Topside Roast

Cooked a good steak last night…

I’ve written a lot about a good steak, grill, meat etc. I have, it could be said, raved about how much I love a well aged piece of beef. And I do. If push comes to shove, I would have to confess that the occasional bit of very expensive beef has been a trifle disappointing. In one or two cases, downright tough.

My favourite taste in beef is Rump and a fast disappearing roast that Mum called a pocket of steak (in fact Topside) which she would stuff with a good seasoning (stuffing) of sage, onion and bacon, stitch up the deep pocket and slow/fast not sure in todays changing world, my guess, 180 Celsius and roast for ages. The meat would be grey and quite deceased, the stuffing collapsing into the pan, the potatoes would be burnished a deep brown and the gravy would leave you speechless with delight.  On occasions I  think to channel Iris to repeat her performance with no intrusions of  todays wisdom(s), slow cook, fast cook, stuffing, no stuffing, par cook potato, fat, no fat, dripping no dripping and on and on. I think a decent plate of Mum’s beef, awash with a gravy with islands of roast potatoes in a sea of green peas and a decent slab of long cooked tomato and onion ‘savoury’ could well revive the near dead.

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And so I search. I think that I am haunted by ghosts that will never go away, I may be hanging on to my mother’s apron strings, I may be seeking the ellusive tastes of my youth, I may be in some sort of fantasy, and yet I am never content, or rarely. On occasions I must have come close, my children all get glazed looks on their faces as I remember the meals of my youth, so it must be that in my endless search, I have served my own children with at least variations on the theme and they remember. Perhaps I am perpetuating desire!

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Its not always about a beef dinner, it is sometimes about a steak. Yet in my food memory, Mum never did cook steak. Memory is a fickle thing, she must have, my guess is that they would have been grilled, my mother was inordinately fond of her gas grill. But I don’t recall ever seeing a T bone or such and all these cuts would have been at my family’s Butcher shop, having been slaughtered by my father.

In the endless pursuit of some lingering taste that has sat at the back of my palate for so long I set out to find a good piece of Corner Topside… I was struck dumb, what I had always thought of as a butchers stand by, is now rarely available. Reason 1, most butchers do not buy whole sides of beef. Reason 2, most butchers buy all their beef in cryovac. Say no more. Between this and hearing some of the horror stories I have heard of what goes on in the food scene in China, I have had my world rocked enough today.

Confession.. the two steaks I had came from a cheaper end source, they were Sirloin and what attracted me was they were thick cut and well marbled. They would for sure have been cryovaced and could have come from New Zealand via the free trade agreement and by extentialism, China. I deserve flogging. Clearly I was sucked in by my desire and my moral stand was hurled from me. I am sure this will have earned me a ban from Farmers Markets for a few weeks.

I have a hugely good quality wok, it is one of the woks with a slightly squared off base and a wooden handle. Its ripper. It was perched on the stove, I felt lazy, the weather was cooler, I turned on the gas and started to heat the wok to pulsating heat.

Salt is one I have some issues with, I try and keep the use of salt to a minimum and so I will oil the meat, but very rarely do I salt it. I know what some celebrity chefs’ say, meat loves salt etc., but my body does not agree.

Oil the meat, use a decent oil, let the wok reach pulsating heat and throw in the steaks, no more than two at a time, it will crackle and spit and smoke will rise, but be brave, let one side cook until well browned and then turn it over and cook the other side in the same way. Remove from the pan to a warmed plate and allow to stand for a few minutes. I like medium rare, so ended up with a steak that was well browned on the outside and medium to rare in the middle.

A simple green salad with a decent glass of wine, some Imperial Russian Mustard, a light sprinkle of salt and a grind of black pepper, delicious meal.

