Spiced Beef and the Spoiled Brat.

Spiced Beef (2 of 3) I have to caution you. I have conspired with others to break the law in bringing you this tale. I had decided I should tell you the story of Spiced Beef and the Spoiled Brat. It would be relevant and would allow me to post something festive without having to deck the kitchen with holly. All I had to do was cook the spiced beef. That’s where my descent into the murky underworld of international criminal activity began.

But, let me begin by telling you the story of the ‘Spiced Beef and the Spoiled Brat’. Back when I was 13 years of age, I got myself a pre-Christmas job in Grehan’s Butchers in Blackrock. Grehan’s was an institution. They had two shops in the village. The larger of the two acted as a mini processing facility as well as a retail outlet. It was there that I was employed for a brief few Seasonal days. My duties included preparing turkeys by removing the feet and sinews as well as pulling out the tough wing feathers from hundreds of birds. Both were hard work.

To remove the feet and sinews, I would hack half way through the knee-joint of the bird, hang the foot on a hook high on the wall and swing from the bird until the foot came free, bringing the sinews from inside the leg with it.

The big wing feathers had to be gripped tightly and pulled energetically to get them out. If they slipped, as they often did, they would cut the sides of the fingers. These cuts would inevitably turn septic. Not pretty. But for a 13-year-old back in 1971, the £14 earned was a king’s ransom and made it all worthwhile.

There were three of us working the back room that year. Myself and another chap, who diligently put in the hours of hard graft, were joined by a relation of one of the Grehans. He was a kid of about our own age. Boy, oh boy, was he a brat. He refused to do his share. He got in the way of the butchers. He moaned, complaining that he couldn’t do any hard work and whined about us to his relatives. We hated the little scut.

Thankfully, one of the senior butchers could see what was going on. To get the brat out-of-the-way, he sent him to a shed in the back yard and told him to busy himself spicing the beefs. This involved rolling the beef joints in a very large basin containing a rich blend of spices and herbs and then leaving them to rest before packaging.

An hour or so went by. There was peace in our workroom. We busied ourselves hacking, pulling and plucking. The senior butcher went to check on progress. Our toiling was disturbed by a shout from outside “Holy f****! He’s spiced the hams.” Pandemonium followed as the brat screamed in terror, the butcher kicking and chasing him around the yard. That wonderful man raved and cursed the damage done. We hid in our workroom and laughed and laughed until we cried.

The brat, now in tears and blubbering apologies, was set to washing the pile of spiced hams in freezing cold water. We returned to our duties. That was the last time we set eyes on that miserable child. The whole episode has added an additional zestiness to each and every time I enjoy Traditional Spiced Beef.

The ingredients list is not long. I took it directly from the Bord Bia website. Though what it’s doing there is a mystery, given what I had to do to get the ingredients.

One extra ingredient, treacle. I'll come to it later.

One extra ingredient, treacle. I’ll come to it later. Spot the illegal one!

  • 2½-3 kgs eye of the round, topside or silverside of beef 
  • 75g brown sugar 
  • 25g black peppercorns 
  • 12g allspice berries 
  • 25g juniper berries 
  • 12g ground cloves 
  • 12g salt 
  • 12g saltpetre

Side note on my criminal activity: I mentioned above that I have become an international criminal. This was caused by my trying to get my hands on the 12 grammes of saltpetre (Potassium Nitrate). All doors were closed to me. The Butchers (I tried 5) could not get their hands on it. They recommended the Chemists (I tried 5 again). No chance. I was treated with a mixture of bemusement and suspicion. Bemusement because it is illegal to sell Potassium Nitrate in Ireland and suspicion because the reason it is banned is it has a history of being used in bomb making. 

My International network had to be pulled into the enterprise. Using some cronies of my Amsterdam connection, I secured my supply, and receiving a parcel in the post, with 24 grammes of illegal white powder, concealed in a vacuum sealed plastic pouch. Game On!

The first thing to do is to trim the beef (I used a cut called ‘eye of round’) of all excess fat and sinew.

This shot gives a sense of scale. She's a big bit of beef!

This shot gives a sense of scale. She’s a big bit of beef!

Rub it with the sugar (I used Muscavado).

The beef needs to be well rubbed with the sugar.

The beef needs to be well rubbed with the sugar.

Rub the beef all over. The sugar will melt into a gloopy mess. Cover and place the bowl in the fridge for 48 hours, turning it each time you happen by the fridge.

Juniper berries, peppercorns and cloves. Bash them until they represent sawdust.

