To Stew A Rump Of Beef

This a (rather rushed) attempt at a scaled down version of the following recipe from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened, a 17th century book of receipts released by a servant after the death of the titular courtier. Sir Kenelm Digby also had a pretty interesting life, aside from his tastes in food (including, if you can believe it, being a privateer and inventing the modern wine bottle), but this is a food blog, so if you want all that, you’ll have to go read his wikipedia entry or something 😉

And now, the recipe:

TO STEW A RUMP OF BEEF

Take a rump of Beef, break all the bones; season it with Pepper and Salt to your liking; Take three or four Nutmegs, and a quantity of Mace, beat them grossly; Then take a bunch of very good sweet herbs, and one good Onion cut in quarters, or Garlike, as you like it. Put in half a pint of White-wine Vinegar, and one pint of good Claret, one handful of Sugar; and a piece or two of beef Suet or Butter: shred some Cabbage under and over, and scrape in a pound of good old Cheese. Put all these into an earthen pot, and let it stand in an oven with brown-bread four or five hours; but let the pot be covered close with paste.

It sounds… odd. But I went for it, making a few modifications for scale and out of haste because I had to put something into the pot right away and I didn’t have fresh herbs or claret on hand. I also didn’t think it was necessary to seal the vessel with pastry since I have a modern casserole dish with a nice tight fitting lid. And some further modifications and confessions after the recipe…

Braised Beef With Cabbage (1669, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened) ✔

Beef braised in wine with cabbage and cheese. Yes, cheese.
Course Beef, Main Dish
Cuisine English
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 3 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs inside round or rump steak
  • 1 cup red wine original recipe said claret, I used merlot
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1-2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1-2 tsp dried basil
  • nutmeg
  • mace
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • 1-2 cups cabbage shredded

Instructions

  1. Season the beef on both sides with salt and pepper, and sear/brown in a medium to hot frying pan until the edges are brown (ok, browning it wasn't in the original recipe, but it's generally a good idea to brown beef before you stew/braise it. It just tastes better. I also cut the beef into smaller chunks than the huge steaks it came in to make it cook faster/make it easier to serve).
  2. Put the beef into an oven safe casserole dish, quarter the onion and add it to the dish.
  3. Mix the wine, vinegar, sugar, garlic, parsley, basil, nutmeg & mace. Pour over the beef in the casserole dish.
  4. Break the butter into pieces and scatter them around the top of the beef.
  5. Spread the shredded cheese over the beef. (Original recipe said to put the cabbage here as well, but I like a bit of crunch in my cabbage, so I added it later).
  6. Bake, covered, in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour, then turn down to 300 and leave an additional 2-3 hours.
  7. Add the cabbage to the pot about an hour before serving, cover and continue to cook.

I was worried about the flavors here, with parmesan and wine vinegar and sugar and nutmeg and whatnot. It sounded decidedly odd, but it was actually a nice combination, especially on the cabbage. Kind of like a mild vinegar coleslaw, but hot?

That still sounds weird. But anyway, it tastes pretty good. It’s not much for presentation though. Really, this has to be one of the ugliest finished dishes I’ve ever seen when in the pan. Separated out into cabbage and meat on a plate it looks slightly better, but I wouldn’t cook it if you’re trying to impress visually.

Now, recipe confession time. I originally thought I could get away with cooking this just an hour and a half because I’d cut my meat smaller. That was a bad idea; it was tough as old boots. So I put the rest back in the oven for another couple hours to see how it would turn out, and after a couple more hours, the beef was much more tender. But then the cabbage was mush. So if/when I make this again, I will cook it for 3-4 hours, but add the cabbage about an hour from the end. It’s not exactly 100% faithful to the old recipe, but I think it’s an improvement to modern tastes to have just a little bit of crunch left in the cabbage.

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