Happy Hour In The Heptarchy: Spiced Round and Boiled Custard

by J.R.

It’s five past 5 across Conference III (leave work early, Colorado — you have our permission), time to hit bricks and get that freakin’ weekend started, am I right?

Of course I am.

It’s been a tough week for some of you so loosen your belt, pop a top, grab a spoon and stop being such a sourpuss. III Communication’s got good news for everybody.

The Particulars

What We’re Eating: In Nashville — and virtually nowhere else in the world, unless there is a clutch of expat Nashvillians that have set-up a colony somewhere I don’t know about — Christmas means spiced round.

Back when Nashville was a meat-packing center, the German butchers found themselves with a winter problem: beef that needed preserving and an overabundance of lard:

One of the German butchers — some say it was George Jacobs from Wittenberg, others say it was Alex Warner — saw the excess beef and all the lard and remembered a preparation from the old country called “rinderbraten.”

Rinderbraten is a round of beef, stuffed with pork fat, brined and rolled in a miasma of spices — allspice, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon. It is boiled, simmered and sliced thin.

The brine solved the preservation problem. The pork fat stuffing used up the lard and made the dish more rich and filling. The Nashville butchers put their own spin on the original recipe.

Instead of stuffing the beef with the pork fat, it was larded into the meat using special horns. The Nashville version was much more heavily spiced than the original German — the lard itself was spiced, as was the brine, and more spices were pumped into the center of the meat.

Eating habits being what they are, spiced round has seen a precipitous decline from its heyday when it graced holiday tables from Amqui to Bellevue (people, frankly, are turned off by beef stuffed with pork fat), but it’s making a comeback:

James Peisker and Chris Carter of Porter Road Butcher say they played around with making spiced round last year, filling a few walk-in orders.

“We made it last year, and it was delicious,” Peisker says.

This year, though, they are confident enough in their “modern spin” on the old product that they’ll be taking pre-orders starting the week after Thanksgiving and running through the week before Christmas, selling for $15 per pound. (Elm Hill’s sells for $12 per pound.)

The foundations of the familiar spiced round are still there — Porter Road will use a proprietary blend of the essential spices, based on a recipe they were given by the great-granddaughter of one of the old Germantown meat packers.

There will be a few differences in technique. Instead of larding the beef with needles — a process Peisker says results in finished product that “looks cool,” but is incredibly time-consuming — Porter Road will bard the beef, wrapping it in spiced pork backfat. The round will then be vacuum-sealed in a brine — the modern take on the traditional practice of brining the beef in large oak barrels. Finally, instead of boiling, the spiced round will be prepared sous-vide in the brine before being lightly roasted, cutting the prep time from three weeks to one.

It’s hard to described spiced round to people who haven’t had it, but imagine a tissue-paper thin (or as we’d say it “tisha-paypuh theen”) cut of beef that tastes like Christmas — all cinnamon and allspice and a hint of brown sugar (here’s a traditional recipe for an idea). Trust me.

boiledcustardWhat We’re Drinking: The French call it crème anglaise and it’s more or less the stuff you have when you make ice cream from scratch. In these parts, we call it “boiled custard” (again, pronounced, “boolt custahd”). What egg nog is to most of the country — a thick, delicious Christmas drink that’s a smidge better with a shot of whiskey — boiled custard is to the south.

One of my wedding presents from my dear grandmother was a recipe box full of her best dishes, including boiled custard, but in the grand tradition of grandma’s everywhere, it includes such vague directions as “add some milk…” and “watch it for awhile until it looks ready” and “put it outside when it’s done cooking so it’ll cool off faster.”

Unfortunately, I haven’t achieved the level of necromancy required to properly produce boiled custard; fortunately, my grandma will make plenty (and it’s available on store shelves).

Reasons To Celebrate

Chicago: Coughed up a late lead to the Wild, but still, you’re top of the pops. Also at the top? Old Town — the most searched ZIP Code on Realtor.com.

Your Weekend Jam: “Dirty Old Town” by The Pogues


Colorado: Oh no, Jan Hejda! Oh yes, the Doggie Door Bandit has been arrested!

Your Weekend Jam: “Dog Door” by Sparklehorse


Dallas: When taking a break from trying to break fancystats, smile at the story of Stormy, the adorable puppy rescued from a storm drain.

Your Weekend Jam: “Stormy” by Classics IV


Minnesota: Finally. Finally. Finally. Your Norwegians have somewhere to go.

Your Weekend Jam: “Norwegian Wood” by PM Dawn


Nashville: Things are a little rough and an actual hawk hit your plane, but Shea Weber’s coming back and they are just handing out money at the McDonald’s in Hermitage.

Your Weekend Jam: “Born Stunna” by Birdman (feat. Rick Ross)


St. Louis: Why am I not surprised that people in St. Louis make money playing bar games?

Your Weekend Jam: “Juke Box Hero” by Foreigner


Winnipeg: If you wanna eat on the ice, Winnipeg is the place for you!

Your Weekend Jam: “Love on the Rocks” by Neil Diamond