The Fat Duck: Beef Royal (1723), Course 2

Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck restaurant outside of London is one of the most creative and sometimes really “out there” chefs today. He explores cuisine from every perspective and sense. Taste is paramount, but it’s not just about taste, it’s about an experience. Every sense is explored, he of course controls the look of the dish as well as the taste and smell. He goes a few steps past that and spends time studying how the brain works and how one might perceive a dish. How would a diner react to two jellies, one red and one orange/yellow, when told these are beet and orange jellies? Of course the diner immediately assumes that the red is the beet and the yellow is the orange. So, he will be momentarily confused when tasting orange when expecting beets! The Fat Duck book is a fascinating read -if you are interested in this sort of thing- and gives us a clear path into the mind of Blumenthal and how The Fat Duck came to be a Michelin 3-star restaurant. Every recipe has a thorough introduction delving into it’s science, inspiration and what the chef attempted to get out of it. Most recipes are very involved and require special ingredients but I intend to try more as time permits. Just like the Alinea book or The French Laundry, cooking from The Fat Duck is a learning experience. How about cooking every recipe from the book? Well it’s nuts, but someone is trying to do it in this excellent blog from the Netherlands. Good luck to him.

Certainly there are more “creative” recipes than what I chose to make first, after all this is a traditional beef in red wine sauce recipe. What really caught my attention with this recipe first was the picture. It looks stunning (like all the pictures in the book) and certainly better than the ones I took. More than the picture was the story behind the dish. Blumenthal is fascinated by old British recipes and he attempts to formulate many such recipes to fit in on the Fat Duck menu. This dish is based on a  recipe published on 1723 and a version of it was served at the coronation of James II. Blumenthal made a three course dish of Beef Royal, the first involved fried sweetbreads and oysters, the third consists of a piece of steak with marrow and mushrooms. For this post I made the second “course”, a short rib with red wine sauce, cipollini onions and turnips. The sauce is made specials with the inclusion f diced ox tongue, anchovies and gherkins.

First thing I did was the ox tongue. It is brined in a spicy salt brine and then cooked sous vide for 48 hours. I then peeled it and reserved it in the freezer till service time. The sauce was next. It’s labeled as “Beef Sauce Base” in the recipe and it’s made from roasted ox tail, beef bones and stew meet. These are all browned and cooked gently in red wine and water. The end result is a rich and beefy sauce.

For the short ribs, I let them cure in salt for a few hours. Then the ribs are seared until nicely browned. To cook them, I vacuum packed them and cooked them sous vide at 133F for 72 hours. The long cooking time makes the tough short rib meat as tender as a rib eye steak, while at the same time cooking them rare. These are not typical pot roast-like and falling apart short ribs. They need to be eaten with a knife and fork, again like a well-marbled  steak. Once out of the vacuum bags, the bone is removed and cleaned from any gristle or scum. At service time, two pieces of rib are plated with a bone in between them. Kinda Flintstonian.

Two vegetables accompany this dish. Cipollini onions confited in olive oil sous vide. These took significantly more than the 10 minutes recommended. They cooked in more like 45 minutes at 195 F, which is more like what I would expect. The other are turnips poached and cooked in a butter and water emulsion (beurre monte) until tender.

The sauce is reduced to a nice glaze and garnished with gherkins, chopped anchovies, dice of ox tongue, chopped tarragon, chives and parsley. The dish is fantastic and decadent. It is deliciously beefy, refined and old-fashioned. Both the brine and the red wine sauce had start anise which at first got me a bit worried. I did  not want to have a strong licorice flavor in there. Blumenthal likes to use it in many meat dishes because it somehow enhances the meat flavor and, when used judiciously, does not mask the flavor of the meat. I am glad I followed his advise.

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