Coming up to St George’s Day (April 23rd) and British Beef Week (23rd-30th April) we thought it was time to feature a roasting joint as our special meat cut of the fortnight. In our minds, most of us who’ve watched too much Nigella, Delia and Hugh FW will imagine enormous joints of sirloin and rib on the bone because they are the anointed (or, in the case of sirloin, knighted) cuts, historically associated with the roast beef of merry old England.
Benighted would be more accurate though, because for most of us mortals topside is the norm. Firstly there’s far more of it and secondly it’s half the price. Cookery writers have always been a little sniffy about it and let’s face it, if we could afford it; we’d probably all go for a piece of sirloin.
Topside from intensively reared, grain fed, American feed lot style beef can have enough marbling to guarantee succulence but it won’t have much flavour and it’s definitely not what we’re about. Grass fed beef is slower growing and, unlike sirloin, topside is a working muscle, so it’s not really suitable as a fast roast. However at 150-160°C, on a bed of vegetables to give a bit of moisture induced, braising effect, it will really cut the mustard – Tracklements English of course. If you have a particularly aggressive, non adjustable, fan oven I’d be inclined towards the pot roast.
Properly hung is synonymous with good beef but it can be taken too far. Seventeen to twenty days is perfect but much more and the savoury intensity takes over. Natural enzymes might help break down tough fibres but, at the same time, the meat will dry out. So in the case of topside there is a sweet spot, but go too far and there’s a danger of it all becoming a bit too intense – both flavour and texture.
Where topside really comes into its own is when cooked in a good sized piece (1.5-2kgs) and allowed to cool slowly under foil, before carving for salads and sandwiches. Pink is a must – HFW recommends a half hour blast at 220°C followed by 10 minutes per 500g at 150°C but I would have thought that would hardly give the oven a chance to cool down so I’d be inclined to go for an all over tan in a hot pan and extend the 150°C cooking period to around 20 minutes per 500g. Core temperature is the important thing so, if you don’t have a meat thermometer get yourself one as a St George’s Day present. For somewhere between rare and medium rare you need to take the joint out of the oven when it reaches 55°C (it will rise a few degrees as the centre continues to cook).
But topside isn’t just for roasting. Like its neighbour, thick flank, it makes good escalopes and minute steaks, ribbons for stir fries and soups, or little finger sized batons for stroganoffs and quick casseroles. Quick is the word – the worst thing you can do with topside in any form is to overcook it.
Like last fortnight’s pork, beaten out escalopes also respond well to the Milanesa bread-crumbing treatment. In Argentina they’ve taken it to the extreme with the Milanesa Napolitana with a ham, tomato sauce and mozzarella topping – a kind of pizza with a steak, instead of bread, base. Recipes abound on the web.
Beef and porcini pot roast with celeriac mash
Pot-roasted beef perfumed with herbs and with a sauce richly flavoured by porcini mushrooms. Dried mushrooms are strong, so although expensive they redeem themselves by going a long way. Alternatively, we have some fantastic cultivated wild mushrooms from Forest Fungi, Dawlish. The pot-roasted veg really absorb the taste of the meat, making them extra delicious. Serve scooped over heads of mash for a very comforting dinner.
1kg beef roasting joint
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves
Sprig of thyme
Sprig of rosemary
2 bay leaves
300ml Italian red wine
8 shallots, peeled
2 leeks, trimmed & washed
4 carrots, peeled & cut into chunks
Handful dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 100ml warm water
3 tbsp tomato purée
4 medium potatoes, peeled & cut into chunks
½ medium celeriac, peeled & cut into dice
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 160°C/Gas 3. In a heavy casserole, brown the beef on all sides in the olive oil, and season.
Throw in the cloves of garlic, herbs and wine and bring to the boil before placing on a tight lid and transferring to the oven for 1 hour 15 minutes.
Remove the lid, add the shallots, leeks, carrots and porcini, and the soaking liquid. Stir in the tomato purée and return to a simmer before placing back in the oven for a further 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Rest the meat for 10 minutes in a warm place before carving. Discard the herbs.
Once the vegetables have been added to the pot roast you can cook the potatoes and celeriac in boiling salted water. Drain and mash with butter then season to taste.
Divide the mash and vegetables between four warmed plates and serve slices of beef roast over them with copious amounts of rich porcini sauce.
Chilli beef noodle soup
This beef noodle soup recipe is soothingly lovely. The list of ingredients looks lengthy, but plenty are likely to be in your cupboard. If you want a quicker, weeknight version, you can get away with leaving out the half-hour marinating time. You could also try substituting the beef for pork or chicken and the veg for whatever you have lurking in the fridge. Pak choi and thinly sliced mushrooms work particularly well.
It might seem a little inappropriate in the context, but with a few obvious substitutions a vegetarian version can be good too.
for the broth:
1.25 litres of chicken stock
2 tbsp miso
1 large knob of fresh ginger, chopped or grated into matchsticks
2 dried chillies
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
½ tbsp cooking sake (optional)
for the marinated beef:
200g beef escalope
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp sweet chilli dipping sauce
for the soup:
150g packet medium noodles
300g selection of crisp seasonal veg & herbs (sugar snaps, French beans, red peppers, spring onions, spinach, coriander, flat leaf parsley, etc.)
Gently simmer all the broth ingredients on a low heat for about an hour. Sieve and discard the solids. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you have any cooking sake, a couple of tablespoons might help but what you want is a balanced background flavour – there are plenty of additions to come.
For the beef: bash out the escalope with a rolling pin (the thinner the better) and cut into ribbons. Mix with the soy sauce and sweet chilli dipping sauce and marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
To make the soup, break noodles into manageable lengths and tear or chop the veg into bite-sized chunks. Bring the broth to the simmer, add the noodles and veg, turn up the heat to bring back to the simmer.
After a couple of minutes, add the beef (without most of the marinade), finally sprinkle over the chopped spring onions, herbs and leaves.
Eat immediately before the noodles go soggy and the beef overcooks.