A fortnight or so ago, my son Shakir said he was missing hunter beef, the popular roast that is especially used as a sandwich filling in winter. Or, the way my late father enjoyed it, fried with tomatoes and eggs for breakfast.

However, I must confess that I cheated by using a packet of pre-mixed hunter beef masala. The joys of Amazon include the ability to order desi spices and readymade masala mixtures for a wide range of Indian and Pakistani dishes, even in distant California. In this case, Shakir ordered a packet of the hunter beef preparation.

However, the actual recipe calls for a number of ground spices that have been described by Sumayya Usmani in her wonderful book Under the Tamarind Tree. These include cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, lemons, limes, peppercorns, chilli flakes, cumin seeds, saltpetre (qalmi shora) and jaggery. The dry ingredients are ground, and then the lemon and limejuice is added to make a paste. This is rubbed all over the beef (I used a kilo of rump steak), which is then punctured thoroughly with a fork. The meat is now placed in the fridge for five days, and removed daily to turn over with the marinade poured on the meat.

When it comes to adding flavour without fuss, nothing beats a marinade and pot-roasting

After five days, the meat is placed in a large pot of water, and brought to a boil. Then the water was reduced to a simmer, and the meat allowed to cook for a couple of hours. The masala packet called for a cooking time of around four hours but that, for me, would result in massively overcooked meat.

The resulting roast was full of flavour, albeit a bit more tart than the hunter beef I am used to. The reason was that, as called for on the packet, I used limejuice which is more sour than lemons. But once sliced, after letting the meat cool for an hour or so, it went down very well. I must try Sumayya Usmani’s recipe one of these days.

I have earlier explained why meat should be allowed to cool for a while before it is carved or served. The reason I gave was that, during the cooking process, meat juices are forced to the middle, and if you carve it as soon as it’s cooked, the outer slices will be dry. By waiting, you allow the juices to move back towards the surface.

I was right about the results, but wrong about the reasons. I have been given the scientific cause by Kenji Lopez-Alt in his very readable but scientifically oriented book The Food Lab. The author, himself a scientist and a chef, informs us that muscles above a certain temperature become stretched, and thus unable to retain much liquid. So if you slice a steak immediately after it has come off the pan, you will lose a lot of juice. However, if you let it rest for 10 minutes, the muscles will regain their elasticity, and hold the juices. A meat thermometer helps in working out the cooking time: a medium rare steak should be removed after it has reached a temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lopez-Alt also reinforces something I have long maintained: fillet steak, or undercut in our part of the world, is hugely overrated. While it is the most tender cut, and thus the most expensive, it is also bland and boring. Try the cheaper cuts, marinade for a few hours, and cook thinner steaks than tenderloin to get very satisfactory results. The point here is that much of the entire cow consists of muscles that have to work hard, and are thus pretty tough.

So to soften them, a long marinade is essential, but at the end, it’s well worth it.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 7th, 2019