Spiced Shetland Beef

by Marian Armitage -

I recently bought an eighth of a 'Coo'. This fine animal was reared in Cunningsburgh by Hazel and Kenneth MacKenzie. He was a Saler/Simmental Cross and his name was Chooka Parker. He was slow reared and slaughtered at the Lerwick Abattoir at 30 months (any older and regulations dictate that the carcass must be split and the spinal cord removed).

He was then hung for three weeks.

The biggest of the cuts I bought was a hefty piece of rolled brisket weighing just over 4 kilos. The brisket is cut from the chest muscle of the animal which bears more than half of its weight, consequently the meat can be tough - so it is ideal for long, slow, moist cooking.

I had a big family gathering coming up so this provided an ideal main course.

Spiced beef is a very traditional dish in Ireland around Christmas and I carried out a bit of research to find a good combination of seasonings (Elizabeth David - 'Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen' and Theodora Fitzgibbon - 'A Taste of Ireland in Food and Pictures').

Traditionally, saltpetre (potassium nitrate) is used to produce the characteristic pink colour of cured meats. It is not easy to find in the small quantity needed : a piece of bacon added during cooking will help provide this effect. However, I did not use it at all and and adjusted the salt to take account of this, I was also very happy with the finished colour.

Forward planning is essential.

The spice mixture is made and is rubbed into the meat for 7-12 days.

Tip the dry mixture from the pestle and mortar over the beed and start rubbing.

Rub hard - all over!

As the juices are produced the meat needs to be turned and basted. This only takes a couple of minutes a day and it greatly increases the anticipation.

Turn and baste the meat each day for 7-12 days.

Make sure the meat is well coated with the spice mixture.

A big pot with a lid - and a cool outhouse is ideal for the weeks of spicing.

The meat is then tied up for cooking slowly for 4-5 hours with some root vegetables.

Ready for cooking.

After 5 hours slow cooking in the oven.

When done, it is lifted out of the cooking pot and allowed to cool between two large plates with a heavy weight on top until the next day. This pressing of the meat makes it easier to slice and it will keep in a cold larder, or the fridge for at least a week.

The pressed beef will slice well with a good sharp knife.

Spiced Shetland Beef

Course: Main

Servings: 25 people

Prep Time: 30 minutes on day 1 then 2 minutes each day - basting

Cook Time: 5 hours

  • Rolled brisket - 4 kilo
  • Black peppercorns - 10 grams
  • Bay leaves - 4
  • Whole cloves - 5 grams
  • Whole mace - 5 grams
  • Juniper berries - 10 grams
  • Allspice berries - 10 grams
  • Soft brown sugar - 100 grams
  • Coarse salt - 100 grams
  • Garlic - 4 cloves
  • Fresh ginger - 30 gram piece
  1. Assemble all the ingredients for the spice rub.
  2. Pound together in a pestle and mortar for maximum aroma - or use a food processor. Untie the meat and rub the spice mixture well into the meat.
  3. Keep meat in a cool place and baste and turn the meat daily for 7-12 days.
  4. Re-tie the meat firmly and place in a large pot with the spice mixture. Use water or stock (and a large glass of wine or beer if you prefer) to just cover the meat. Add a roughly chopped onion, carrot, celery, neep etc - for flavour.
  5. Bring to the boil then put into the oven at 100 degrees centigrade. Cooking time 5 hours.
  6. Remove from the cooking liquid and put the meat between 2 large plates with a heavy weight on top - a fine beach stone maybe?
  7. Garnish as you wish. Sliced oranges and parsley add colour and flavours.
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