Have you ever wondered what wine will pair with your mid-week bully beef meal?
Each Christmas, two long-time friends and I get together for a holiday meal. No holds barred on the foods we cook and the wines we decide to drink.
While hashing out the FriendsMas dinner for this past holiday, one friend piped up to talk about the price of food these days. Then one of us, in jest but partially largely due to nostalgia, said, "we should make bully beef and call it a day", and that is just what we did! We unscrewed a tin of Hereford Bully Beef and made magic happen!
What is Bully Beef
If you are unfamiliar with bully beef, you likely will recognize it as tinned Corned Beef. Look at the Hereford Corned Beef picture; I am sure it will jog your memory. If not, here are a few key things to note:
Corned Beef is made up of various cuts of beef, finely minced. All air is removed from the tin for preservation purposes, and thin gelatinous specks sit on top.
There is no corn in this delicious treat. The term 'corn' was used to reference the rock salt used to cure/preserve the beef in the tin. (Back in the day, the British used "corn" to refer to any grain, period. Given the size of rock salt, it got lumped into all things 'corn'.)
Because of its affordability, Corned Beef was referred to as a"poor man's" meal. This means nothing to me because it is delicious and nostalgic. I don't think one Caribbean is void of stories of Bully Beef.
Corned Beef is salty to the taste, fresh out of the tin, and has a fine and soft texture on the palate.
Lastly, on the must-know track, in my Caribbean home, the 'ed' is dropped, and it is simply 'Corn Beef' but is mainly referred to as Bully Beef.
The History of Corned Beef
While many say Corned Beef is unequivocally Irish, you should know that the Corned Beef recipe originated in Argentina and Uruguay in South America. Ranchers would pack Corned Beef for their long and arduous work on the pampas. The recipe was later brought to Europe.
Corned Beef then made its way back to the Caribbean and North America as the French and British would supply their empires (colonies) with it.
Corned Beef also has a strong military history. It was a part of the British army rations for more than a century. In fact, while researching Corned Beef, I was surprised to see how many war museums showcased either 'Bully Beef' tins and or its can openers!
How Corned Beef is Prepared in the Caribbean
In the Caribbean, preparing a tin of Bully Beef is all about the flavour.
When cooking Corned Beef, the contents of the tin are emptied into a skillet and fried. We add onion, garlic, thyme, scallion, and pepper (wiri wiri or scotch bonnet) to the tinned beef. We sometimes add diced potato to the mix or corn. I usually serve it over rice, but many enjoy having it with fried bake, fried dumpling, or Johnny Cakes. Once done, you'll note that the herbs and spices used nicely balance the original saltiness Corned Beef gives fresh out of the tin.
What Wine Pairs with Corned Beef
I am not the first to pair Corned Beef with wine. Famed novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, in 1835, gives an account of a gracious spread that includes the dish. "Dinner, chowder, fried fish, corned beef,--claret, afterwards champagne." ~ Passage of the American Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Unlike Hawthorne, I choose to pair our Bully Beef dinner with a Nero d'Avola, and it was magical. As an aside, the Claret that Hawthorne refers to is a general term for Bordeaux red blends.
I went with a young Nero d'Avola because I wanted a red wine that was relatively high in acidity but with thick enough skins (tannins) to help cut the fat of the Corned Beef.
Any overt acidity in the dish was minimised by the Nero d'Avola, and the weight of the dish also felt lighter on the palate, due to both the acidity and tannin in the wine. Lastly, the fried Corned Beef mixture softened the fruit on the wine and it showed itself as being more fruit-forward. The key was selecting a red wine of medium+ acidity and medium+ tannin; that is the winning combination for a dish with the flavour profile of Corned Beef.
Another wine that would have worked nicely is Xinomavro from Greece, for the reasons mentioned above about Nero d'Avola.
Let's continue pairing the wines we love with the spices we love!