Juniper berries, peppercorns and cloves. Bash them until they represent sawdust.

When you have ground the juniper berries, peppercorns and cloves, add them to the other dry ingredients.

There's a deal going down. The mystery white powder needs careful weighing.

There’s a deal going down. The mystery white powder needs careful weighing.

Take the beef out and pour off the remaining sugary mess and reserve.

Not the prettiest stage of the process but, this is instructional.

Not the prettiest stage of the process but, this is instructional.

Mix the spice ingredients well.

Starting to look like the real thing. The aromas are amazing.

Starting to look like the real thing. The aromas are amazing.

Roll the beef in the bowl of spices and cover the bowl with cling film.

The spices are a nice light brown colour. That will change.

The spices are a nice light brown colour. That will change.

This now needs to be returned to the refrigerator and left for at least six days, turning once a day.

2 days in sugar, 9 days in spices. Starting to look pretty good.

2 days in sugar, 9 days in spices. Starting to look pretty good.

I left mine there for nine days, just to be sure.

I just loved this shot of the treacle. Perfect pouring.

I just loved this shot of the treacle. Perfect pouring.

Add enough water (about a litre and a half in this case) to nearly cover the beef. Add a tablespoon of treacle and add back the sugary mess from the first spell in the fridge. Warm this gently until the treacle melts into the water.

Be very careful placing this beauty into the water.

Be very careful placing this beauty into the water.

Seal with the lid and a sheet of tinfoil. Place in the oven at 140º C for 5 hours or so. Remove it from the oven and let it cool in the pot. When cold, wrap in tinfoil and place it back in the fridge. After a couple of hours, it will be ready to be carved.

Slice it as thinly as you dare.

Slice it as thinly as you dare.

We enjoyed it with some nice homemade brown bread and a nice chutney. The beef was the best spiced beef I have ever tasted.

Plenty left over for another day. It will keep for ages in the fridge.

Plenty left over for another day. It will keep for ages in the fridge.

The flavour and enjoyment were truly enhanced by three things; the chutney, the criminal nature of the endeavour and, of course, the memories of the spoiled brat, screaming in the butcher’s yard.



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Latest comments
  • That looks delicious – great story too 🙂

    • Thanks MD. I have another one brewing away in the fridge right now. It will be perfect for Christmas.

  • Now you need to create an accompaniment for Spiced Beef called ‘Spoiled Brat’ 🙂

    • That would be fun John. I spoil enough dishes as it is!

  • Yum, I love spiced beef. Worth all the effort and illegal activity. I wonder what the SB is doing these days? Did he go into the family business?

    • The family business is no more. There is a fancy restaurant where I used to toil. The other shop ended up as a bank branch and is now closed. A real waste as it is a beautiful tiled shopfront. I think they managed to wreck the interior in trendifying it for the mortgage business.

  • Love it! The recipe AND the story.
    We’ll say nothing about the package from Amsterdam 😉

    • I am now denying all knowledge of the package and the origins of said package. Though I have a second beef in the fridge…

  • I do not know if it’s just me or your posts are funny in a way I cant stop laughing >___<

    • If I have achieved that, I am happy. Thanks for the comment and for the visit.

      • Aw, honored for your reply 😀 Thank you too.

  • I enjoyed hearing about your early years. No doubt the mention of obtaining a white powder from Amsterdam and saltpetre will be setting off alarm bells in some hidden away office. Lucky for them they will be educated in how it pays not to be a little brat and how to make a wonderful piece of beef shine. Your beef was cooked exactly how I like it.

    • Thanks Maria. It was a fun post to write as I did have to drag up old memories and I love anything that takes a couple of weeks to cook. It is a bit perverse but I enjoy it.

  • Is the pink center from the curing salt? Potassium nitrate and pink salt are both pretty easy to find here. I got some to cure bear bacon from the baking aisle at the grocery store. As for the person who wanted an accompanying dish named spoiled brat, I think that’s a bad idea. I’ve smelled brat(wurst)s that had spoiled, and it’s not pretty.

    • You are 100% right on the curing. The Potassium Nitrate kills off certain bacteria and that preserves the pink colour (as I understand it). If one prepares this without the Potassium Nitrate, one gets the same end product but with a grey brown meat. Not pretty but it tastes much the same, I hear.

  • Perfectly cooked! Looks tantalizing!

    • Thanks Serena,
      It is a goodie. Pardon me promoting my own efforts. But, this time, I am totally happy to do so.

  • Spiced beef was an ever present at home as a youngster,mid fifties,and as I recall often accompanied with cauliflower cheese nicely crisped topping under the grill.

