Saturday, August 28, 2004

Corned Beef

Years ago I picked up a little book with a title something like A Simple Cookery Book for the Working Classes. The author was Queen Victoria's chef, apparently.

My favourite recipe in the book was the recipe for jugged hare; now and again I would consider varying the dinner menu at home by getting hold of a dead bunny and jugging it. Readers of a certain age will readily infer from this fact that Ihave never read Watership Down nor the Fabula Petro Cuniculo which was equally celebrated in its own era. This latin classic, which Zeppo Bakunin is fortunate enough to have in his personal library, begins:

OLIM erant quatuor cuniculi parvi, et eorum nomina erant -
Cauda Linea

Cum sua matre in arena infra radicem abietis maximae habitant.

The recipe for jugged hare begins in an equally idiosyncratic manner. As I don't have the book to hand, I'll have to quote it from memory. It goes something like this:

If you are a tenant on a great estate, it may sometimes happen that the owner will make you a gift of a hare which has been taken by hunting. And if you do receive a hare in this way, this is the manner in which you should cook it.

Although I don't particularly want to turn this blog off into some kind of foodie diary, I'm starting to think that I might occasionally write on the theme of practical cookery for the politically correct. The seed was planted by a remark to the effect that there weren't enough people writing about how cooking is actually done; a lot of the foodie press, and the foodie television, is about how cooking could be if you only were a celebrity chef or had the time and money to get off to specialty food stores and buy bizarre ingredients like dried sour cranberries (which featured in the epicure section of Tuesday's Age in a recipe for "cobbler", the American equivalent of our crumbles). That ought to do it for the prefatory remarks, let's get down to business.

If you live close to a tram line that runs past Melbourne's Victoria Market, it may sometimes happen that you will go there and buy a one and a half kilogram piece of corned silverside from one of the butchers there. And if you do purchase corned silverside in this way, this is the manner in which you should cook it1.

Take a large stockpot and place an inverted dinner plate into the base of the pot (if you live in a shared household and the plate is not your own, you should obtain the owner's permission to use the plate). Alternatively, you can use one of those poncey, expensive stainless steel pots with a colander insert that I saw in the window of a kitchen equipment shop in the eastern suburbs the other night. If I could afford one of those, I might not be cooking corned beef, except as an occasional exercise in culinary slumming2.

Fill the electric kettle and plug it in to boil while you prepare the beef. Rinse the beef in cold water and place it in the pot on top of the plate (the plate is there to prevent the beef from sticking to the base of the pot as it cooks). Add the water from the kettle, and top up with cold water until the beef starts to float. Now add:

A couple of bay leaves;
Some peppercorns (just grab a few more than you can count from the jar or packet);
Four inches or so of greens of leek or
A whole onion, halved and peeled;
A dried out celery stick from the fridge (as long as it isn't mouldy) or
The entire stems and leaves of a celeriac.

You can also add any old turnips, parsnips or radishes you might have hanging around the fridge. Beetroot and pototoes on the other hand are a definite no-no; beetroot will obviously discolour the beef and potatoes will leech starch into the poaching broth and cloud it3.

(In some households, you may have to deal with housemates who object to the idea of spending $9.00 out of kitty on a slab of corned beef and then putting it into a pot of water with a load of kitchen garbage that's only fit for throwing out. The simplest way to deal with this is don't get caught. I hasten to add that this is not a problem here in the Pascoe Vale dacha.)

Bring the water to the boil and lower the temperature so that the stock is simmering. This can be a bit tricky to detect with the plate in the bottom of the pan (the steam from the boiling will collect underneath it; at irregular intervals there will be enough pressure to lift the edge of the plate and release the steam).

Simmer for an hour and remove the garbage from the stock. Finally allow the beef to simmer for at least another two hours. The timing isn't all that critical and the pot can be left to simmer unattended while you write a blog about how to cook corned beef. Of course it is prudent to check on it occasionally. And perhaps turn it over at least once during the simmering, so that the top of the piece gets to sit in the deep water as well as the bottom of the piece.

Once the beef is cooked you can, of course, serve it up for dinner. There's nothing wrong with the traditional accompaniments of cabbage (preferably Savoy) and mashed potato (Desiree or Bintjes, if you can get your hands on them). Before you carve the beef, you'll need to remove it from the stock and sit it on a clean plate for a few minutes to drain off excess moisture that might otherwise run into the mash and turn it into an unsightly sludge. After you've carved off enough beef to serve, the remainder goes back in the pot.

If you're going to use the beef for cold cuts and sandwiches, leave it in the pot once the heat is turned off and allow it to cool overnight. Remove it to a clean plate the following morning, cover it and put it in the fridge.

1: I think a few words on the selection of the beef might be useful. I find it easiest to trust the butcher on this one. The first piece of corned beef I cooked this way was selected this way; the butcher held it up and said "How about this one? It's got a nice eye piece in it." It was, indeed, a nice eye piece and after cooking it, I trimmed out the eye. After I had removed some fat, the eye slices presented very well on the dinner plates with the Savoy cabbage and mash. Today's piece was also butcher selected. It's not quite as good looking as the eye piece, but it's a good middle cut with a consistent grain throughout which is good for sandwiches.

