When I first moved to London many moons ago I worked as a secretary for an ex bare-knuckle boxer who ran a business based on Hatton Garden. Back then, the area was still populated with hundreds of small studios all involved in the gem and jewellery trade. From buyers to setters to designers everyone’s prosperity revolved around bling. The street was filled with a mix of glitzy showrooms and the mansion blocks that housed the worker bees in their one room workshops.
When all the punters had left for the day and the merchandise was safely locked away the pubs came alive with the gossip, quarrels and trades of the day. With a taste for gold and a love of the extraordinary I was drawn to the characters and community that circled around this little London village. I made lots friends amongst the diamond-geezers and always had someone to share a drink with at the end of a long day. Chief amongst them was Ricky. He was 6ft 4, rough, tough, very East London but blissfully fabulous. One night he didn’t turn up for our allotted wine’o'clock meet, nor the following night. It was a week later when one of the setters told me that he’d been found dead in his studio having apparently taken his own life with a shot gun. We all knew that there was no way this was suicide but the long arm of the law didn’t reach as far as the gold squabbles.
About 6 months later I was sitting in a cafe at the very end of the street when a beaten up red Fiesta pulled up onto the pavement and 2 middle aged men jumped out. ”Lucy – we’ve been looking every where for you doll” one of them shouted. ”Shame about Ricky, but these things will happen when you don’t do as you’re told. Now, Phil tells us you’ll be wanting to take over Ricky’s work – interested?” My simple answer – ”NO!”
My brush with a life of gem crime was (thankfully) incredibly short but my time on Hatton Garden did leave me with a love of Salt Beef sandwiches served on sour-dough with lashings of wallies (gherkins to the rest of us). This Christmas I decided to have a go at making my own – a long but relatively simple process which I’m hoping will have delicious results. I’ve taken inspiration from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for this recipe but made a few of my own changes / additions.
For the Brine
- 5 litres of water
- 500g of dark brown sugar
- 1.5kg of salt
- 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons of juniper berries
- 8 bay leaves
- A handful of fresh thyme
- 2kg of Beef Brisket
- 1 carrot chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 celery stick, chopped
- 1 leek, chopped
- 1/2 garlic bulb
Put all of the ingredients for the brine into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for about 2 minutes. It doesn’t matter if all of the salt doesn’t dissolve. Take off the heat and let the brine cool completely.
When the brine is cool, place the beef into a non metallic container and pour the brine over it. If the beef floats hold it under the brine with a heavy non-metallic object – a piece of wood works perfectly. Leave the 2 kg piece of beef in the brine for 5 days (no more).
Remove the beef from the brine and soak in fresh water for at least 24 hours; changing the water at least once. When you’re ready to cook the beef put it into a pan with the vegetables and garlic, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for around 2-2.5 hours on a low heat.
We’ll be serving the Salt Beef on Boxing Day with The Blonde’s sour-dough bread and loads of homemade pickles made by the divine Tamsin. The perfect antidote to left over turkey. I wonder if I’ll have a new set of diamonds to compliment the feast?!