February this year is the 100th anniversary of the battle of Verdun between French and German soldiers. Verdun is pretty close to Germany, as you can tell from the amount of sausages and cabbage they eat there, but Alsace Lorraine is better known for its quiche. Although I’m pretty sure that in the muddy trenches of the First World War, the soldiers weren’t mincing around baking pastry cases full of delicate egg and sautéed onions. Nor would they have been delicately snacking on the sugared almonds the town is known for.
With all this in mind, my recipe is within the boundaries of possibility for something they may have eaten while sticking bayonets in each other. Not that you’d want to make it now you’ve got Waitrose round the corner and the local Indian delivering within the hour. This is pretty tasty though, all things considered and the addition of sugared almonds to the mix gives it some luxury. Also, you can’t really go wrong with a good bit of salt beef and mustard can you? Unless you’re vegetarian, in which case you can.
I went to the butcher looking for brisket but could only get beef shin (known also as foreshank). This is not a problem – if anything, it turns out better as you get to scoop out the delicious bone marrow after cooking and spread that on a good bit of toast. A proper treat.
Firstly, I would advise not driving home with a new tin of paint delicately balanced on the passenger seat, then slamming on the brakes for a pedestrian in the road. If you do, after having cleaned the car and returned to the butcher, you’ll be ready to start.
I assume the following ingredients are always in your kitchen: water (two litres), 250g Himalayan salt (though any salt will do – use less if you prefer), a small handful of juniper berries, a full hand of mustard seeds (yellow in this case, though I would have preferred black), one teaspoon of dried thyme, the same of ginger powder (plus a little more for the hell of it), a teaspoon of black peppercorns, six allspice berries (because that’s all I had left) and a tablespoon of fennel seeds. This all went in a pan with around 150g of golden caster sugar and was brought to the boil, then simmered until the sugar and salt had dissolved.
After watching one episode of Making a Murderer, the brine should be cool. Throw in the beef and two sliced beetroot. Put this in the fridge and spend the next five days, certainly no fewer than three, doing whatever it is you do. Don’t think this is a quick snack you can throw together for lunch in fifteen minutes.
When ready to cook, remove the beef from the brine and go for a five km run. Heat the oven to 130° C, or thereabouts. I had to estimate due to the numbers on the oven dial having worn off – my oven thermometer looked like it had spent the last hundred years in some corner of a foreign field. Cook the beef on a rack for four hours, turning the oven off after three and a half. It was smelling nice and beefy at this point.
You can make the cabbage while this is cooking, or, if you prefer, as soon as you start the brining. It is, after all, all designed to keep. Shred a small, cored white cabbage and put it in a heatproof bowl. Pour whatever vinegar you have (apart from malt) into a saucepan: about enough to cover half the cabbage if it were in the pan. I used the ends of bottles of red, white and cider vinegars.
Bring this to the boil with a tablespoon of port jelly (or redcurrant), a few thyme sprigs, a pinch of fennel seeds and some chilli flakes. Simmer until dissolved and pour over the cabbage and leave to cool. If using a metal bowl, picking it up immediately with bare hands as I did, means you will need to redecorate the kitchen. A bonus will be that you are untraceable by fingerprinting.
Stir the cabbage occasionally and when cool transfer to a storage jar. Shake it about every so often. It’s better slightly warmed when eaten, but works just as well cool, so you could serve immediately. Before serving, stir through about 20 crushed sugared almonds and add chunks or slices of the beef and some fresh thyme leaves. Bread and a bit of mustard wouldn’t go amiss either, nor a good glass of red wine to celebrate your kitchen triumph.