Eliza Acton’s spiced beef


  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground black pepper, nutmeg, mace, cloves and allspice
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 4 juniper berries, crushed and chopped (optional)
  • 40g brown sugar
  • 1kg beef brisket (or silverside), trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 tablespoons rock salt, coarsely ground (do not use refined table or cooking salts)
  • 1 Small onion, peeled and trimmed, leaving core intact
  • 2 Small carrots, trimmed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • parsley stalks and thyme sprigs
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) sherry


This alternative to corned beef is, according to Eliza Acton, 'an excellent and far more wholesome dish than the hard, bright-coloured beef which is cured with large quantities of salt and saltpetre'. It will not keep as long as commercially corned beef, so needs to be cured and cooked within a week of buying the meat. Once cooked, the meat will keep in the fridge for a few days. Avoid large chunks of beef, as the salt needs to permeate through the meat to cure it properly.

Serves 6


To make the curing mixture, blend together the spices with the brown sugar. Place an upturned saucer into the base of a glass or ceramic bowl that will hold the piece of beef neatly. The saucer allows any liquid extracted from the meat to drain into the bottom of the bowl. Rub the curing mixture into all sides of the meat. Place the beef onto the saucer and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 days.

Drain away any liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Rub the salt into the spiced meat, cover and refrigerate for 4 or 5 days, rubbing the mixture into the meat and turning the meat over each day, draining away any liquid. The meat will darken in colour as it cures.
Before cooking the meat, rinse it to remove the curing mixture. Place in a saucepan of about the same size and add enough cold water to just cover the meat. Bring to the boil over a gentle heat, removing any scum that forms, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

Add the aromats – onion, carrots, bay leaves and herbs – and cook at a gentle simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Add the sherry, cook for 3 minutes then remove the pan from the heat.

If serving hot, remove the meat from the broth and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Discard the aromats but reserve some of the liquid to keep any leftover meat moist for later use. Otherwise, leave the whole piece of meat in the broth until cool enough to refrigerate. The meat will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. Serve cold or, to reheat, gently simmer the beef in the broth for 15 minutes or until heated through.

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