    • Hi Colin,
      Thanks for the comment. I well remember my Dad enjoying a good spiced beef sandwich at Christmas time. I was a young kid in single digits so that’s almost 50 years ago now. The cauliflower cheese sounds like a good plan.

  • The pink color in the middle of the beef is absolutely fantastic. It looks like in a cartoon, which I assume is a sign of quality.
    As I can see, it takes a great effort to prepare everything so the final dish is excellent. Now I have to admire people at Cantine even more for being able to pull their own version of spiced beef out almost constantly. And without any spoiled brats interfering in the process.

  • I wonder what happened to the brat. Probably a politician. PS Did you realise you are the same age as Madonna. Just saying.

    • I may be the same age but, I don’t feel the need to get them out. Perhaps, despite the identical age, I may be more mature?

  • Another classic post, Conor. The spiced beef looks wonderful. Homemade always tastes better. Thanks for not blowing my cover 😉
    P.S. I remembered the story about the turkeys and the spoiled brat so I must have read or heard it before, but I don’t remember when or where. Perhaps in Limerick?

    • It probably was one of those tales I bore people with when I have had too much wine. So, it may well have been in Limerick!

  • The poor kid though. How does one mix up Ham and Beef?

    • Part of me did feel for him. But the laughter got the better of us. I suspect he had far too sheltered an upbringing. Sheltered until the butcher’s boot got him.

  • Ah, Conor, you criminal! I salute your failure to mention the supposedly anaphrodisiac properties of saltpeter (which, among other reasons, is probably why it’s not illegal to buy here in our puritanical land). Love the story, and the spiced beef looks delicious.

    • Thanks for the warning Michelle. I haven’t noticed any change in my behaviour since eating the beef. I have another on the go for Christmas and will monitor. Though, my manliness will not allow me report anything untoward.

  • Would have loved reaching into the screen for a taste! But the delightful story almost made up for it . . . and the lesson! In bygone days used to make the German ‘Sauerbraten’ a lot – that takes about three days methinks in wine and spices. Wanted to look it up but no German cook seems to agree with another and the first page I looked had 17 different ways to start . . . well, this is busy Christmas so am none the wiser . . . I know we used saltpetre in Estonia: guess that was in the ‘good old days’!

    • Hi Eha,
      There seems to be a bit of the ‘good old days’ about the post. I have tasted a few different spiced beefs at a craft fair and in various butcher shops over the past week or so. Mostly, they appear to be wetter and sweeter than my effort. I prefer mine!

  • Hahaha Stefan, you have called your own self out! Thanks for lending Conor a hand. Conor, I have no doubt that was the best spiced beef you’ve ever had!

    • All done in the interests of having a bit of rebellious fun. I agree on Stefan. Perhaps he should not have coughed up so easily.

  • Nice…

  • Love your stories and this looks amazing!

    • Thanks Debbie,
      It was a bit of fun to prepare and to write.

  • What an awesome post! That’s really young to have a job like that. Awful that your cuts turned septic. My sister and I had jobs like that but we were 16 and 14. I was a fish butcher and she worked at the chicken store. I don’t think she was involved with the cutting and feathering, but I certainly was cutting gills out of blue clawed crabs and hacking salmon and sturgeon. So funny about the spicing of the ham and that you’re now a criminal, all in the name of food. Lastly, what a beautiful piece of meat. Great recipe. Love!

    • Amanda, your comments always make me smile. You have a great art of relaying so much in so few words. While I was not around in the times when small children were sent up the chimneys to clean them, this was a long time ago and different in many ways. I have one (more offensive) Christmas post to come and then I think I’ll be done, unless I get a bit of good cheer over the next two weeks.

      • Can’t wait to see it! I wish you good cheer, but I’m all about tales. Hahah I can imagine you crawling up a chimney as a kid. Here you need working papers and can’t work under the age of 14, but my parents had us working very young, just to teach us values.

        • A great way to bring up young ones. We did likewise with our two girls (22 and 24). Both are hard workers and tend to not look for hand-outs too often.

  • Beautiful beef.

    • Thanks Rosemary. I love the heady flavour of this.

  • Reblogged this on INFODYNAMICS.

  • I hate brats and would do all I could to rid my workplace of nepotism — unless I’m the relative.
    Such a simple recipe but just look at those slices. Perfection!

    • It’s a relatively simple recipe John….

  • I got a very strong narrative whiff from this gorgeous-looking beef post. I reckon it would look fantastic, sandwiched between 2 covers and your best selection of like-minded pages of meat. Something to think about over Christmas, perhaps?

