Beef is our luxury meat. We have it infrequently, we lament it’s scarcity, and we plan carefully for meals which include it. We were discussing what to do with a bit of beef, and settled on pot roast.
It was amusing to go to my copy of Scappi’s Opera, and find a place marker hidden on the page for the very dish we were considering, as I had no other markers in the book, and no memory of having placed this one.
BOOK 2. MEAT DAY DISHES: BOVINES
Recipe 11, To Stew a Loin of Beef in an Oven or to Braise it
(not putting the copyrighted translation here, as the book is readily available)
The recipe specifies that the meat should be from grown cattle, rather than veal, but not an old, tough one. It also specifies hanging the beef til tender, that it not be so fresh it is tough. Then, it gets very specific that the cook use what we now know as Filet Mignon. I am not one to braise a Filet Mignon, quite honestly. I have a blade steak, which is a lean chuck cut. It’s not tender, it’s not marbled, but it’s what we have, and the dish is braised, so off we go.
I am very much at a disadvantage here for a few reasons. The original Italian is not included, which is unusual for this translator. I do not understand Italian, and some of the translation does not seem to make total sense to me. For instance, the translator posits malmsey as the wine to use for the marinade, but modernly, Malmsey is a Madeira type rather than the Malvasia varietal the term comes from. Knowing that what is sold as Malmsey is not what was historically used, I chose a simple Muscat.
The instruction to choose either coriander or fennel flour is also given. I do not know whether it specifies the coriander plant or seed, and I do not know whether it means for “flour” or “flower;” Fennel Flower is Nigella Sativa, which is often used as a coriander seed analog. Fennel Flour is the name used in modern Italian for Fior di finnochio, fennel pollen, which has a spicy peppery taste. I have fennel pollen in stock, and chose it for those reasons.
An adaptation I must make is to blend rosewater with a simple vinegar, as I do not have and cannot get rose vinegar.
4 lbs beef suitable for braising. I used chuck, the recipe specifies filet.
Place meat in a vessel appropriate for overnight marination, such as an oven bag.
1 tsp ground Black Pepper
2 TBS Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Ginger
1 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Coriander *or* 1/2 tsp fennel flour. I used 1/2 tsp fennel pollen.
Blend the dry spices together, and sprinkle the surface of the meat evenly.
1/4 c “malmsey” (not madeira type) or Greek wine (x2)
1 Tbs must syrup (x2)
1 tsp rose water (x2)
1 Tbs simple wine vinegar (x2)
Blend wet ingredients, and then measure out another set and blend them in a separate vessel for service.
Add wet ingredients together, sniff carefully and add rosewater very judiciously. Some brands are far more intense than others. You want a change in the scent, but not a detectable rose scent. Modern palates tend to perceive the scent of roses as a soap ingredient.
Marinate for several house or overnight in the fridge.
Braise the meat. I use a pressure cooker when I can, with minimal added water. The instructions instruct to add fresh or dried prunes and visciola sour cherries about halfway through cooking. As I am using a pressure cooker, I cannot open it partway through cooking. Since I allow the meat to rest overnight in the fridge before service, I add the fruit during the reheating phase.
For larger cuts of beef, I use a crockpot and check liquid levels hourly.
I slice the meat while cold,
Place the cold sliced meat in a pot with a tight fitting lid and drizzle the reserved second set of wet ingredients overall. Add some of the braising liquid, place the lid on, and reheat the meat. I served it with a rutabaga dish, though it would go very well with an apple dish or something with horseradish as a main flavoring easily. It’s very versatile.
When preparing for service do try to slice across the grain as best you can. This allows the meat to absorb sauces or braising liquid most easily, and lends to the enjoyment of the dish.
This recipe is within a series of several similar beef recipes, some roasted, some braised. Some call for wrapping in prosciutto, others in rosemary. I use sage rather than rosemary due to an allergy in the house.
I do not spend enough time with Scappi’s Opera. To be frank, it is quite daunting. Not only is it physically very large, it is also organised in a manner I find uncomfortable to navigate.
It has a huge number of recipes and variants, however, as well as notes and instructions, guidance and systems for cooks and kitchen managers. It’s both deep and broad.
There are some concerns with the translation available in print in English, as researched and presented by Terence Scully. Please see http://www.medievalcookery.com/helewyse/Lost_in_Translation.html which discusses these concerns at length should you decide to delve into this book.