2: Another alternative is to use one of those fold out steamer things you can often pick up in the kitchenware section of the supermarket for a few bucks. I used the plate because I didn't have one of these to hand. And I may as well grudgingly admit that I wouldn't mind having one of those poncey stainless steel pots with the colander insert in the kitchen cupboard because they're bloody useful and not just for boiling pasta.

3: If you're wondering why swedes don't score a mention here it's simple; swedes are not a vegetable, they're cattle feed. Why they turn up on sale for human consumption is beyond me. I wouldn't be surprised if feeding people swedes turned out to be one of those wartime austerity measures that just stuck after the Second World War ended, like the Japanese "tradition" of eating whale meat.

The Potemkin Museum of Antique Humour

Recent Acquisition: Clarke, J (aka Fred Dagg), Australia
An Honest Man (circa 1979)

Ah, yeah g'day. Now I'd like to have a few words with you concerning the very interesting remarks made during the year by that nice little Mr Howard who is employed as a reader by Malcolm. And now that the dust has paid settlement tax a couple of things do seem to demand analysis.

The first of course is that Small John has been making a courageous attempt to redefine the concept of the honest man. Now you, or I and certain other head-in-the-cloud no-hopers I can think of might cling to the antediluvian view that an honest man is a man who is honest. And, on a purely superficial level, this would appear to be not totally unreasonable. But apparently, on close and heavily subsidised inspection, this transpires to be unsatisfactory thereby failing to incur satisfaction tax as laid out in Schedule 6E of the annual map of the buried treasury.

An honest man is not a man who is honest; an honest man is a man who is dishonest but is quite honest about it. A man who hides his dishonesty, now he'd be a dishonest man. But disarming honesty about previous dishonesty is apparently OK. Of course the dishonesty in the first instance is annulled by the subsequent honesty and any reference back to it would be the act of a dishonest political point scorer.

If a man decides to be honest about his dishonesty, not only is he an honest man but, if he does it consistently, he can be said to be a man of principle. Although having to be dishonest in the first place, in order to be honest about it later might worry some of you older people who foolishly accept that being a man of principle is something akin to being a man of principle.

A good example of all this, is the way Malcolm and the Gang of Plus Fours have turned the country upside down in order to get inflation down. And now they say this time next year, inflation won't have come down. And unemployment won't have come down either and the CPI won't have come down and the only thing that will come down is the honest and highly principled August Budget and with any luck, it'll go down with all hands. I'll get out of your way now, I'll see you later.

Acknowledgements: Thanks are due to Chris Sheil at Back Pages for linking to this report in the SMH and to Zeppo Bakunin, who turned up the cassette tape from which this transcription was made. Any errors of spelling punctuation etc are of course down to the curatorial staff and not the original artist.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Adlympic Experience

I finally managed to watch an entire Olympic event last night. It wasn't one of the major events, like the crucial play-off between Australia and the US in the women's water polo to determine who got to take home a job lot of bronze paperweights and who got sent packing with a clip behind the ear and an admonition to try harder next time; it was a later game between a couple of those minor European countries. The kind of countries that are full of people who bang on and on about their long history and rich cultural heritage because basically they're no good at the things that really matter in this world like sport and free-trade negotiations.

Seven's coverage of the game had a promising beginning; Tony Squires deftly introduced the cross to the Aquatic Centre where Mike McCann and Debbie Watson took up the commentary. There was a bit of a hitch getting the game telecast started; first they had to get a small presentation ceremony out of the way. This took a couple of minutes, then the referee blew his whistle for the swim off. Greece took possession of the ball and the game was on.

Something mildly dramatic happened (I forget what) and in the lull that followed, as the teams repositioned themselves for the next passage of play, someone decided it was the perfect time for a word from our sponsors. I estimate that Greece scored the first goal of the game while that rock group were onstage in that outback pub singing "We Are One but We are Many" on behalf of Telstra. Within a couple of minutes, three more goals had been scored and Mike announced:

Greece take the lead, three goals to one.

I think this might be one of those subtle points of water polo; you're not really winning until you're at least two goals in front; if there's only a one point difference the game's more or less drawn. Especially if you're scoring goals when the ads are on and the TV audience can't actually see them happen.

With the Greeks in the lead, Italy very naturally found "themselves with a bit of work to do", managed to equalise again after two more beautiful goals (all the goals were beautiful, except for one or two which were either magnificent or spectacular). But Italy's work wasn't over; as Mike said:

The Greeks are on absolute fire here.

There were some amazing things going on in that swimming pool, let me tell you. But the game wasn't just a scientific marvel; it was a sporting marvel as well:

No one would have anticipated these two countries playing for the gold medal and not only are they playing for it but the Greeks are leading the Italians...

I was starting to feel the tension a little myself, but Seven very thoughtfully inserted a soothing series of advertisements for: Hi Fi Supermarket; the video and DVD of Mel Gibson's The Passsion of the Christ; that new Nivea shower oil that makes it impossible for idiots to tell whether they're touching a woman's skin or her underwear; the Mitsubish Magna; and all the new crap Seven will be showing once the Olympics are over. While those were showing, Italy scored another goal but I have no idea whether it was beautiful, magnificent, spectacular or merely perfect.

