December 1997


Topsham, Devon 8 December 1997 Oh dear. Just as we had all begun to think that it was safe to eat beef again, this week's government ban on the sale of beef on the bone due to possible links with a new strain of CJD (the human equivalent of BSE or "mad cow disease") has made us all think again. Is there a real health risk and if so, should all beef be banned? Or is the risk so miniscule as to be virtually non-existent? The point is that these off-the-cuff pronouncements leave us all in doubt and wondering what to do. At the least, it means no wing rib of beef this New Year's Eve, and, more importantly, no reduced demi-glace to use as a base for rich classic sauces.
For the record, though, and at the time of writing, we still are eating beef occasionally and will continue to do so not least because we continue to have faith in our excellent local butchers, both Arthurs of Fore Street, Topsham, which supplies only prime Scotch beef, mainly from the Aberdeen Angus breed, and G Davd, Clyst St George (in the Picfresh shop), whose beef is home-reared and is mainly from the prime Red Devon breed. Indeed, we have lately greatly enjoyed this classic beef braised in Belgium beer, a warming casserole that is easy to make and delicious with fluffy mashed potatoes, a dish for winter now that the weather has turned so bitterly cold these last few days.

Beef Braised in Belgium Beer

While this warming casserole can be made with any type of robustly flavoured beer such as English bitter or Irish stout, we think that the wine-like, high gravity Trappist beers from Belgium give outstanding results. Our favourite is the outrageously strong Abbot from the Sint-Sixtus monastery at Westvleteren, though this may be difficult to track down unless you visit the monastery itself. More readily accessible and also excellent include Chimay's "blue top" or Grande Reserve beers or the outstandingly hoppy Orval. And of course make sure and drink the same beer that you use for cooking!

900 g/ 2 lbs best stewing steak

600 ml/ 1 pint Belgium Trappist beer

2 red onions, sliced

6 carrots, sliced

1 tbsp brown sugar

3 bay leaves

2 sprigs of thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

450 g/ 1 lb dried prunes

In a large casserole, marinate the beef with all the remaining ingredients for about a day. Bring slowly to the boil on top of the stove and skim frequently. Cover and place in a moderate oven (160° C/325° F) for 2-2 1/2 hours. Adjust the seasoning and serve hot with mashed potatoes.

Drink Suggestion: The same beer that was used in cooking; alternatively, mixing beer-cooked foods with wine causes no problems, so try a not overly tannic but full red such as a good Beaujolais cru or a Burgundy from Rully, Montagny or the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

Copyright © Marc Millon 2000


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Copyright © Marc and Kim Millon 2000