Thursday, 24 September 2015

Australia's Love Affair with Beef; and a Topical Recipe

Beef Braised in Vinegar (recipe below)

I have an ambiguous relationship with beef. I know, I know - for an Australian, that's like saying I've never really been keen on oxygen. But it's the truth.

For some reason, my family were avid lamb consumers with a strong sideline in pork and chicken, while beef was often left languishing at the butchers. After an unfortunate stint as a vegetarian (no offence, vegetarian friends!), I found myself further plunged into an even more unpleasant stint as a genuinely poor person to whom meat was a luxury. The upshot of this is that I only learned to cook a steak this year. Grim indeed.

I feel the nation's love affair with beef can best be seen in the slightly forlorn advertising campaigns of its two competitors: pork and lamb.

Please eat our pigs. Our lean, lean pigs. Not that nasty, fatty beef. Please!

Image from

We love our lamb. Really!

Image from

If you're the scientifically-minded type that prefers hard data, this table shows the amount of each meat the average Australian puts away each year. (On a related note, I think the average Australian might need to cut down.)

As you can probably tell from the darker 'chicken' line, this data is from the Auustralian Chicken Meat Federation. Beef consumption is still a lot more than that of its direct rivals, pork and lamb. I have no idea why. Has no one else in Australia tasted pork crackling?

This graph is interactive, by the way. You can play with the original over at

The population of Australia was actually engineered to be fairly carnivorous. Early Australian activist and social engineer Caroline Chisolm used the promise of three meat meals a day to lure settlers over, making us a self-selecting sample of steak eaters.

The popularity of beef can also be seen in the fact that it is the second largest category of Colonial main meals I have collected (behind vegetarian, strangely enough). Admittedly, my spreadsheet of recipes is drawn from newspaper archives and selected on the basis of what I might conceivably get a family member to taste test for me. But I think it's safe to say that beef was darn popular in the Colonial era too.

That brings us to today's recipe. Despite a rather Italian ingredient list including garlic, onion and bay leaves, this end result is thoroughly English. Thankfully it still went well with polenta and sautéed green beans.

Will this recipe convert vegetarians? Possibly not. But it will make a perfectly acceptable weeknight meal, even for the beef sceptics among us.

Here is the original recipe from 1866, which appears to quote a cooking class lost to the mists of time (perhaps this one in New York?):

BEEF WITH VINEGAR. - For this, a piece of almost any kind of beef that is tender, and has little or no bone, may be used. The piece used for this lesson weighed two and a half pounds, and was nicely tied, put in a pan with four tablespoonfuls of fat, the same of broth fro the "Alphabet Kettle", and fried upon all sides until slightly brown, but not cooked. The broth and fat were then poured off, and a gill and a half of vinegar added, also two cloves, two bay leaves, one stalk of thyme, one onion, and one clove of garlic. After being fried in these seasonings for a few moments, a little over a quart of broth from the "Alphabet Kettle" was added, and the whole left to gently simmer for an hour; at the expiration of which time the meat was placed on a plate in which it was to be served, and the sauce after being thickened with flour and water was strained over it.

Recipes. (1866, June 16). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 6. Retrieved April 16, 2015, from

Beef Braised in Vinegar

600g stewing steak, or other bone-free cut of beef
2 tablespoons oil
550ml stock, divided
100ml vinegar
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 stalk thyme
1 onion
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon flour (optional)

Cooking Time
1 1/2 hours

Serves 4 for dinner, with a vegetable and carb side

Heat 600ml of stock in a small saucepan.
On a moderate stove, heat a large saucepan or a casserole dish with a heavy base.
Add the oil, and sear the beef on all sides.
Remove the beef, and sit it on a plate.
Tip off the oil.
Add a dash of stock from the smaller saucepan to deglaze the large one.
Add the vinegar, cloves, bay leaves, thyme, onion and garlic. Stir well, and cook for a minute until aromatic.
Put the beef back into the large saucepan, and add the rest of the stock.
Simmer for an hour, with the lid on. Add a dash of boiling water if necessary.
When cooked, the beef should be tender and in an aromatic sauce.
Remove the meat, and set it aside while you finish the sauce. (Don't worry - it will only take a minute or two so your meat won't get cold).
Strain the onion and other seasonings out of the sauce. They have done their dash.
Thicken the sauce either by sprinkling in a tablespoon of flour, and stirring vigorously until there are no lumps; or by reducing the sauce at a roaring boil until it is the desired consistency.
Season the sauce with salt and pepper before pouring it over your beef to serve.

Cookery friends, which is your favourite meat? Is it the same as your nation's?