Bloody mary makeover: Braised corned beef
When I joined the food writing fraternity I learned very quickly to establish my own cuisine vocabulary and style. There was the issue of copyright, but also it ensured consistency for readers. To that end I — and no doubt my colleagues — prepared a personal “style-guide” so that whatever you wrote, you used the same names and measures.
It was the middle of the 80s, the time of the evolution of the “foodie”, a term that took hold in the UK after the publication of The Official Foodie Handbook by food writer Paul Levy and editor Ann Barr. (It quickly moved on from being anyone skilfully trained in the art of food and writing about it, to anyone and everyone who ate out where platinum credit cards were essential.)
My style index omitted the word “stew” because, like said foodies, I believed there were some expressions that belonged back in the previous century. Anything stewed brought back memories of Nana’s grey-hued Irish stew. My mentor, Tui Flower, berated me no end for such a misguided attitude.
“It is, girl,” said Tui, “a method of cookery frequently using tougher cuts of meat that welcome being cooked in plenty of flavour-infused liquid.”
To that end, cooking corned beef could be considered stewing — for it should certainly never, ever, be boiled or it will be tough. This wonderfully economic and tasty cut of meat was, just a few years ago, one of our biggest-selling meat cuts. On special, a retailer could expect a 500 per cent increase in sales. We knew to include corned beef often on Food in a Minute, though we learned quickly always to add kumāra, not potatoes, for even greater success.
In our rushed world, corned beef is losing out to expensive, quick-cooking cuts. It may also be that, like the balsamic strawberry eaters of the 80s, today’s cooks think of corned beef as a cut meant for last century — not so.
Just this week I smiled when I spotted beautifully packaged flank skirt steak — a cut once only used for casseroling or mincing — for sale at $22 per kilogram; lean corned beef was $7 per kg and cheaper than canned or cooked and pre-sliced deli corned beef.
The change in status of many family staple dishes is varied. To begin with, our expectations have risen. Programmes such as Master Chef and My Kitchen Rules, and social media platforms, are all aimed at producing restaurant-style meals and, by default, have devalued many much- loved, slower-cooked favourites, especially those wrongly considered “boiled”.
We’ve also been influenced by America, in particular the southern states. Flat-iron steak, popular in Texan barbecue cuisine, transforms cross cut blade — another economical slow-cooking, stewing cut — into a hefty priced item. Flank skirt steak’s new-found popularity has been led by the fajitas fashion — it’s the traditional cut — and it too now comes with a fashionable pricetag.
Our tastes have sweetened over the decades, and corned beef served with mustard sauce no longer cuts the mustard (excuse the pun). Once the dinner prep-time wish was 30 minutes, now it’s 10 minutes or less. We want it now, and without a slow cooker, dishes that require slow cooking are simply seen as too difficult. Sadly too, I’m told leftovers are out of fashion. Last night’s flavours are not wanted two days in a row, but convenient, costly, plasticwrapped, throw-away packs of cold cuts are.
To remedy this, I’ve given the humble cut of corned beef a makeover to inspire any foodie. First, stew gently with bay, oranges and pepper before braising slowly in a Bloody Mary-inspired sauce until the meat can be pulled to pieces and sandwiched in sliders with a decent daub of roasted kumara and spoonfuls of the reduced spicy sauce. Cheap foodie food never tasted so good.