Let me return to the Topside…

The cut itself was by far the most popular roast and in the UK, still is. For some reason it has fallen from popularity here and now, is even hard to get. I contacted a number of the better end butchers and purveyors of excellent meat, one only had it in stock, all offered to get it in for me. I am yet to check one of my other recourses, the Chinese and Vietnamese butchers in Little Vietnam and in Box Hill, they are some of the few who still break down a full carcass of beef and so all cuts are available. The down side is that the Chinese and Vietnamese cooks of beef, do not like beef fat, hence all beef ‘roasts’ are presented sans fat. A Topside roast without fat in unimaginable and for my grandfather, an anathema, not to be tolerated. I have tried to ask them for slabs of beef fat to put on the top as it roasts, but this is usually greeted with slightly peeved looks as if I am asking for a bowl of poison.

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My suspicion is that this cut of meat and the methods needed to cook it, have slipped from usage and knowledge and so it has joined the ranks of missing links with the likes of bolar blade, shin, thigh and so on, now ubiquitously labelled ‘gravy beef’. We seem to have lost the art of roasting, casserole and stewing. This sadly means that the cheaper and very tasty cuts of meat have all slipped into oblivion and become part of the hamburger mince brigade. I have even spent time with my own family trying to convince them that a few hours spent in the market seeking out the cheaper cuts and then a further bit of time in the kitchen will fill the refrigerator with some delicious, inexpensive food. Consider braising, sometimes called pot roasting. The method is superb for cheap cuts. I suspect that because very few ‘celebrity’ chefs on television will cook a cheap cut, this may also account for the demise of many cuts of meat. It may be that time challenges many cooks who must cope with a floating family and the need to feed them, but in the language of the teachers of good housekeeping in the past, a little bit of forward planning will help.

Topside can be cooked a few ways, but let me look at just two. Topside as cooked by my mother is not in todays world, considered good eating. We seem to have evolved a preference for beef to be pink (even if the bloody stuff from feed lots starts out pink with white fat) and this means you need to be looking at shorter, hotter cooking times. Yet Topside is not well suited to this as it is a working muscle, full of taste, but a muscle and it needs to be broken down in the cooking process. This suggests longer slower cooking if cooking it in the roasting pan in the oven. My ‘aunty’ in Port Fairy who worked at one of the local hotels as a cook, simply slathered the huge roast in copious salt and pepper, rolled it in some flour, browned it on the stove top, in the roasting pan and then the whole lot was placed in the oven with a generous handful of chopped onions, a few big spoonfuls of dripping and it was allowed to cook until brown, smelling wonderful, and nothing to do with rare.  It was carved in great swathes of thin meat and piled up with a great lick of rich brown gravy. An essential part of any chefs/cooks armoury was a sharp carving knife.

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Translated into todays world, salt, pepper and flour the roast, brown on all sides and place in the baking tray on a bed of onions and garlic, with a good sluicing of olive oil, into a 160/180 Celsius oven for a about 20 to 25 minutes per 450 grms of meat, the lesser time will give a rarer piece of beef. In my mothers case it would have been 180 Celsius for 30/35 minutes per pound (450 grams) and then a further 35 minutes to be sure. The concept of resting the meat was unknown and my father would have been busy carving and should there be any juices at all, then they would be poured into the gravy as my mother stirred for a good 20 minutes. The kitchen table would be laid with a table cloth, set with salt and pepper (tall silver affairs) and a much loved family mustard pot which contained mustard freshly mixed by Iris, a pot of redcurrant jelly, giant white serviettes in silver rings on. Dad was not fond of carving at the table and so Mum would serve all on the kitchen bench and ferry plate fulls’ of food to her eagerly waiting family. Since Dad was always fond of a great roast dinner, this would be on the menu at least twice every week, with Sunday lunch being fixed in stone and then perhaps Wednesday evening. Mum was adept at making enough gravy to warm some left over for a semi repeat performance, or, should I be allowed, the gravy would be warmed up and slathered on buttered toast for breakfast. Remains a firm favourite even today.

My suggestion, revive the roast, revive Topside cut and don’t cook it in the modern way, it cannot be served rare, it will be tough. It needs long cooking to break down the muscle structure. Harass your butcher. Don’t be tempted to buy fatless , it needs the fat to baste as it cooks.

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~ by peterwatson on February 10, 2014.

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