not too copious or thick”, says Jane.
“Lemon quarters, mushrooms, watercress, a few boiled potatoes, are the right kind of setting for a meat cooked in this way”. I did the same, though I swapped watercress for broccoli. I think you always need something on your plate, perhaps that’s why she included watercress.
#340 Veal (or Lamb) Cutlets. These were great; everything was all very subtly-flavoured so the slightly piquant lemon and herbs didn’t mask the wonderfully tender veal. What else can I say? Great stuff. 8/10.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters

This is the third and final recipe that uses the classic combination of beef and oysters. I was so dubious about it at first but now I relish and look forward to recipes like this. This one is a simple stew that is easy to prepare and uses few ingredients. It probably was at its peak of popularity in Victorian times – I have mentioned before a few times how oysters were so cheap they were used as a seasoning. The final product isn’t overly fishy as one might expect.

This will feed between 3 and 5 people depending upon greediness.

Start with your oysters; you need to prepare 18 of the buggers. However, this is only if you are using the small British ones, if you are using the large Pacific or Atlantic ones, you can get away with half or even a third of the amount. Luckily, being in the USA at the moment it is pretty easy to find the little bivalves pre-shucked in tubs in their own liquor. If you can’t get hold of the pre-shucked kind, I hear you can easily open them by putting them flat side up in the freezer and when the oysters fall asleep they open up. I have never tested this so it may all be nonsense. However you get your oysters, make sure you drain them well through a sieve and keep the liquor.

Next, the beefsteak – any kind ‘will do for this recipe, from chuck to rump’ – you need 1 ½ pounds in all. Cut it into large neat pieces and season well with salt and pepper. Melt 2 ounces of butterin a large deep pan with a lid and brown the beef, in batches if necessary. Once that job is done, add around ½ pint of water and the oyster liquor. Cover, bring to a simmer and cook until tender between one hour and 90 minutes depending on the cut of meat.

Whilst it gently bubbles away, mash together ½ ounce of butter with a rounded teaspoon of flour.  When the meat is ready, add 2 ounces of port and stir the butter and flour mixture in small knobs until the sauce thickens. You might not want to add it all. I like a sauce on the thick side so I did. Don’t let the sauce boil hard though. Next add the oysters – if large, cut into two or three pieces – and season with salt and pepper. Heat the oysters through for a couple of minutes – no longer, or they’ll be rubbery.

‘Serve very hot’, says Griggers, with triangles of bread fried in butter‘tucked around the sides’.

#338 Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters. I love this combination so much! What a shame there are no more recipes left like this. The water had become a rich but not overpowering sauce that goes so well with the iodine-scented oysters. The fried bread was a great contrast in texture and the recipe is so easy and quick compared to a pie or pudding too. It is such a shame that oysters are so expensive. I am wondering if mussels could be used as a substitute. This one is going to remain a staple whilst I am in the USA where oysters are cheap! 10/10.