Monday 6 October 2014

Penny celebrates with a fore rib of Angus beef... while I cry in the kitchen.

Penny's standing in the middle (purple cardi). Her four daughters on the left.
Penny wanted beef for her birthday; a premium cut. We decided on a four forerib of Angus beef, supplied as ever by Julian at Wades Hill Butchery. It's a joint I've cooked several times before, most recently for Belinda's 50th birthday. Experience of the cut is key here; you don't want to be experimenting with a joint of beef when it leaves you with little change out of £80. But let's discuss that later.

So why did I cry in the kitchen (nearly but not really)? It was my first ever dessert disaster. Blimey. But - as the disgraced politician says - I'm sure you wouldn't want to intrude on private grief would you? 

The keen eyed among you will have noticed there are eleven people here. This is only the second time I've had more than ten guests and there are always issues - Someone has to sit on a garden chair for a start - but Penny had five close friends, a partner and four children and I wasn't going to insist she leave one off the list. It meant that two of her girls had to sit in the space of one but we muddled through.

Four rather camera shy Abba lovers.
Ah yes, young people. "If there's some modern music you fancy we'll put it on." I said, thinking they would ask me to play some Rhianna. But these were people born with no knowledge of vinyl, cassettes or CDs - human beings who can barely conceive of a world pre iPhone - so they had no fear of my elaborate AppleTV wifi streaming set up. Before I knew what was happening I'd ceded musical control and Abba was playing rather more often than I'd anticipated, or desired.

That's the last time that happens!

Where's the beef? Oh, right there.

Anyway, back to the beef. That's the joint above, all 5.5 kilos of aged Angus beef - about 12 lbs, for those of you who can remember vinyl. Fabulous meat (that's my favourite word in a Welsh accent by the way. 'It was fab'lus boys, fab'lus').

Recipes for roasting a rib of beef vary wildly in their approaches and cooking times. Some would have me incinerate it for four hours at 180°C, whereas Jamie Oliver is happy with just one, which would be still mooing. The problem of one joint for nine people (there were two vegetarians and no matter how much I entreated them, they didn't want the meat) is of course some like their beef with no pink, others like it walked quickly past a cool oven. My mother opted for briquette brown. I went for a medium pink. Meat probes are your friend here. There's no other way, apart from experience of knowing what the insides are like. You don't want to be hacking this open like a tendentious breast of cheap chicken.

There's an essential dichotomy when roasting any meat. Meat is better textured at low temp. However, taste needs high. Chefs find many ways to combine the two, everything from a blast of a hot oven to (expensive) sous vide water bathing followed by a blow torch.

When you oven roast a large joint you also have to factor in resting time. Meat must be rested. Even that tendentious breast benefits. Current thinking is moving towards a resting time almost as long as a cooking time. I say 'current thinking' but I found one recipe from the 1960s that instructs you to cook the beef for 30 minutes at 240°C and then turn off the oven and leave the meat for another few hours. Certainly an energy efficient option. Some chefs, like Heston Blumenthal, sear the meat in a pan and then roast for 6+ hours at a very low temperature - maybe only 60°C. That's something I need to try. 

I'm also not keen on pan searing meat. It seems like lost gravy flavour to me. Surely a hit of very hot air to brown and crisp is better? Keeping any sticky bits in the roasting pan seems sensible.

In the end, I roasted mine for 30 minutes at 240°C and then (allowing 26 minutes per kilo) two hours and twenty odd minutes at 160°C. Lost of recipes tell you it should be 40 minutes per kilo for medium. Ignore them. Really. IGNORE THEM. I have no idea what that figure is based on but it's utter bobbins. Even 26 minutes is playing it safe. It won't be rare.

The meat was covered with double foil and a blanket for around an hour.

I didn't know I was going to have to rest it for so long and with hindsight would have taken it out after maybe two hours. Meat really does keep cooking long after withdrawal from the heat. I imagine its the outer layers cooking the inner.

Rather unforgivably, I forgot to take a pic of the finished joint. I even employed a Frenchman to come and cut it (thanks Philippe). Here's some onions instead.

What? Dessert disaster? Do we have time? OK. Bugger.

I've made chocolate soufflés successfully many times. Not on this occasion. I do think it was partly numbers. I needed to whisk 450g of egg white. That's around fourteen eggs. My mixer just can't deal with that volume. I should have done this in two batches but, nervous of egg deflation, I did it in one.

Why was this such a mistake?

Soufflés consist of a thick flavoured base folded into meringue. The meringue needs to be slack enough to fold through without breaking down. Too stiff egg whites and you have to basically beat it in, losing essential structure. With egg white overflowing my bowl I couldn't really see the structure. Excuse, excuse, yadda yadda. Bad chef blames his tools... literally! I'll know for next time.

And so it came to pass: instead of a satisfying, quivering vertical rise, these babies domed and flowed like awful lava. My guests were brilliant though and no one complained (I would have). The one saving grace is that soufflés taste great even if structurally knackered, it helps if they're served with vanilla mascarpone and salted caramel sauce. But then, anything is helped with a serving of salted caramel sauce. That's how to get people eating insects!

As they used to say on Blue Peter, after Shep had eaten Tracey Island... this is how it should have looked.

On the plus side, a guest did tell me the gravy (red wine, beef stock, roasting and resting juices, port and Marmite) was the best she'd ever tasted.

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