- Food & Drink
If there is one certain rule in cooking, it’s that you should never cook something new for a dinner party. Never put yourself through the stress, all the cook books and writers shrewdly advise. Stick to what you know. And this is good advice, but it completely ignores the blind panic that sets in when you’re cooking for people who aren’t forced to say how nice it is because of familial ties.
Suddenly you become convinced that what you normally cook is so boring, so drab, so blandly, insultingly dull that you wouldn’t blame your guests if they upended their plates over your head and left, smearing gravy and butter over the walls in protest at the pitifully ordinary food you’d dared to serve.
And this is how I came to make Medieval spiced beef stew for Food Urchin when he asked me to take part in Where’s My Pork Chop? The idea is simple: to hand Food Urchin a two course meal in Tupperware that he can reheat that night and then review on Where’s My Pork Chop? That’s right, review. You can see why I thought that my usual Sunday night miscellaneous stir-fry and bar of Galaxy wouldn’t do.
I turned to my current favourite cook book, Seven Hundred Years of English Cooking, and poured over it looking for something that would be nice reheated in a microwave. There wasn’t a lot of choice, Medieval cooks apparently preferring to serve their food hot and fresh from the stove rather than warm and coagulating from the microwave, but eventually I hit on the beef stew.
There followed three hours of cooking, a lot of nervous sniffing and tasting and thinking: “My God, what if this just tastes really weird?” Finally I sat down to a meal of beef stew, and it was good. As ever, Medieval cookery’s reputation for excessive spicing and sweetness didn’t manifest itself in the real dish (or, at least, not in this interpretation of the real dish) and if he didn’t like it, there was always rice pudding with Peckham elderberry jam and lashing of cream for dessert. You can read Food Urchin’s review here.
Medieval spiced beef stew
1.5kg lean braising steak, chopped into bite-size chunks
3 tbsp plain flour
Oil for frying
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp (small pinch) ground cloves
4 black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp cardamom pods, crushed and green pods discarded
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 large sprigs parsley, stalks and leaves finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
900ml beef stock
50g stale wholemeal bread, torn into small pieces
3 tbsp cider vinegar
Pinch of saffron threads
1 Toss the beef with the flour to coat. Cover the base of a large casserole dish with a thin layer of oil and place over a medium high heat. Add the beef in batches and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned.
2 Return any browned beef to the pan with its juices. Add the spices, onion and parsley with a splash of the stock and fry, stirring frequently and scrapping up the crusty layer from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon, for about 5 minutes until the onions have started to soften. Add the rest of the stock with a pinch of salt and bring to a gentle boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, until the beef is tender.
3 Meanwhile, soak the bread in the vinegar with the saffron. Stir into the stew and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes until the bread has broken down and the stew is thick. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with bread and buttered green vegetables, garnished with chopped fresh parsley.