Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Face the Holidays – Part II (Spiced Beef)

Yesterday I posted the Country Christmas Cake recipe from Laurie Colwin’s book, More Home Cooking. Today I’m sharing her other Christmas recipe for Spiced Beef. The following is quoted directly from the section of the book entitled How to Face the Holidays:

And now to the spiced beef. Like all of Elizabeth David’s recipes, this one is perfectly expressed, perfectly correct, and perfectly delicious. The fact that I produced this rather magnificent thing shocked even me. My mother was also extremely impressed, as were the six friends who gathered on Christmas day and ate every scrap of the beef, which was cut paper thin.

This recipe is another example of something that takes just a few minutes’ work and pays you back a million times for your meager efforts. That is my idea of heaven: a huge payoff for not too much work.

For Spiced Beef, go to the butcher and get the leanest 6 pounds of bottom round he has. Some supermarkets sell what is called “natural beef,” which is grass-fed, slaughtered young, and tested for pesticide residues. If you can find this, or any organic beef, get it.

Take the beef home, put it in a crock with a cover, rub it all over with ½ cup dark brown sugar, and chill it. Rub it with the sugar once a day for two days. Then crush together 1 cup coarse sea salt and ½ cup each of black peppercorns, juniper berries, and allspice. Rub the meat with this mixture. Continue to chill it, rubbing and turning it for 10 days. This whole operation takes about 10 seconds per day.

When you are about to cook the beef, wipe off the spices (or keep some of them on, which makes it more pastramilike) and put it in a casserole into which it just fits. Pour in a cup of water, put a piece of wax paper under the lid, and roast the meat at 290 degrees F. for 5 hours.

Leave the beef to cool in the juice. Then take it out, wrap it in max paper, and put it on a board. Put another board on top of it, weight it with about 5 pounds (cans will do nicely), and chill it overnight. The beef will pack down and can be sliced thin enough to see through. It has, according to Elizabeth David, “a rich, mellow, spicy flavor which does seem to convey to us some sort of idea of the food eaten by our forbears.”

The following concluding paragraph in the article refers to both the recipe above and the Country Christmas Cake recipe yesterday:

These two delicacies have that profound, original, homemade taste that cannot be replicated, no matter what you spend. They make the person who made them feel ennobled. After all, it is holiday time. Aren't we meant to draw together and express our good feelings for one another? What could be better than to offer something so elementally, so wholesomely down-home and yet elegant? And both go a long way: You can feed a lot of loved ones with them.

So this is my way around the holidays. If I did nothing else, I would still make this cake and spiced beef and fill my head with visions of candles and pine boughs. The sun goes down at four o’clock, the air is damp and chill, but in the pantry my cake is mellowing, and soon I will spice my beef as centuries of people have done before me.

Even if you don’t make the cake or the beef for the holidays, I hope you have enjoyed reading about them.

I plan to make both recipes because, like Colwin, it’s my way around the frenzy of the holidays and also fondly remembering the time when people gave as gifts jars of homemade jam and knitted mittens.

What are some of the foods you always prepare for the holidays? If you are a blogger, please consider sharing some of your recipes.


  1. This is so much fun getting to know all these different Christmas traditions. I feel like it's Christmas season already!
    There are lots of things I like to make for Christmas. Spritz Cookies are my easy favorite, but since my recipe is not original, I can just direct people to the Wilton Cookie Press website for their basic Spritz recipe. ( I can make hundreds, once I get that cookie press going. I decorate them with candied fruit, since colored sugar gets too messy, unless I have help - then I let my helper sprinkle on the sugar.

    1. I'll bet your kitchen is abuzz with activity in December, given your expertise in the kitchen. I sometimes make the Spritz cookies. I'll check out your recipe to see if it differs from mine. Looking forward to future Christmas posts from you.

  2. I have to admit years ago that I made our Christmas cake,pudding plus loads of mince pies (my MIL always made her own mince meat,she use to give it to friends as a pre Christmas gift).....when I look back I cannot equate that baking person to how I dislike cooking now.Ida

    1. In many ways, the English Christmas celebrations I read about sound so neat: The roast goose, Christmas pudding, Christmas crackers, etc. Insofar as cooking now, I'm sure you feel like "been there done that," as I often feel as well. But I think I just try to make the things I've always made to try to get into a Christmas frame of mind. Mostly always works!

  3. The recipe looks great. One question, how is the meat heated up at the end? I'm guessing it is served hot when sliced.

    I always bake candy cake cookies (recipe off the back of a bag of flour in about 1960), We have a traditional meal for Christmas Eve. I make enchiladas, chilies rellenos and whatever else strikes my fancy. Christmas dinner changes from year to year.


    1. Darla, I've only served the meat cold, like on a buffet along with other Mostly) cold items. But I see no reason why it couldn't be heated, even in the microwave.

  4. I did not read the preparing of the meat, because I don´t eat meat.
    However, there is something - a Xmas special - I might share on my blog, closer to the date.

    1. Mette, was wondering if other family members eat meat and if so, what is served at Christmas. Of course, it doesn't have to include meat, but for me Christmas dinner wouldn't be the same without turkey or ham. But I do admire your ability to abstain from meat. Do share one of your Xmas treats with us on your blog!


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