Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Buying beef in Brussels

I adore red meat, especially beef - I couldn't live without it. We eat it at least once a week, but buying "proper" beef in Brussels (dark red, juicy and marbled with fat) is surprisingly difficult...

In an ideal world my first port of call would, of course, always be Jack O'Shea. Our "Irish Butcher" started out here 15 years ago and has since opened a second, equally successful shop in London opposite Harrods. All his meat is organic and truly amazing. (And my son has a special claim to fame when it comes to JO'S' wares: my husband was queueing in the shop to pick up a pork loin for a dinner party when I realised (12 days early) that that wasn't going to happen that night: "Hi. Best to come home now. Baby on its way. Do not leave the pork. I REPEAT: BRING.THE.PORK." Said loin was stashed in the freezer and we raced to the hospital - where our son was born six hours later weighing EXACTLY the same as "the pork" (3.322g)...).

But, alas, I usually have to buy my everyday beef at the supermarket and/or from local butchers - and here lies the conundrum: it is, unfortunately, not what you would expect from a nation that seems to live on "steak & frites": it's almost always totally lean, pink and bland - more like veal. (This is because in the 50s, more and more Belgians were suffering from heart diseases which were linked to their red meat consumption, so a new "healthy" breed was introduced - the tasteless "Belge Bleu"...) I get around this by buying my local Carrefour/GB's imported Irish or Scottish beef - but only when it's reduced by 30% - 50%: this means I can pick up a lovely juicy steak for around 5-6 € - a bargain! And in the last year or so Delhaize (our "sort-of Sainsbury meets Waitrose" supermarket) seems to have gone back to the olden days: they now sell perfectly decent entrecotes etc. for around 15 €/kg.

So - how to cook my beloved beef? Well, during the week it regularly pops up as a stir-fry - and my favourite is this Ken Hom adaptation - SO SO fresh, quick and lovely:

Beef and orange stir-fry (serves 2)

300-400g steak
1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
a fat thumb of ginger, peeled and chopped
dark soy sauce
1 tbs of vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 tsp szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1 tsp - 1 tbs sugar
a good splash of Chinese rice wine
the zest of an orange
a few drops of sesame oil

Combine the beef, spring onions and ginger in enough soy sauce for a marinade for at least 30 mins. Heat the oil in a wok/large frying pan until it's smoking. Fry the marinaded beef and vegetables for a few minutes. Add the garlic, szechuan pepper, sugar, wine and orange zest and finally the sesame oil.

And on the weekend I like nothing more than a proper griddled steak with creamy mash and wilted, garlicky spinach. AND the best one, for me, is coated with a porcini mushroom rub: simply grind dried porcinis (or any other wild mushrooms) in a (spice/coffee) grinder. Mix with seasoning and rub into each side of your steak. The rest will keep for months in an airtight container.

But the latest discovery has been hanger steak (onglet) which I finally managed to track down in Delhaize. This is one of the cheapest, most tasteful cuts of beef which used to be known as "butcher's steak" - because butchers used to keep it for themselves rather than offer it for sale! (Each onglet was only 2.50 €). Because of its loose-grained texture, it should be quickly seared over very high heat for 3-4 mins on each side and should be served still quite rare. It was absolutely delicious:

I served it with one of my staple Thai vegetable salads with a Nam Jim dressing (adapted from the great Australian chef Neil Perry's Rockpool restaurant):

Pound 2 garlic cloves, the stems of 1/2 a bunch of coriander (or 6 roots if you can get them) and a bit of sea salt to a paste in a mortar. Add 2 tbs brown sugar (or palm sugar), 3 tbs of Thai fish sauce and 6 tbs of lime juice (that's 2 limes).

The original recipe uses 4 - 6 fresh small green chilis to be added for the paste.
You can use any veg you like - but make sure to also add a handful each of coriander and mint leaves to the salad.
4 tbs of lightly roasted and crushed peanuts are also included in the original recipe.

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