Braised beef has been cooked in Britain for as long as cows have been dying in the name of food. Sadly, braised beef has something of a poor reputation in the UK, which is possibly due in no small part to the lampooning of the dish in the 1909 Harry Champion song Boiled Beef and Carrots. This is a shame because braised brisket is very good. Maybe we ought not called it ‘boiled beef,’ and instead look for a grander title – the French have pot au feu, the Austrians have tafelspitz, and the Italians enjoy brasato.
In Italy, braised beef is characteristic of the North of the country, particularly in the mountainous regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, where the grass grows thick and rich, and the cattle graze like kings. The braising liquor usually includes some of the local red wine, which is most often made from nebbiolo grapes, and comes bottled as famous varieties such as Barolo. I would hesitate to chuck a Barolo in a brasato, preferring to drink it; but you can use Gattinara, Dolcetto or Barbera or Barbaresco with impunity.
Usually called ‘brasato al Barolo,’ the recipe I follow comes from Anna Del Conte, the favourite chef writer of Nigella Lawson. Del Conte hails from Milan, so I suppose this is why she calls her recipe ‘alla Lombardia.’ To those familiar with casseroling, the recipe is peculiar because none of the vegetables are pre-softened. This is because they are not actually eaten as recognisable vegetables – rather they are blended into a rich, thick sauce that is spooned over the carved meat. This means that you will need to prep a side veg to go with this. We used steamed tendersweet carrots and halved steamed Brussels sprouts finished with a sear in a hot fry pan. Ciabatta was on the side to soak up the sauce and provide the carbs. Brasato is most often served with Vichy carrots and mashed potato or polenta.
Brasato alla Lombardia
- 2 tbsp neutral oil
- 1kg whole, boneless braising joint (e.g. brisket or silverside)
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 celery sticks, chunked
- 2 carrots, chunked
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Large grating of fresh nutmeg
- 2 cloves
- 50g butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 200ml red wine (try to get something from the North of Italy, e.g. a Barbera)
- 1 Knorr rich beef stock pot dissolved in 100ml boiling water
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat an oven to 150˚C.
Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan. Once hot, brown the meat well on all sides. Remove the meat to a plate.
Put all the vegetables and spices, butter and olive oil into a casserole. Put the browned meat on top.
Deglaze the frying pan with the wine and reduce briskly for 30 seconds.
Pour the wine and the stock over the beef, cover, and place in the oven for 3 hours, turning the meat every 30 mins.
Once cooked move the meat to a carving board, skim the fat from the liquor and discard the bay. Blitz everything else in a food processor until smooth and adjust the seasoning.
Serve carved meat with a little of the sauce poured over, and the rest in a gravy boat for extras.