How to cook a whole cow
The cut: Brisket
The dish: Brisket with tzimmesIt becomes clear early on in our sessions at the Ginger Pig that butchering is something of a virility test, even for the girls. There’s nothing like sawing bones, or even better, hacking at them with a meat cleaver, to work out any residual feelings of aggression from a day of wrestling with sub-clauses at the office. However, as Borut demonstrates, there’s also a delicate artistry involved in creating a joint of meat. Not only must you be able to wield an appropriately sharpened knife so you waste as little meat as possible, you must also be able to shape it by binding it with string and tying knots as enthusiastically as any Girl Guide.Personally I’ve never sported the blue uniform of the Girl Guide, but wearing a blood-splattered butcher’s coat, the whole process of tying knots suddenly seems a lot more exciting. The cut of meat we’re dealing with today is brisket, which is boneless, and comes from the lower chest of the bullock. The word apparently comes from the Middle English ‘brusket’ which itself derives from the earlier Old Norse ‘brjôsk’, meaning cartilage. A major component of cartilage is collagen, and because there is a lot of this in brisket, the joint responds best to long slow cooking which makes the collagen gelatinous. Before any of this happens, however, the meat must be rolled and bound. ‘Like this,’ declares Borut, putting the reel of blue and white string in his right pocket, before spooling a length out and wrapping it round the outside of the beef. He then deftly creates a slip knot, so the meat can be secured as tightly as possible before the string is cut off and the next loop made. The first time I see him do it, it’s as inexplicable as if he’d just produced an egg – free-range, obviously – from behind my ear, but then I start to pick up the method.
Brisket is not a fashionable piece of meat, not least because of the hours of cooking needed to make it tender. However, it’s very popular in Jewish dishes as a pot roast. So I decide to make a Jewish New Year recipe, brisket with tzimmes – which, for an Anglo-Catholic clergyman’s daughter, feels highly adventurous, not least because it involves both prunes and carrots. But its similarity to a tagine encourages me to go ahead and, after some worrying transitional stages, it ends up extremely edible. Rachel Halliburton
Brisket with tzimmesPut 350g of chopped onions in a casserole, place the brisket on top, then cover with water and boil for two hours. After the first hour add 250g of prunes and a pound of carrots, plus salt and pepper to taste. Peel and slice the potatoes and put them in a separate dish, then take the beef from the liquid and place it on top of the potatoes along with the prunes, carrots, and onions. Create a roux sauce with a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of plain flour, then add half a litre of the liquid. Season with 60g of brown sugar and the juice of a lemon, and pour over the beef. Bake in an oven at 190C until the potatoes are cooked and the meat browned. We bought our longhorn, Del Boy, at Ginger Pig. For information about Borut’s butchery classes, see www.thegingerpig.co.uk .