Roast Fillet of Beef
Here are three excellent seventeenth recipes for roasting a whole fillet of beef. They all feature the juice or minced peel of the Seville or bitter orange.We have chosen to prepare the third recipe, where the fillet is stuffed with parsley, thyme, spinage and other herbs.
A slice of 'jagged orange', a popular garnish at this period. Unlike our modern varieties of the sweet orange, Seville oranges have a lot of pips.
Another important ingredient is the acidic juice of the Seville orange, a very popular flavouring in the Stuart Age. Barberries, rose-vinegar and elder-vinegar are also very typical of the cookery of this period. The bright red berries of the barberry (Berberis vulgaris L.) were not only a striking garnish, but they too had a pleasant tart flavour, adding relish to both meat and fish dishes. Like verjuice (the lightly fermented juice of unripe grapes or crab apples, rose and elderflower vinegars seem to have been stock ingredients in seventeenth century kitchens. It is possible that all these acidic ingredients were used as meat tenderisers.
Seville oranges were carved with attractive patterns and used for garnishing festival dishes like this shield of brawn.
In the nineteenth century, a beef fillet was carved by cutting out the central portion, as in the illustration above. This piece of meat was cut into small slices, which were returned to the space in the fillet, making it appear at table as if it were whole. Dubois tells us, 'by this proceeding the fillet absolutely loses nothing of its physiognomy, and has the appearance of being whole: this is the manner called carving en entaille'.
One technique for roasting a beef fillet was to wrap the joint entirely in paper. The meat cooks rapidly inside this paper 'pressure cooker'. Before it is completely done, the paper is removed and the joint finished, by browning it close to the flames for a few minutes. The photograph opposite shows a fillet of beef roasting in this way in the fireplace at La Varenne in Burgundy. It was probably the first roast to be cooked with a tournebroche at the Chateau du Fey for a few hundred years. TPhoto: courtesy of La Varenne
More robust beef joints like a sirlon often had a sheet of paper tied around any covering of fat to prevent it burning, as in the photograph opposite. The paper was usually removed fifteen to twenty minutes before the roast was completely cooked. The spit was then moved a little closer to the fire to complete the roasting process by browning, or frothing the surface of the meat. Depending on the strength of the fire and the fuel used, this distance varied. However, it was often a considerable distance from the fire. A large joint may be have been started as far away as 30 inches and browned at about 18 inches.
Various papers were used for this purpose - brown paper for instance, but it was more likely to have been a heavy laid paper - rather like modern water colour paper, which acts as a perfect heat shield and does n't catch fire..
"Broach it on a broach not too big"
A fillet of beef gently roasts in its jacket of paper.
A joint of beef starting at the fire with a heat shield of paper to protect the fat.