There’s a passage in the Arthur Ransome book The Big Six (one of the Swallows and Amazons books set on the Norfolk Broads) where three very young protagonists catch a 30lb pike. Later on the riverbank, an old time angler shakes his head sadly saying something along the lines of “so young and now so little to live for”.
I felt a bit like this when I tasted the Supreme Champion of this year’s Great Taste Awards. Strict vegetarians look away now. I have been spoilt for life.
It was slice from a rib of Glenarm shorthorn beef produced by Hannan Meats. Unlike many people, I don’t mind chewy meat but this was extraordinarily sweet and tender to the point of melting in the mouth – with such a depth of proper beefy flavour. Even the fat was crisp and creamy. One of the judges this year suggested that they would like to be covered in it. It was quite the most sensational beef I have ever eaten and I’ll now be comparing every subsequent meat experience to it.
I was quite nervous about cooking it. If I overcooked it, it would be like taking Crufts Supreme Champion for a walk and seeing it runover by a bus – so much trouble had gone into producing the meat. In the literature that came with the rib, Hannan Meats talk about their Himalayan Salt Chamber where they dry-age the meat. The chamber comprises a 4m high solid wall of rock salt mined in blocks by hand from the foothills of the Himalayas in Pakistan’s Punjab. There are 1,000 blocks in total.
So why go to all this trouble? Hannan Meats claims that the health and therapeutic benefits of Himalayan salt have been known for centuries. When it comes to dry aging meat, the salt’s negative ions “counteract the positive ions of meat, and result in a unique sweet and flavoursome end product”.
The temperature and humidity of the chamber also help. “It purifies the air in the room, producing a clean and fresh atmosphere.” It has taken the company years to perfect the technique but, however it works, it works.
So back to cooking. How do you cook the perfect rib of beef?
1. Let the meat reach roof temperature. I left it overnight to be cooked for the following lunch.
2. Rub it all over with olive oil, pepper and salt. I used fine sea salt.
3. Preheat the oven. I went higher than recommended – 240°C instead of 200°C.
4. Sizzle the rib for 20 minutes then turn down to 170°C and cook for a further 15 minutes per 500g.
5. Leave to rest for at least 20 minutes. By the time my guests arrived and sat down to dinner, it has rested for 40 minutes – meaning that there were more juices for the gravy.
Fortunately we had a house full of guests that Sunday and so nothing went to waste. All agreed it was extremely delicious. As it was so tender, even my little boy – who shrinks from all meat unless its sausage or burger – ate a hearty portion and declared it "the best beef I've ever eaten".
The even better news was that we were able to eat it with a 3-star winning mustard from the Great Taste Awards: Tewkesbury mustard from Tracklements. I’m used to English mustards blowing fire through my sinuses so this, while having a gentle kick, was more about flavour and a pleasant surprise. And very good with the beef.
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