If britishfoodinamerica were a populist tabloid or traded in popular history we would entitle this recipe chain something like “The True Story about the Lost Recipe of Britain.” That of course would be misleading. It is not as if anybody has lied about the nature of the dish or conspirators decided to bury it from public consciousness, but then all such taglines turn out to be distortions.
It is, however, hard not to wonder why spiced beef has disappeared. It is cheap and easy, although it does require a week or so to cure, and you do have to spend five minutes or so with it for each day during that time. The flavors are not archaic or extreme; they are spicy, sweet and salty, but also mild. And during these trying times that hunger for the comfort of family ritual, spiced beef would be a good one to revive, although despite the self-promotional blaring of Elizabeth David it never quite died.
Spiced beef, like corned beef or pastrami, is a method of preserving meat that predates refrigeration. The dish is associated by tradition with the holidays but may be cured and eaten, cold in thin slices, at any time of year. It keeps for a long time in the refrigerator and is handy for serving dinner guests or impromptu visitors during the busy season.
Suitable cuts of beef for spicing include brisket, chuck, top round, sirloin and shin. The cure that people use varies by temperament and region but the common denominator is the pairing of sugar and salt. Some cures add molasses or vinegar or both; juniper appears in spiced beef from most but not some parts of England. Black pepper goes into the cure a lot of the time and so does allspice in varying proportion. Henry Sarson added cloves, green herbs and, uniquely, rum in 1940. Old School cooks cook the cured meat under a blanket of fat to keep it moist.
A more detailed discussion of these variations appears within our “Appreciation of Vincent Price” in the lyrical. Meanwhile the Editor has found that two recipes reliably produce excellent spiced beef presented in the manner of Justice Stephen Breyer’s Supreme Court opinions. Measurements for both of these recipes are by weight.