Carpetbagger steak is a classic combination of beef and oysters, so why not add some bacon, a mild herb and bath of red wine to braise a brisket? That is what the great Elizabeth Raffald did in 1769. The recipe appears in The Experienced English Housekeeper as “Beef Brisket à la Royal.” Her instructions represent a model of clarity, further proof that the Age of Enlightenment has much to teach us. Six to eight pounds of beef should satisfy up to sixteen happy people. The recipe may be halved without impairment.
- about 6-8 lb brisket
- about 6 bacon slices cut into 2 inch slices and folded over
- about 2 cups chopped oysters
- a cup or more of minced parsley
- heaped teaspoon nutmeg
- scant ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon black pepper
- about 1½ Tablespoons flour (preferably Wondra)
- about ⅔ to ¾ of a bottle of decent red wine
Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Slit the brisket along its grain at intervals of only about an inch. Alternately stuff the pockets with bacon, oyster and parsley. Season the meat all over with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, then dust it with the lightest coat of flour.
- If your brisket still wears its fatcap, place it on the bottom of an overdish big enough to hold the brisket without curling. Pour the wine around rather than over the meat to prevent washing away all the seasonings and bring it to a boil.
- Cover the pot and braise the brisket in the oven until it accepts a butcher’s fork with ease, usually in from 2½ to 4 hours..
- To serve the beef, fish it out of the pot and cut it into thickish slices perpendicular to the grain.
- Strain the winey stock and serve it with the meat.
-The brisket is good with mashed or smashed potatoes, a robust green salad and, as Mrs. Rundell knew, a garnish of pickles; pickled walnuts, if you can find some, are best.
-To make smashed potatoes, all you do is quarter redskin or other fairly small potatoes, cook them in a little salted water until tender, drain them, add a splash of milk, bring it to the boil, then sling some salt, white pepper and wholegrain mustard into the pot. Mash the mess and stir generous heaps of chopped scallion and unsalted butter into the mixture until the butter melts.
-Resist all temptation to go the conventional route and lavishly salt the brisket. Both the bacon and oysters leach lots of salt into the meat and especially the reduced wine.
-In the Weekend FT of 8-9 February 2014, Rowley Leigh shares a good trick to ensure that the brisket is not overfloured. Place the brisket in a colander when you season it, tapping and bouncing the meat gently to shake off any excess flour.
-In Fresh From the Past, an excellent book on eighteenth century British foodways, Sandra Sherman includes a modern version of Mrs. Raffald’s recipe but unaccountably omits the flour and favors cutting the oysters in half rather than chopping them. Bad moves both; the flour flavors and thickens the sauce; attempting to slide half an oyster into a slit is something like trying to push on a rope. Chopping the oysters not only makes it easier to shove them into the pockets but also facilitates their disintegration so the oyster tang gets distributed evenly.
-Sherman, but not Mrs. Raffald, requires basting the beef at half hour intervals. That is unnecessary (the wine emits plenty of steam to shroud the beef) but do check the pot on occasion to ensure that the wine does not evaporate too much.
The exemplary original recipe from Mrs. Raffald:
“Bone a brisket of beef, and make holes in it with a knife, about an inch one from another, fill one hole with fat bacon, a second with chopped parsley, and a third with chopped oysters, seasoned with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, till you have done the brisket over, then pour a pint of red wine boiling hot upon the beef, dredge it well with flour, send it to the oven, and bake it three hours or better; when it comes out of the oven take off the fat, and strain the gravy over your beef: garnish it with pickles, and serve it up.
-Her royal reference is somewhat obscure. Brisket is a relatively cheap cut and oysters appear as seasonings in lots of eighteenth century recipes because oysters were cheaper still at the time.
-Boiled beef is an old English favorite, what Fergus Henderson calls a ‘real John Bull.” Other traditional recipes for boiling beef appear in both our recipes and our archive.