Salt Beef

Russell Norman. The man appears to be unstoppable. Having brought us Venetian, then American diner, his new venture – Mishkin’s  – opening on Friday promises Jewish comfort food – matzo ball soup, knish, and what I’m most excited about – salt beef. I truly am the grand daughter of a butcher. 

Made from brining and then boiling a rolled beef brisket, salt beef is mainly credited with Jewish origin, although versions of it were around in Britain as early as the 1600s. Tender, juicy and, (you guessed it) salty, there are few things better in a sandwich, slathered with mustard and piled with gherkins and sauerkraut.

Although it’s mainly found in sandwiches, salt beef is surprisingly versatile. To give a for instance, a friend of mine served it at her winter wedding with mash, green beans and gravy. When I first heard about it, my forehead wrinkled a little, but it worked perfectly – it tasted delicious and was a crafty way of serving over 100 people perfectly cooked beef without having to worry about it being pink. It’s fab with fried eggs and chips if you fancy a truck-stop dinner and I also love it in a hash – much the same as you’d have corned beef, or on its own, cold, with bubble and squeak. And gherkins. Always, always gherkins. Salt beef and gherkins are like Pippa Middleton and the Daily Mail. Without one, the other’s existence becomes pretty meaningless…

Salt beef is sadly missing from many menus in London and I can’t understand why, since it’s such a universally popular, cheap preparation of meat. Plus it keeps for ages, so the wastage must be significantly lower than fresh roast beef. But fret not, because it’s extremely easy to make your own. You will need… 

About 1kg beef brisket

200g salt

75g sugar

couple bay leaves and garlic cloves, bashed and peeled

15g mixed pickling spices (I like to use mace, star anise, allspice, juniper, couple of cloves and coriander, but whatever you fancy)

flavourers, for simmering (leek, onion, bay, carrot, thyme etc)

1 Put the beef brisket in a large saucepan with the salt, sugar, bay, garlic and pickling spice. Cover with about 2 litres water, bring to the boil, remove from the heat and leave to cool.

2 Take the brisket out of the liquid, place into a double lined heavy -duty freezer bag and add the brine over the top. Get rid of as much air as possible, then seal the bag and chill for up to 10 days.

3 When you’re ready to cook, remove the brisket from the brine, rinse and pat it dry. Put back in a saucepan with your flavourers (a mix of any of them is fine), then bring to a very gentle simmer and cook for 2-4 hours, keeping the water topped up to cover the meat until you can run a skewer through it very easily. Remove from the water and eat while still hot, or allow to cool and carve. It will keep for about a week.

So while you’re enjoying that at home, I’m booked into Mishkin’s for lunch at the weekend. And since those corporate swine seem intent on closing the lovely nearby Gaby’s deli who’ve been serving salt beef to the stars since the 60s, (try saying that with your mouth full), I hope that Russell Norman can provide me with a suitable alternative. I have faith. And I’ll keep you posted.



Filed under London, Musings, Recipes, Restaurants, Savoury

11 responses to “Salt Beef

  1. Pooter. P.

    Nice post, TrueFoodie. I like Salt Beef a lot. Phil Rabin’s Nosh Bar, on Windmill Street, just off Piccadilly, was an old haunt.


    ‘It is still remembered fondly by many people, including renowned food critic AA Gill, who said of it “Nosh Bar on Windmill Street, which sold fantastic pastrami on rye with Dutch pickles and lemon tea. It was staffed by ancient rude men with sad eyes and brilliantined hair, who wore white coats. The walls had posters for old East End boxers. It was heaven… and it’s gone, along with all edible Jewish food in London.”

    Phil Rabin’s Salt Beef establishment was where the musicians, actors, dancers, fixers, criminals, tarts, theatre-goers and assorted Soho characters of the day would gather to eat, drink and talk. The Nosh Bar was also frequented by many boxers as well as boxing managers and promoters, owing to its proximity to Jack Solomon’s Gym in nearby Ham Yard and it was a favorite of the showgirls from the Windmill Theatre’.

    I loved it.

    • This is exactly why I’m so angry they’re closing down Gaby’s Deli. London is gradually losing its identity and originality to a deluge of Starbucks and Stradas. And it doesn’t benefit any of us, all we end up with is substandard food and piped muzak!

  2. Lyndsay

    Well you know I feel no meal is complete without meat, so I am greatly looking forward to tucking into some salt beef Friday lunchtime! I love the sound of your recipe too. I might have a go at cooking it! Or maybe I’ll just hope you cook it for me one day…

  3. Kate

    You’ve opened up a whole new world to me truefoodie – well, not to me, but the boy will be booking in to Mishkins like a shot.. and I will be hunting for the veggie option (yes, boring, I know!). By the way – I’m loving your list of ‘Places I Like’. I’m book-marking it now for every time I’m stuck for a new place to eat. Thank you!

  4. MrGlen

    Brilliant article, I am truly inspired to have a go at making this, thank you. Will have a wee go and send you a snap!

    Now, can I ask the daft question of the day?

    What’s the difference between Salt Beef and Corned Beef and do you have a recipe for the latter?

  5. That’s some of the best beef I’ve ever seen. The colour is wonderful.

  6. This is really interesting. I am currently in Texas where Salt Beef features at many restaurants and I would live to see more in London as in a sandwich with pickle and rye it takes some beating. keep up the good work Truefoodie, I eagerly await every new blog.

  7. so, I’ve a question. Is Mishkin’s actually kosher or just Jewish style food? I NEED to know! I can get my fix then.

  8. Are you surprised that I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post? Salt beef seriously rocks!
    I took my now husband (then boyfriend) to Golders green when we first started going out just so he could understand what I was going on about. Nothing beats a proper kosher salt beef sandwich. It’s like nothing else. I am seriously thinking about popping over there right now after reading your post. Why oh why are there no kosher restaurants in Bromley!

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