Beef has always been our go-to protein for a big occasion – just witness the triumphant nature of the beef Wellington.
If beef has been overtaken by chicken in recent times it is mainly because the latter is more affordable and perhaps a little lighter, but as chefs will tell you – beef is still the nation’s favourite.
What to look for when buying beef
Always buy beef from a decent butcher that knows the providence of the meat being sold, and always opt for organic meat if you can, preferably from British or Irish farms. As well as the more common breeds such as Aberdeen Angus and Welsh Black, rare-breed beef is also becoming more widely available, with breeds such as Dexter and Beef Shorthorn becoming more popular due to their intense flavour.
The key to tasty beef lies in the fat distribution – this imparts flavour and moisture into the meat, so look for cuts with marbled fat throughout. The length of time the meat has been hung for also has a huge impact on the flavour and tenderness of the beef. Hanging beef for a longer time breaks down enzymes in the flesh, and causes water to evaporate from the meat. After a good long hanging, the meat becomes a deep-red/brownish colour, with relaxed, tender fibres and an intense flavour. Beef should be stored covered in the fridge for a few days, or frozen.
How to cook beef
Different cuts of beef require different methods of cooking, due to the different structures of muscle fibres and fat distribution in the animal.
When cooking beef, always season it first. You can keep it simple with salt and pepper, or rub garlic, herbs or spices into the flesh. Use a meat thermometer; it will help determine what stage the beef is cooked to, from rare to well done, and gives a more consistent result.
Allow the meat to come up to room temperature before cooking and leave it to rest for at least 10-15 minutes after cooking – this allows the juices to spread throughout the meat, resulting in more succulent and tender meat.
Slow-cooking methods for beef
Beef suitable for slow cooking tends to have a high fat content, longer muscle fibres and more connective tissue. The most common cuts of beef for slow cooking include beef topside, braising beef, shin, cheeks, oxtail, and brisket.
Once the tough fibres are broken down from a slow cook, these cuts, ignored for a long time, are some of the most flavoursome around. Pot roasting, stewing and braising are all excellent methods for slow cooking beef. Brining beef is also great for achieving a tender finish – brisket is submerged in a flavoursome brine for a week to make classic salt beef.
Quick cooking methods for beef
Tender cuts of beef are better suited to quick cooking, either by quickly pan-frying, barbecuing or lightly roasting in the oven. A hot, direct heat is necessary to cook the beef quickly, but be careful not to overcook, as the beef will become dry and tough.
The cuts of beef which are most suited to rapid cooking are the parts of the animal that have had the least exercise, such as minute steak, fillet steak, tournedos, Chateaubriand, sirloin, rump, rib eye, and porterhouse steaks, among others. Beef can also be ground down into mince for quicker cooking, and flavoured with an assortment of herbs, seasonings and bindings to make burgers. When cooking beef quickly in a pan or on a barbecue, flavour can be added by marinating the cut overnight.
What goes with beef
A mainstay of British cuisine, as well as in Ireland and much of Europe, beef is traditionally served with a variety of greens or root vegetables, which complement the natural tenderness of the meat. For sauces, beef is often served with or cooked in a red wine or Madeira sauce. Marcus Wareing opts for a hybrid sauce, using both brandy and red wine in his roast sirloin of beef recipe.
If looking for something slightly different to serve with beef, why not use Luke Holder’s beef cheek and fillet recipe as inspiration, which pairs the meat with Dorset snails, or even Mark Jordan’s recipe which uses lobster as a partner to Jersey beef fillet – both of which demonstrate the versatility of beef’s flavour.
Longhorn beef sirloin, pickled walnut salsa verde and Tropea onions by Merlin Labron-Johnson
This stunning aged-beef sirloin recipe is served with charred Tropea onions, pickled walnut salsa verde and fresh watercress for a memorable main course. Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson uses Longhorn beef aged for 86 days for unparalleled depth of flavour and texture.
600g of aged sirloin of beef
50g of salted butter, high-quality
Flaky sea salt
5 Tropea onions, large
Red wine vinegar
Pickled walnut salsa verde
1 bunch of parsley, small, finely chopped
100g of walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
6 pickled walnuts, finely chopped
400ml of light olive oil
1tbsp of Dijon mustard
1tbsp of capers, finely chopped
1 anchovy, finely chopped
Lemon juice, if needed
Preheat the oven to as high as it can go. To begin, prepare the onions. Place the onions whole onto a large square of tin foil and season with salt and oil. Fold the tin foil over the onions to create an envelope and seal the edges. Bake in the oven for 40-55 minutes until cooked but not soft. Set aside. To make the salsa verde, mix together all of the ingredients and season with salt, plus a little lemon juice if needed.
To prepare the sirloin, rub the beef with oil and salt, and set aside in a warm place until it reaches a temperature of approximately 45C. Heat a heavy-bottomed cast iron pan until smoking hot and sear the beef on one side for 1 minute.
Turn the beef onto the other side and leave for 20 seconds. Add the butter and baste the meat for a further 40 seconds. Remove the beef from the pan and place on a tray. Pour the cooking fat from the pan over the beef and leave to rest in a warm place for 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut each onion in half and place cut-side down onto a hot pan or plancha with a dash of oil. Once well-coloured, remove from the heat, separate each onion half into individual petals and season with salt and a little vinegar
Pour the fat and juices from the beef into a pan and add the salsa verde. Warm gently over a low heat. Slice the beef and arrange over warmed plates. Dress with the warm salsa verde and onion petals, then finish with some dressed watercress.
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