The play went on, and with it, the commentary:

There goes another one [shot at goal] which just about beat the keeper but she knew it was just a touch wide... [Debbie]

What a game - worthy of a gold medal match... [Mike]

It was good to know that even though Greece and Italy don't really rate in world water polo, both teams had managed to rise to the occasion and produce the sort of game we're entitled to see when an Olympic gold medal is in contention. I only saw the last quarter of the US/Australia game so I can't really say whether it was worthy of a bronze medal match or not. It may well have been, but it doesn't seem politic to say so. However that may be, there was one revealing moment which showed that the lessons of the Sally Robbins affair are starting to sink home, at least in some media circles: we saw "Jo Fox taking a break for Australia". It's good to see that the commentators have picked up on the need to give public recognition to those who also serve their country by putting a one hundred and ten percent effort into being comfortable and relaxed for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, back in the less than crucial play-off to decide who whether it would be gold, gold gold for Italy, or gold, gold, gold for Greece, the score reached 6-5 in Greece's favour and once again it was time for a word from: LG, official sponsors of bloody annoying interruptions; Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ; New Idea; Ingham Chicken Nuggets; Adidas and Qantas, the airline that still calls Australia home. Both teams may have been slacking off a little, because the score was still 6-5 when the ads finished. A twenty second exclusion for a major foul and Mike announced:

Now it's Italy with a man up...

So it seems I missed the substitution of the entire Italian men's water polo team for the women's team thanks to the ad-break. It might have been this that sent the Greek coach into the hissy fit that got him yellow-carded. How the referee managed to miss this substitution, which left in charge of a women versus cross-dressers match, is beyond me. Perhaps there's some arcane set of Olympic rules for water-polo which allow this sort of thing (perhaps on equal opportunity principles) in the same way as it's possible, under the rules of Olympic boxing, for one of those kid's punching toys (the ones that always roll back from a punch) to gain points and even win a match, just by being hit very often about the head.

Italy equalised with 2 minutes and 28 seconds of the quarter left, which provided the perfect opportunity for Samsung and Herbal Essences to slip in a quick word. Italy managed to get a man up a second time before the end of the quarter, but the scores remained tied when the quarter finished and we heard some words from Extra Thick Sorbent, Live NRG, Hungry Jack's, Extra Thick Sorbent and a couple of Seven's other Olympic partners. While those cute little kids in the junior football team were giving themselves concussion on the banner made from Extra Thick Sorbent, the score went to 7-6 in Greece's favour.
Shortly after the instant replay of there was another twenty second exclsuion which, Mike noted, put:

Arriucca in the sin bin for Italy...

That's the great thing about the Olympic ideal; there are so many ways you can bring credit to yourself and your country. If your game is a bit off on the day, you can take a break for your country as Jo Fox did in the Australia/US match or you can get yourself sent off for your country as Arriucca did in the Italy/Greece game. When you consider the possibilities, the notion of just going out and playing your best looks a little pedestrian; when you take a break, you have to make it your best break and when you get sent off, you have to make it your best send off.

The scores were equalised again with a goal that, according to Mike:

was there for the taking and it was taken by Micelli...

With the game drawn, two three minute periods of extra time were added to decide the outcome, but first there was a short pause, which Seven used to remind us that: Qantas still calls Australia home; Australian Oranges are full of good stuff like vitamin C and folate; Seven will be running a season of "Disney Classics", starting with Mary Poppins next Friday; Thrifty Link is a good place to buy Father's Day presents as long as your dad isn't Red Symons; and Ryan Bailey went for gold for Australia in the kierin and got it (this Seven High Performance moment brought to you by Holden). Then it was back to the game.

For once the players got their timing right: Greece scored the first goal of extra time after the ads had finished. It was difficult not to share Mike's excitement at the Greek team's brilliant new tactic of trying to win by scoring more goals:

What a way to start! What a way to start! It's Greece in front!

Once again, Italy equalised and then took the lead; by now fatigue was taking its toll on the players. As Mike observed:

These players must be absolutely dead on their feet at the moment...

It was pretty clear that fatigue wasn't just telling on the players; it was getting to Mike as well. Realising that he had strayed into one of those "and here, unless I'm very much mistaken, and I am very much mistaken" moments, Mike attempted to recover with a remark to the effect that well their feet must be dead too because of course the players aren't allowed to stand on the bottom of the pool but must tread water at all times. You could tell that Mike was dead under his hair at this moment.

But the Greeks, who had been on absolute fire in the first quarter were well and truly burnt out; the Italians held on to win the game and it was all over bar the philosophising. Mike rallied long enough to provide a few critical insights:

There will be some disappointment, some despair for the Greeks ... A case of so close but so far for the Greeks ... but in time they'll be very proud of their silver medal...

Indeed so. And the United States' women's water polo team will be very proud (but not quite as proud as the Greeks, because that would be unseemly) of their bronze medals. And the Australian team have probably got something to be proud of as well, but it wasn't mentioned in any of the commentary so I can't tell you what it is.