    • You are hovering around like the Ghost of Christmas Future, promising me a big publishing deal, yet, not promising me a big publishing deal.
      Time for me to reflect on my wayward past….

      • I suppose I am a bit like the Ghost of Christmas Future (only without the wordless condemnation, the bony finger of doom and the dread-engendering emptiness). I promise nothing, but I do foresee a delicious book. Del-ic-ious!

        • I must look into the future over Christmas. Probably through a port and stilton induced haze.

  • This makes my mouth water. Your pictures are absolutely beautiful, and your story was wonderful. I grew up on a farm and butchered lots of birds, and your stories brought back some rather painful memories!

    • Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for the kind words. Glad that I prompted some memories.

  • i’m using saltpetre a lot in my fresh charcuteries too…
    your spiced beef looks perfect for my licking!!!

    • I wish it was easier to get. Thanks for the kind words Ðedy.

      • thats the real problem, even worst it was too easy to get in the market, then may people using it in excessive ammount for preserving food…..

  • Ah, this post made my morning. Who would’ve thought such adventures would be going on in the back rooms of a butcher? Hacking, swinging, tears, curses and dreadful mistakes. There should be a TV show about such things (sorry about the septic cuts, that sounds horrid. I’m glad the cash was compensatory!). As for this spiced beef? It looks wonderful Conor, I can imagine how delicious it would taste. Glad that you managed to get your hands on that 24 grams of white… you tricky son of a gun!

    • Hi Laura,
      Glad you liked it. Thanks for the kind words.

  • You are the best when it comes to a good story. Your spice beef looks perfectly seasoned and cooked.

  • excellent post, divine spiced beef! 🙂 merry holidays, bon appétit & cheers! Mélanie

    • Thanks Mélanie. I am enjoying the break. Particularly because I have a second spiced beef curing for the New Year.

  • Reblogged this on uvirfarms.

  • Reblogged this on uvirfarms.

  • That beef is great, I love finding new ideas, definitely I will give it a go 😊

    Best wishes,

    • Excellent. I love when people try the stuff I do. In this case, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


    • IF, and only IF, you are silly enough to try these, you have a couple of options;
      1. Make them anyway and tell him the garlic is a new strain of mild, sweet garlic that is very tasty. He should fall for that and enjoy it no end.
      2. Make them anyway and eat them all yourself (my favourite option).
      3. Buy him a dress and shout abuse at him in front of the neighbours until he man’s up.
      Ultimately, he will enjoy it. My 85 year old Mum loved it, and mashed the garlic into her gravy. Delicious.

  • I moved to Australia in 2007 and I thought I had to say goodbye to the joy of waking up at Christmas morning with the smell of the spiced beef filling the house. however after many failed attempts to make it myself (minus the illegal ingredient as its pretty hard to get here) I have found a butcher that has been given a license to make it here in Perth. I have a good piece already booked fro Christmas and I cant wait

  • For those of us without connections to the underworld of Amsterdam, and are willing to tolerate a dull colour on the end product what do we use instead? And what weight? Definitely going to try this.

  • I’m making this now for Xmas 🙂

    I really hope anyone else doing it realised the mistake in salt weight…..should be 120g not 12g obviously!
    50% saltpetre would be a bad idea I think.

  • Just tried this and am very dissapointed. It tasted like it needed salt. Having checked other similar reciepes I do wonder whether the 12 grams of salt should read 120 grams? The other reciepes I found use ten times the amount of salt to saltpetre.

  • I have brisket, silverside, topside and flank in the freezer. Which would you recommend?

  • Thank you. I’m making it for New Years Eve. I had spiced beef in Cork while staying with friends a couple of years ago and it was wonderful. She bought it ready prepared and served it hot. I’m leaning to the cold side possibly with cauliflower cheese? Any other suggestions?

  • Will do thanks!

  • I have that exact recipe years from bord Bord Bia thankfully I was able to get the salt petre easier over here in Canada .
    my i roast s in the fridge as I write this .
    love your story about the butchers my fathers always bought a spiced Beef that’s my memory of christmas
    oh the smell is so wonderful .

  • Will be cooking it tomorrow or next day. Mine only weighs about 1 kilo. Should the cooking time be less?

  • Thanks I think I’ll cook it on the day then as we won’t be eating before 2. Our guests are always notoriously late! It’s looking amazing by the way. I will send a before and after pic.

  • It was fabulous!! Would love to post a pic but can’t work out how 🙄

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