Ben’s meat newsletter: BBQ is in the air

At last, we’ve had a bit of nice weather and the hills are alive with the smell of charcoal and burnt, or, if you’re lucky, perfectly caramelised meat. Judging from the Riverford Farm Shop trade over the bank holiday weekend, there’s a definite move towards cooking whole pieces of meat rather than the old drumstick, banger and burger combo.

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the introduction of the butterflied lamb leg to the meat extras list. Next, if I had it my way, would be a 5cm thick slice of rump that could be quickly charred, wrapped in foil and left to cook through to a delicious, slightly bloody, pink. The problem is a rump is a triangular shaped joint so portioning it into large, fixed weight, pieces without enormous waste is nigh on impossible. And why? During BBQ season we can’t get enough grilling steak. It doesn’t grow on trees and despite demands for the ‘plus meat’ veg boxes running well into four figures, the vast majority of our beef is still bought ‘on the hoof ’ (i.e. we take the whole animal, rather than just the prime cuts) from local farmers. Good steak only accounts for just over 10% of the carcass, so during the summer, finding uses for the other 90% can be challenging.

But don’t despair, because where there’s a will there’s a way, and the joys of a thick, BBQ’d and sliced on the bias, ‘Italian Tagliata’ style steak are worth striving for. Foodies, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in particular, are sniffy, to say the least, about topside but knock it into shape (literally) and it makes a fantastic, thick steak.

Poor Man’s Beef Tagliata
Serves 6-8, prep 25 mins (plus overnight marinating), cook 20 mins

1kg joint topside
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
a few black peppercorns
2 sprigs of thyme

De-net and de-fat the beef. Place it on a chopping board and hit it with a mallet until it’s the required thickness – aim for around 4cm. Tempting as it may seem, don’t go mad. It needs to be in one even piece with the grain of the meat all running in the same direction so, when the time comes, you’ll be carving across the grain. You’ll get a few uneven, raggedy bits but so much the better – all the more tasty charred extremities for the cook. As well as tenderising, bashing it will open up the texture of the meat meaning it will cook quicker and absorb more flavour from your
chosen marinade and baste.

Once your topside is knocked into shape, place it in a plastic bag in the fridge with the crushed garlic clove, olive oil, lemon juice, peppercorns and thyme. Leave overnight.

When it comes to cooking time, remove from the bag and scrape off any attached solids. Allow to come up to room temperature and give it about 3 mins per side, basting with the marinated juices. Wrap in foil and leave on the edge of the BBQ to cook through and firm up for 10-15 mins. Carve at an angle, across the grain in thin 5mm-7mm slices. I had mine with the juices from the foil, crunchy chickpea flour chips and a carpaccio style mustard leaf and rocket salad with parmesan shavings and, I confess, felt pretty pleased with myself. It definitely wasn’t meat as a seasoning so it must have been a celebration.

If bashing your beef isn’t for you or I can’t convince you that topside can be grilled, you can get much the same result with a thick cut rump steak. One 250g steak will feed two. Cut the cooking time back to 1 min or so per side and only rest for a few mins.

Ben Watson

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