Ciccia in umido (aka stewed beef neck)

I was inspired by Dario Cecchini (see Food for Fort) to go and buy a bit of beef neck for Sunday lunch for 10 people. That was a bit of an adventure in itself. “I’ve can safely say,” said Peter Broomhall, butcher and, even more importantly, abattoir owner  “that I’ve never, ever sold beef neck in the piece. I’m not sure what you’re looking for, but you come along, Matthew, and I’ll give you what you want.” What I ended up with was a hunk of meat that would have kept a hungry lion going for a week. Well, about 5kg anyway, and for less than £30, which isn’t bad.

“Crikey!” said my daughter, who was watching proceedings. “Are we going to eat all that?”

“Possibly not,” I said.

Now, Dario Cecchini clearly knows what he is about, which I did not. He would have swiftly seamed (that’s butcher speak for “cut”) out the appropriate muscles, while I stared at this vast claret and burgundy mountain and wondered what to do. I ended up by gradually hewing out what appeared to be a more or less consistent piece of maybe three or four muscles weighing about 3kg (the rest disappeared into the deep freeze, for another day). And that was the most difficult thing of the whole operation. Serves 10 or more.

1kg onions, peeled and sliced thin
3kg beef neck in the piece
500g beef fat

Red-wine vinegar
Water
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 100C/225F/gas mark 1/4. Lay the sliced onions all over the bottom of a large ovenproof casserole for which you have a lid. Place the meat on top in one piece, and add the beef fat. Cover the whole lot with two-thirds water and one-third vinegar – it’s impossible to give exact amounts, because it depends entirely on the size of your casserole. On the hob, bring the contents of the pot very gently to simmering point, then pop on the lid and transfer to oven. Leave it there for at least seven hours, or overnight, as I did. Beef neck needs a lot of cooking.

After the alloted cooking time, check to see how cooked the meat is – it should come away in shreddy lumps quite easily. If it doesn’t, continue cooking on the stove top at an easy simmer until it does. Remove the meat from the pot, place on a board and shred it with a brace of forks, until you have a haystack of fine meat fibres. While you’re doing this, boil the liquid to reduce until there’s about 150ml, or 10 tablespoons, left. Remove the remains of the beef fat. Season the fibrous haystack, return to the pot, mix thoroughly with the reduced juices and onion, and it’s ready to serve – with a simple celeriac purée (cooked in milk) and steamed turnip tops, if you’re me.

Butcher: J Broomhall Ltd, 30 Parsonage St, Dursley GL11 4AA. Tel: 01453 542 097

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