Cut a Dash Carving
Sharpen those knife wielding skills to impress the table by getting a little help from the masters at Simpson’s in the Strand
Article by Rupert Watkins
On the list of manly actions to have perfected, carving the formal roast comes somewhere in between being able to immaculately mow a lawn in stripes and bringing a woman to orgasm every time. An act full of potential pitfalls, for those who get it wrong, humiliation, bits of animal all over the dining room or a trip to Accident and Emergency awaits. Having been in the business of carving top-quality joints of beef and lamb since 1828, Simpson’s in the Strand has offered carving masterclasses for some years now – a fun and useful way for all to improve their knife wielding dexterity.
Welcomed over a refreshing gin and tonic (do not partake of too many before handling rather sharp knives… ) you are welcomed by Simpson’s head cook Gerry Rae, whose informative and witty banter is enough in itself to be worth the price of entrance. Gerry explains the intricacies of carving using beef, lamb and chicken as each require their own special approach to present the meat to best advantage.
Preparation is everything; as Gerry explains a poorly cooked piece of meat will never carve well. It is critical to allow all meat plenty of time to sit. The key is to monitor the temperature at the fattest part of the cut or bird. Beef should be taken out of the oven to rest when its core temperature hits 33 degrees C, lamb 45 degrees C and chicken 50 degrees C. Meat is a very good insulator (the bones on a rib of beef also act in a similar way); leaving it resting for the same amount of time it takes to cook to those temperatures actually means the meat will continue to cook and the core temperature will go up whilst it’s out the oven. Leaving the meat to rest, in beef and lamb’s case will allow the juices to be absorbed and retained whilst also allowing the meat to gently cook itself uniformly. For chicken, leaving it to rest and cook through itself means a more succulent bird – no overly dry and desiccated breast here.
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With chicken, Gerry also recommends removing the wishbone before cooking and to stuff with lemon, shallot and herbs – never stuffing as it takes so long to cook inside it invariably leads to an over-done and dried out bird. Cooking the chicken in the Simpson’s manner will mean the legs will be slightly underdone – remember this and pop back in the oven for a further five to six minutes.
Once placed on the serving plate the fun starts. Use the carving fork as an extension of your fingers and always use the entire length of the sharpened carving knife, as Gerry puts it, “don’t poke away with the first two inches of the blade…!” Useful advice for so many arenas of life really…. Cut smoothly. For beef and lamb, no slice should be more than 3mm wide. On a leg of lamb, do not cut around the bone but cut down towards it at a 45 degree angle. With chicken, removing the wishbone before cooking should allow better access and thus smoother slicing of the breast.
For those on the carving class who manage to resist sneaking a slice or two during instruction, head upstairs to the Grand Divan to be served Simpson’s cuts of meat in their full glory. 28 day aged Scottish beef or hogget – lamb over one year old but under two (Simpson’s use it for its depth of flavour) – is carved on their Georgian trolleys as it has been since the days the restaurant was mentioned by Sherlock Holmes. Given the heaviness of those most traditional English dishes, the restaurant does see a slight drop off in custom over high summer (try the Knight’s Bar) but has recently refined other main course options including lighter fish dishes as well as other Strand standards such as Beef Wellington. Be warned – a full three courses at Simpson’s in the Strand is not to be taken on lightly (!) but offers a memorable English dining experience.
The Carving Masterclass runs on selected Sundays throughout the year at £185 per person.
Enquiries: Simpson’s in the Strand, 100 Strand, London WC2R 0EW / 0207 8361381 / www.simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk/