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
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.