Schmaltz and cider doesn’t really do politics. We’ve shied away from contentious issues like immigration, religion and ethnicity. But Aron’s is immigrant food, that’s all we do. And because we’re resolutely liberal, maybe it’s about time that we began tackling a few contentious issues?
Newspaper headlines have been throwing up plenty of inspiration for blog posts recently. Last week the front page of the i read “..push to sell US ‘Cornish Pasties’ in UK.” I had hoped that we’d already dealt with this topic along with bendy bananas. But apparently we must once again debate the relative merits of regulations that determine whether or not a pasty from Delaware can be called Cornish if it’s made to a Cornish recipe.
I was lucky enough to be in Cornwall last week and I had my usual large steak pasty from Niles bakery in Fowey. Niles is a small family bakery based in St. Austell, that deliver to eight shops, the furthest being 16 miles away. This is utterly unpretentious fare, you won’t find any chicken tikka masala pasties at Niles. They bake to a traditional recipe using skirt steak and locally grown potatoes. I can recommend their saffron buns as well.
Skirt steak is of the essence here because it’s a cut that requires a short cooking time. If you cook it for too long it becomes as tough as old boots. Each side of beef contains only one skirt steak, a little bigger than your hand and weighing about 350 grams, or 12 ounces in old money. It’s a flavoursome but inexpensive cut, which is sometimes called butcher’s steak because they often keep it for themselves. Cornish pasties were a working man’s lunch and so the use of cheaper cuts was also born of necessity.
But because there’s so little skirt steak to be had, the pasty doesn’t really lend itself to mass production. Rich Gingell my local butcher says that most of the skirt produced locally is sent down to Cornwall to be turned into pasties.
As far as the humble pasty is concerned, it’s clear that EU protected status is helping to protect local jobs in the south west, providing tangible benefits to local communities. Long may it continue, even if the Cornish did vote to leave.
Another traditional way of cooking skirt steak will feature at our next event on Friday 23rd March. We’re serving “Roumanian” skirt steak, which has always been very popular with our guests. But before explaining the connection between Romania and skirt steak I’m going to go off at another tangent.
Last week I found myself on Facebook defending some Romanian beggars (for which read Gipsy beggars) from a Jewish lady living in London. I’ll spare you the finer details but of course she was right to say that they operate in organised gangs. And yes the gang leaders take a cut of the proceeds in exchange for the support they provide – a place to beg, a floor to sleep on and the price of a journey across Europe. Earnings on the streets of the UK might be £30 / day, work in Romanian if they can find any might bring £7. And of course many of these impoverished and vulnerable people are hideously exploited and become victims themselves.
The missing part of the narrative is the 1,000+ years of persecution that has led the Roma people to become Europe’s underclass. It saddens me when people from a similarly persecuted group are unable or unwilling to draw upon their own experiences and acknowledge the suffering of another equally persecuted group. But then what do I know? I’m Cornish (kind of).
So back to Roumanian steak which Noah and Rae Bernamoff, owners of The Mile End Deli in Brooklyn describe as “the quintessential Jewish steak”. Unlike sirloin and rump, skirt steak is cut from the forequarter and not the hindquarter and so it can be kosher (ours isn’t). But as for why it became known in the United Sates as Roumanian, well nobody seems to know for sure. Unlike pastrami it doesn’t appear to have any direct Romanian lineage. Pastrami is derived from the Romanian pastrama, which is itself a dish of Turkish origin.
But whatever the reason, Chicago based food writer Michael Gebert claims that “a whole genre of ‘Roumanian’ restaurants serving it grew up in places like the Lower East Side in New York and the Maxwell Street area here, back when that neighbourhood was widely known as Jewtown…”.
It’s still served at Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse in Manhattan, where they mix the chopped liver with schmaltz at your table and frozen bottles of Stolichnaya help to alleviate inhibitions. Who said Jews don’t drink? But our recipe was borrowed from the aforementioned Mile End Deli in Brooklyn.
Seasoned with salt and pepper, fried in sizzling hot goose fat (what else?) so that it gains a nice crust whilst remaining pink on the inside and then sliced across the grain and tossed in a “board sauce” of olive oil, garlic, mustard and tarragon. Served with goose fat fried potatoes and mustard on the side.
There’s the regular choice of 3 starters, 3 main courses, a deli sandwich option and dessert. This month we’re serving poppy seed hamantaschen for Purim.