20 April 2012

Beef Olives - just in time for Sunday lunch!

You should have seen son & heir's face when he asked what was for dinner on Sunday and was told "Beef Olives".  It went from "Beef - YES!" to "olives - NO!" in seconds.  I had to temper his disappointment quickly by telling him that actually, the name "Beef Olives" has no involvement with his hated ingredient, the olive.  He cheered up a lot after that - and thoroughly enjoyed the end result, as we all did.  Hubby really excelled himself (considering he was outside of his comfort zone) with this one.

I had a quick look online to see if I could determine a little bit about the history of the name "Beef Olives", and from Historic Foodways' "History is Served" pages, found this : 

"The British term for wrapping meat around a stuffing, browning it and finishing it in a brown sauce is called an “olive,” although there are no olives in it.  Perhaps the word referred to the final “olive-like” shape the meat took when it was tied up and cooked.  Beef, veal and even fish olives have been part of the British cuisine since the 16th century".

Well that was news to me.  I considered the dish to be very much a seventies creation - but it seems it goes way back into the mists of time.  I can see the correlation between an olive and the shape of the rolled meat - although you have to think more of the elongated shape of the wild olive, rather than the round, fat, cultivated olive.

Anyway, I shall turn this blog post over to hubby now, so that he can tell you how he did it, in his own words :

The making of Beef Olives is a fairly straightforward thing.

This was my first attempt at them, drawing on both childhood memories and various cook books.  None of the processes involved are in the slightest bit complex but the thing I hadn't anticipated was the time needed to complete each stage - especially the flattening (is that the technical term) of the beef itself.  To avoid timing issues, I heartily recommend leaving half a day spare or perhaps preparing the beef in the morning.

From the dim recesses of my memory I can recall eating both stuffed and un-stuffed Beef Olives. I've given here, the recipe for the Olives that we had last Sunday but I can see a lot of scope for alternative stuffings - I think we're might try a blue cheese based one next.

The beef that I used in our dish comprised three 200g braising steaks from our local butcher.  To prepare them, I cut each steak into three equal pieces and then placed each piece on a chopping board before laying a sheet of clingfilm on top and then beating enthusiastically with a meat mallet and a rolling pin.  I used the mallet to do the heavy work and the rolling pin to ensure that the meat was the same thickness all over.

Be warned that this process takes a *long* time and requires a fair amount of effort.  The decision to use braising steak in this recipe was based on the fact that it looked nice in the butchers display.  In fact, pretty much any kind of beef can be used, with the combination of tenderising and long slow cooking rendering the beef very soft in the finished dish.

The recipe below is how I prepared the dish on the day.  On reflection, I think I would add an extra stage to the preparation of the Olives, so feel free to add this if you like the sound of it!  After stuffing, rolling and securing each Olive, I would flash fry them before placing in the roasting dish.  This would colour the outside of the Olives and help to boost the 'beefiness' of the flavour.

I have also seen another variation that I'd like to try.  This involves taking each beaten sheet of beef and then painting the entire surface with a thin layer of mustard and then a layer of stuffing.  The whole thing is then rolled up like a Swiss roll before being secured and cooked as normal.
Anyway, on with the show. 

BEEF OLIVES    (makes 9 olives)

Ingredients :
For the Stuffing :
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon
50g breadcrumbs
3 largish chestnut mushrooms, chopped fine
half a tsp fresh sage
half a tsp fresh thyme
half a tsp fresh parsley

3 x 200g beef braising steaks
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
1 glass red wine
600 ml good beef stock.

Method :

1.  Cook the bacon until crispy and then chop into tiny bits.

2.  Add the mushrooms to the bacon, breadcrumbs and herbs in a frying pan.  Ideally, fresh herbs should be used and in quantities to your own taste.  The amounts listed here are simply a guide.  Fry the mixture in a little olive oil until the breadcrumbs turn golden and then set aside to cool completely.

3.  Beat the beef into a thin sheet, 2mm thick or so, and then repeat with each chunk of braising steak.  

4.  The Olives can now be assembled.  This is done by taking a tablespoon (or more if you like) of the stuffing and spreading it across a sheet of beef.  Roll the beef tightly around the stuffing and then secure it with two cocktail sticks or by tying with kitchen string.  The finished Olive should be about the size of a large sausage.  The Olives can now be placed into a large, deep roasting dish or lasagne dish.

5.  The next stage is to prepare the stock.  In a saucepan, gently saute the chopped red onions and garlic until soft.  Once done, turn up the heat to a good sizzle and then add the red wine. Allow the wine to reduce by half and then add the beef stock.

6.  All manner of other ingredients can be added at this point.  Think mustard, or mushroom ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, redcurrant jelly,  horseradish - whatever takes your fancy really. Simmer this mixture for a few minutes before pouring over the beef until the liquid reaches about two thirds up the Olives.

7.  Now cover the dish with a lid or a sheet of foil and place into an oven, pre-heated to 160degC for at least 90 minutes.  Take the dish out of the oven after 45 minutes and rotate each Olive before returning to the oven.  After ninety minutes, remove the foil lid and return the dish to the oven for another 10-15 minutes.

8.  Make gravy from the meat juices and stock in the roasting dish.  This can be done the hard way, by reduction and the addition of gravy browning, or the easy way, with gravy granules - no, I'm not telling which way I chose!

Serve with roast potatoes, a selection of vegetables, Yorkshire Puddin', English mustard and good old Horseradish sauce!



  1. I don't think your son and heir would have fancied the french version either; Oiseaux sans Têtes or Headless Birds! Actually my real man, who is so much a meat and 2 veg guy, might like this!

    1. LOL Suzy - I can see the reasoning behind that name! No, I don't supppose he'd have found that particularly appetising either. :) I reckon your meat & 2 veg man would love this dish, never mind like it. :)

  2. Thanks for linking this in to Food on Friday. Looks yummy.


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