With both of us back at the family home this year there’d been some debate about what the main dish should be. As a family we’re not traditionalists, and rather enjoy Christmas dinner being an excuse to indulge in a quality meal, regardless of convention. Last time it was a fantastic shoulder of lamb, and this we we plumped for forerib of beef, ordered a month in advance from McKee’s farm shop in the Craigantlet Hills above Belfast. This is beef from their own farm, and they’re proud of the provenence and hanging of their meat. Rightly so. Might you, we had a bit of concern that Northern Ireland’s coldest winter for decades could wreck havoc with the mission to pick up the joint, but it’ll take more than that to stop our family from a prime bit of beef. And this was one serious a cut of meat, clocking at a shade under 6kg. That’s a 50p piece next it in this photo.
On Christmas Eve Miss South scored and rubbed the fat with a good seasoning of salt, pepper and rosemary from the garden, before letting it rest in a cold oven overnight. On Christmas Day the oven was heated to 200°C, and the beef placed in for around two hours. After a while the smell started to permeate persuasively through the house. We’d had a good portion of ham, quince jelly and duck eggs for breakast… any excuse for cold cuts at Christmas… but the aroma drove us to hunger as we prepared the meal.
The starter was a scallop salad, based on a recipe in David Thompson’s classic ‘Thai Food‘. Our mum, who’s been finding excuses to cook all things Siamese since she completed a Thai cooking course earlier in the summer, had earmarked this delight. Large de-coralled scallops were briefly ‘cooked’ ceviche-style in lime juice before being mixed with finely-chopped lemongrass, shallots and coriander. This was mixed together with chilli (including two which miraculously appeared on her chilli plant on Christmas morn) The other herb required – mint – didn’t survive the cold so had to be left out, but the dish was served on seasonal chicory leaves and tasted wonderful. Fresh, warm and just right to excite the taste buds before the main!
Once the meat was in place Miss South prepared Hasselback potatoes; and a medley of carrots and parsnips, all to be roasted in goose fat. There were also creamy braised leeks to accompany. For once I wasn’t on gravy duty: I follow in my grandmother and mother’s tradition of good gravy-making in the pan, but mum’s gravy trumps mine. This was particularly good. Instead I whipped up some mini Yorkshire puddings, bringing a little taste of the White Rose county to our plates with the aid of a duck egg or two. This wasn’t on the plan until one of my Christmas gifts turned out to be mini pudding dishes… fortuitous indeed. Having only made Yorkshire puds once I was slightly on edge, but as soon as the batter hit the sizzling beef dripping I knew we were onto a winner. They rose in a hot oven as the grand joint of beef rested temptingly, next to an open bottle of Carménère, and the leeks and gravy were finished off on the stove.
Finally, carving time revealed a delightfully pink, rare flesh nestling under a wonderfully roasted exterior. We agreed this was one of the best cuts of beef we’d had the pleasure to experience, tender richness with every bite, complemented perfectly with the rest of the ensemble on our plates. Surely that’s what a good Christmas meal is all about…