The French have finally stopped thinking of us as les rosbifs. At least that was the impression I got on a recent rosé-tasting trip to Provence. When I showed them a copy of my new book, The Simple Art of Marrying Food and Wine, written with Malcolm Gluck, a couple of the wine producers had to admit we've moved on from the traditional roast beef and claret, even if they find marriages such as South African pinotage with black truffles hard to swallow.
Roast beef isn't the be all and end all of Sunday lunch, as once it was, but I think we're becoming more knowledgeable about our cuts of meat, and these days aren't afraid to buy a rib of beef with a good layer of yellow fat and roast it so it's pink in the middle. People want to know where the beast comes from, not just what temperature to roast it at.
Some farmers are re-introducing rare breeds. A friend of mine who owns a farm in Devon recently asked me down to cook some fillets of his White Park cattle, and the meat was fantastic. They are the oldest breed of cattle in the UK but there are only about 450 breeding White Park cows left in the country and they're incredibly highly prized.
For British Food Fortnight, earlier this month, the chef at the Butler's Wharf Chophouse in London bought a whole White Park cow to serve at his restaurant. They are bred at Cranborne Estate in Dorset and sold at the local store belonging to the estate ( www.cranborne.co.uk). Other rare and traditional breeds that are especially delicious are Belted Galloways and Red Polls. Every region of Britain used to have its own unique breeds, but some have inter-bred over the years and some have died off altogether. In our restaurants, we use Glen Fyne cattle, a cross of local breeds that live out on the Highlands.
The problem with rare breeds, as with all meat, is that everyone wants to use the same prime cuts, but the farmers and butchers obviously need to sell every part of the beast. We should try out different cuts which are often cheaper, but full of flavour. That way we can experience the taste of the best beef without breaking the bank by buying fillet steak. Bavette, or flank, for instance, is used in France for steak frites. It is a little chewier than sirloin but has lots more flavour. And braising cuts such as the cheek and shin are usually sold minced or diced, when they're really good left intact in casseroles, daubes and stews.
Steak haché, or chopped steak, is the posh hamburger of France. It owes everything to the quality and freshness of the meat. If you go to a good butcher's shop in France they will mince and mould it in front of you so all you need to do is season and cook it like a steak.
I prefer to use minced rib of beef, although topside will work equally well as long as you add a bit of extra fat to keep it moist during cooking. You could ask the butcher to mince a bit of fat in with it, from a rib preferably.
What you serve with your steak haché is up to you. Chips or salad would make a good start and anything from béarnaise or bordelaise sauce to ketchup goes down a treat.
800g fresh, coarsely minced beef (rib, topside or sirloin) with 20-30 per cent fat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little oil for grilling
Mould the meat into 4 pattie shapes - the best way is to push the meat into a round or oval pastry cutter. Season the meat and lightly oil a ribbed griddle, barbecue or heavy-based frying pan. Cook for 21/2-3 minutes on each side for rare and approximately 2 minutes more for medium. Serve with the sauce underneath to make it look more like a grown up's than a children's supper.
Pho bo (Hanoi beef noodle soup)
For years I thought this Vietnamese workman's soup was pronounced as it reads, ie "fo". When I did get round to actually tackling Heui, my local Vietnamese restaurateur at Cay Tre, in Shoreditch, east London, he said it as "fff", as if he were about to tell me to go away.
So pho is rather like a sort of noodly French pot au feu - which is handy as feu sounds almost the same in French as pho does in Vietnamese. It's a soup of the moment where almost anything can go in the pot. But the stock base is essential. I've eaten watery phos where they haven't got this right, so it's worth taking the trouble to make a proper stock.
The best and most authentic versions of pho I've eaten contain beef tendons and tripe as well as brisket and thin slivers of raw beef, just added at the last moment. If you can't find these in your local butchers then the flavour of the braising beef will make a good stock for your pot au pho.
For the stock
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
A small piece of galangal, or ginger, scraped and roughly chopped
500g braising beef (cheek, brisket or shin)
150g beef tendon (optional)
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 stick of lemon grass
1 star anise
3 cardamom pods
1tsp black peppercorns
For the soup
150g beef sirloin, or fillet
60g cooked beef tripe, thinly sliced (optional)
150-200g bahn pho dried rice sticks, or flat rice noodles
4-6 spring onions. trimmed and shredded on the angle
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
2tbsp fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
A few sprigs of coriander
A few sprigs of Asian sweet basil
First make the stock: spread the onions and ginger on silver foil and put them under the grill for 6-7 minutes until browned (be careful not to let them burn) then put them in a large pot with all the other ingredients and a couple of litres of water, bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 2 hours, or until the beef is tender.
Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and remove and put aside the beef and tendons (if you're using them). Season the stock to taste and return to a clean pan and bring to a simmer. Cut the cooked beef into chunks and divide into large Chinese-style soup bowls with the tendons (if you're using them).
