7.2 Salt Beef and Potato Latkes
Two of the London restaurants I remember most fondly from my childhood couldn’t have been more different from one another; Goody’s Kosher Restaurant on Berwick Street and Isow’s Restaurant on Brewer Street.
Isow’s was an American-Jewish-style restaurant. It had glitz and glamour in spades and was very much a celebrity hangout. The backs of the chairs were embossed with the names of stars who had dined there: Danny Kaye, Walt Disney, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day and many more. Muhammad Ali even held a press conference there. The food was pretty good too; never exceptional, but always served in huge portions!
Goody’s, on the other hand, was a narrow, Georgian-style, shop-fronted premises just off Oxford Street. To get in, you had to fight your way past a voluminous velvet curtain before encountering a formidable lady, with gimlet eyes, dressed in black with dyed jet-black hair, guarding a large, mechanical cash register. She was cashier and bouncer rolled into one. I suspect no-one ever escaped without paying in full and leaving a significant gratuity.
Their mixed hors d’oeuvres — chopped liver and egg and onion with a side of pickled cucumbers — was a reliable start to a haimishe (home-style) meal. Chicken soup with the works was a delight. Roast chicken, helzel, salt beef with latkes, and of course their iconic cholent. Desserts were apple pie, lokshen kugel, or wonderful apple strudel, served with a glass of lemon tea. Each dish more substantial than the one before. Rather than a taxi rank outside, an ambulance station might have been more appropriate.
Potato latkes were a staple of both restaurants. I have known them to be served with cinnamon and sugar, but this is clearly an act of culinary vandalism.
- For the salt beef
- 1.5 – 2 kg piece of salt beef brisket, not too lean
- 6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled but cut in half
- 2 onions, peeled and halved
- 2 large carrots, peeled and halved
- 1 teaspoon of pickling spice (remove all but one clove)
- Enough cold water to cover
- For the potato latkes (makes about 20)
- 1.5kg potatoes, peeled
- 1 large onion, peeled
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 150 g self-raising flour
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- ½ teaspoon of ground white pepper
- Vegetable oil for frying
To make the salt beef
- Place the brisket, onions, carrots, garlic and pickling spice in a large pan. Cover with water to a depth of 5cm.
- Bring to the boil, skim off any scum, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Cover the pan and cook for 3 – 4 hours, until the meat is soft and tender.
To make the latkes
- Grate the potatoes and onions using a medium grater. Squeeze out any excess water and put into a mixing bowl with the beaten eggs and flour, and stir well to make a sloppy batter.
- Add the salt and white pepper. Don’t let the batter stand for too long or the potato will blacken.
- Heat 1cm of vegetable oil in a frying pan. When hot (but not smoking), fry a spoonful of batter until golden on each side. Taste to check the seasoning.
- Use two dessert spoons of the mix per latke, flattened to form 10cm discs in the pan. Fry 4 – 6 at a time. When the undersides are golden, turn them over.
- Continue to fry until they are brown and crispy.
- When the brisket is cooked, lift from the pan, slice and serve with the latkes, boiled cabbage, English mustard (made from the powder) and new green pickled cucumbers.
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