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

#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.

#317 Skuets

This is an old recipe made up of sweetbreads, bacon and mushrooms grilled on skewers. Indeed, the work skuet is a corruption of the word skewer. The recipe first pops up in the literature in The Compleat Housewife by E Smith (a Lady) first published in 1729. Here’s her recipe from the 1753 edition:

Take fine, long, and slender skewers; then cut veal sweet-breads into pieces like dice, and some fine bacon into thin square bits; so season them with forc’d-meat, and then spit them on the skewers, a bit of sweet-bread, and a bit of bacon, till all is on; roast them, and lay them round a fricasy of sheep’s-tongues.

Chef to kings: Antoine Carême

Forced meat is simply meat mixed with other ingredients to ‘force’ it to go further. I made forcemeat balls a while back (click here for the post). The recipe given here is a jazzed-up version from French chef Antoine Carême’s 1833 book L’art de la cuisine franҫaise au dix-neuvième siècle. According to Grigson, he praises it as an excellent English dish. Jane suspects he found out about it when he lived and worked in London as the Prince Regent’s chef. The changes he made were simple: lose the forcemeat, add some nice mushrooms and serve with bread sauce (see here for recipe) as well as some crunchy browned breadcrumbs.

Sweetbreads are not the easiest of cuts to get hold of these days: I remember speaking to a butcher in Houston who said he came by them sometimes, but if I wanted some, I would have to buy a whole ten pound tray. I was tempted but declined. What if I didn’t like them? Well I am glad I didn’t because I spotted a pack of frozen calves’ sweetbreads in Whole Foods whilst buying some other bits and bobs. I do love that shop.


For those that are not aware, sweetbreads are a type of offal and come from the thyroid gland, situated around the throat, of either calves or lambs. The thyroid, or thymus, gland produces the hormone thyroxin which is involved in the proper regulation of metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is a common disease where the sufferer produces too much, causing very high metabolism and, as a consequence, is rather skinny. I had a cat with it once. Other glandular organs are also sold as sweetbreads such as the pancreas, the sublingual glands of the tongue, the parotid gland of the cheek and also the testicles, though ‘throat’ sweetbreads are by far the commonest. Why are they called sweetbreads? Well, they are sweet because they taste richer and sweeter compared to meat, and they are bread because the old English word for flesh is bræd. I assume the bread that we get in loaves carries the name it does because Jesus said bread was his flesh during the Last Supper (I’m surprised he didn’t put anyone off).

Diagram showing the position of the thyroid, or thymus, glands

Sweetbreads were once very, very popular, but have now died a death. Though, like many of the old forgotten cuts of meat, there is a slight resurgence. I had never eaten them, but certainly wasn’t nervous about eating a big gland; I just always worry that the reason people don’t choose to eat them anymore is because they taste bad.

This recipe makes enough for four people:


Begin by preparing a pound of veal or lamb sweetbreads. To do this, dissolve a tablespoon of salt in some water and soak them for around an hour. Rinse them, place in a saucepan and cover with chicken or veal stock and mix in a couple of teaspoons of either lemon juice or wine vinegar. Bring to a boil and allow them to simmer until they go from pale pink to a whitish opaqueness.

In the case of veal sweetbreads, this took about 15 minutes. Remove the sweetbreads and allow to cool a little before removing any membranes or gristly bits. You must be careful here – Jane makes a point of mentioning this and she was right – don’t let too much of the sweetbread come away with the membranes. If using lamb sweetbreads, be extra careful, as you’ll end up with nothing! Press the sweetbreads by pressing a plate on them until they cool.

Turn the grill on to a medium heat. Whilst it warms up you can construct your skuets: cut the sweetbreads into chunks – 12 good sized cubes is best – cut around 8 rashers of streaky bacon to square shapes and brush any dirt from 16 medium-sized mushrooms. Take a skewer and add a mushroom, some bacon, a piece of sweetbread, a bit of bacon, a mushroom etc. I used four mushrooms and three pieces of sweetbread per skewer each separated with some bacon. Make four skuets in all.

Brush them with melted butter and grill them, turning occasionally for about 15 minutes. Whilst they are cooking, fry some breadcrumbs in butter until brown and crisp.

Serve with some of the browned crumbs and bread sauce as well as some nice vegetables.

#317 Skuets. What a revelation these turned out to be. A really good meal and the sweetbreads were by no means gross. They were very tender and sweet, and tasted faintly of oysters. I put this down to the fact there must be a lot of iodine in sweetbreads as it is required for them to function properly. The salty bacon and the juicy grilled mushrooms complemented it very well. The crumbs lent a nice bit of crunch and bread sauce is always welcome in my book. All-in-all a very good meal. 8.5/10

#284 Veal, Ham and Egg Pie

Okie dokie, so the last two posts have all been on the subject of raised pies. The first one explained how to bake and construct one, and the second explain how to make the jellied stock. Now it is time for an actual filling to complete the full recipe.
This is the first of several fillings for raised pies from the book, and I must admit that I have been putting off making one in case it was a disaster. In the end it was a delight to make.
I chose this recipe because it seemed the most basic, with the easiest ingredients to get hold of; the nearby Central Market sells a range of veal cuts, which are usually tricky to get hold of. Strangely enough, the tricky item to get hold of was the unsmoked and raw ham, gammon or bacon. I searched high and low for it, but to no avail. Luckily, I am now pretty good in the kitchen these days and knew I could cure my own ham overnight in the brine tub I now have sitting at the back of the fridge ready to leap into action whenever I need an emergency curing. I bought a bit of pork loin as it is the leanest cut.
So, to make the filling you will need to hard boil and shell four eggs. Whilst they are bubbling away, get the meats ready: cut up 1 ½ pounds of ‘pie veal’ (I took this to mean cuts for casserole, like shoulder) along with 12 ounces of unsmoked bacon, ham or gammon. You want chunks around a centimetre in size. Add the grated rind of a lemon, a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley, a teaspoon of dried thyme. Mix these together well with a decent  amount of seasoning. Pack half of the mixture in the pastry-lined mould. Place the eggs inside and then the remaining filling (see the raised pie post for pics of this). Then bake as described in the raised pie post.
#284 Veal, Ham and Egg Pie. Whew! This pie pretty much took me a whole Sunday to make. It was worth it though. The filling was wonderfully light and fresh tasting due to the herbs and lemon and the meat flavour was quite subtle, the whole thing kept moist by the jellied stock. The pastry was crisp and tasty too – hot water pastry is so easy, I can’t believe I put it off for so long. I brought it into work for people to try and it seemed to go down pretty well and I’ve been eating it through the week. There’s one slice left know, and I already miss it. Cannot wait to try the next one. I think i have found my calling as an artisan pie-maker extraordinaire! An excellent pie! 8.5/10 (I’m not marking it higher, in case the others are even more delicious!).