Cut the raw beef into paper-thin slices. This may be easier if you freeze it for 30 minutes to 1 hour first then slice it. Cut each slice into rough 3cm squares and distribute between the soup bowls. If you're being really authentic and using tripe, add this now.
Meanwhile soak the rice sticks in cold water for 30 minutes then drain and cook for 1 minute in lightly salted, boiling water and drain, then briefly run under cold water, drain and divide into the soup bowls. Simmer the spring onions, chilli, fish sauce, beansprouts, coriander and basil in the broth for a couple more minutes then pour into the soup bowls.
Once popular all over Britain, now this only seems to be found in Ireland and occasionally the Midlands. It's commonly known as huntsman's beef. For centuries meat would have been preserved by salting, and this method is more than likely a development of that process with some festive spice added. I recommend having one of these around for Christmas, for unexpected guests and family.
The longer the beef is cured, the longer it will keep, though now we all have fridges traditional ways of preserving meat aren't as essential. Saltpetre is used in commercial charcuterie and meat curing but it's difficult to get hold of in small quantities. Try the Natural Casing Company in Farnham, Surrey (01252 713545, www.naturalcasingco.co.uk).
1.5kg-2kg piece of boned and rolled brisket, topside, or thick flank
80g sea salt
15g coarsely ground black peppercorns
15g ground all spice
15g ground juniper berries
50g dark brown sugar, like moscavado
Put the beef into a close-fitting casserole, stainless-steel saucepan or plastic container with a top. Mix all the ingredients together and rub into the beef. Cover and leave in the fridge for 10-12 days, turning it once or twice a day.
Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Wipe off all the bits of marinade, then, if you've been keeping the beef in a casserole, rinse it out and put the beef back, or find an oven-proof dish that's a snug fit for the beef. Put a couple of layers of foil over the pot then fit the lid tightly. Cook for 3 hours then remove from the oven and leave to cool for 3 hours. Remove the beef and wipe with kitchen paper. Wrap the beef in clingfilm and put into clean dish with a weight on top and refrigerate for 24 hours. Re-wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
Serve thinly sliced as you would for ham, with pickles, or as a sandwich.
Braised beef short ribs with red wine and carrots
These ribs are the by-product of the Sunday rib roast. They would normally get sawn off in the factory, stripped of their meat for mince and discarded, or sold to chefs for the stock pot. Between these ribs you find probably the tastiest morsels on the beast, perfect for traditional British, French and Asian braises where cuts such as flank, brisket or shin would normally be used. Your butcher may have some to hand and if he does would probably part with them for a nominal price - well, hopefully. Or, ask him to save you some..
2kg beef short ribs, cut to about 10cm
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
1tsp tomato purée
300ml red wine
2 litres beef stock
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme
5 black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the carrots
250g small carrots, peeled
A good knob of butter
1tbsp chopped parsley
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/Gas mark 7. Season and scatter 1tbsp of the flour on the beef f
ribs. Cook them in a roasting tray in the oven with the onion and celery for 30-40 minutes, turning every so often until nicely browned. Transfer the vegetables and ribs to a heavy-bottomed saucepan, leaving any fat in the pan. Add the rest of the flour and tomato purée to the roasting pan and stir over a low heat on top of the stove for a minute. Gradually add the red wine and beef stock, stirring well to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and add to the pan with the ribs and vegetables. Add the bay leaf, thyme and peppercorns, season, cover and simmer gently for 11/2-2 hours, or until the meat is tender. Check it by removing a piece from the pot, it should be almost falling off the bone without being too soft.
Remove the ribs and vegetables from the sauce and continue simmering the sauce until it thickens to a rich gravy-like consistency. You can dilute a little cornflour in water and stir it in if it's not thick enough.
Meanwhile cover the carrots with water, add the butter and sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cook on a medium heat for 10-12 minutes until tender, then drain and toss in the parsley.
To serve, re-heat the ribs in the sauce, discarding the vegetables and herbs, and serve with the carrots spooned over.
There are all sorts of recipes for this classic, spicy-in-a-French-sort-of-way sauce. It's a kind of au poivre with a devillish, piquant kick, and it's particularly good with beef, veal or pork. This is my version.
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
6-10 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
3tbsp red wine vinegar
200ml beef stock (a good cube dissolved in 200ml water will do, though fresh is better)
1tsp Dijon mustard
60ml double cream
8 small gherkins, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the shallots, peppercorns and cayenne pepper in a saucepan with the vinegar and water. Simmer gently until the liquid has almost evaporated then add the butter and stir in the flour. Gradually add the beef stock, stirring to avoid lumps forming, season lightly, add the mustard and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes. Add the double cream and continue to simmer until the sauce is of a thick, gravy-like consistency. Add the gherkins and serve. E
Mark Hix's latest book, 'The Simple Art of Marrying Food and Wine', co-written by Malcolm Gluck, is published by Mitchell Beazley, £20. Order for £18 plus free p&p from Independent Books Direct on 08700 798897