Picnics should be remembered for food and not for the sudden thunderstorm which made everyone sprint under the bus shelter halfway through eating. That’s why when Oliver Denton hears there’s a picnic coming up, he starts preparations early.12 hours early in fact, so that he can make some mouthwatering slow cooked pulled beef rolls in a BBQ sauce.
I was once invited to a picnic in Regent’s Park, by a group of friends I had not seen since leaving University three years previously.
I pictured the scene: a large wicker hamper creaked open to reveal a spread so decadent that Chuck Bass himself would be impressed. Crusty baguettes stuffed with the finest matured cheddar, brie and smoked ham from the continent. Tender, peppery, meaty pork pies and ubiquitous Scotch eggs, all just a precursor to bowls of fresh summer soft fruits, double cream and of course enough sparkling wine to bring down a polo pony (Imagine Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe’ with a few more clothes).
But the reality and fantasy of a picnic can be very different.
What I encountered, however, was a ten-pack of Hula Hoops (with all of my favourite salt and vinegar packets eaten by the time I arrived), a couple of Wagon Wheels (slightly mishapen, as someone had squashed them in the bottom of their rucksack) and a lot of warm Australian lager.
Now when I hear there’s a picnic coming up, I start preparations early. I want to be able to roll up in the park with a bag so full of yum that people remember that picnic for the food, not for the sudden thunderstorm which made everyone sprint under the bus shelter halfway through lunch.
And I want to cook something which I will love to eat.
Pulled beef (and its porkie cousin) are very much in fashion, with supper clubs and street food stalls serving it up - each with their own little twists and touches. It’s certainly moved from being a steakhouse menu-filler to a more mainstream dish, however you might be surprised at how easy it is to make wonderful, moist, tangy and spicy pulled beef sandwiches of your own. In fact, all you need is time (and a slow cooker!)
Slow cooked balsamic pulled beef rolls in Coca-Cola BBQ sauce
As with the majority of my recipes, I try to be very precise about what I used for my own particular version. When a recipe says “salt and pepper to taste”, I’ve seen people add from a pinch to a fistful. I need a starting point so it does not taste like the Dead Sea version of a dish. So yeah, use these amounts as a guide, and scale up or down depending on your needs.
- Beef 2.2kg of top rump (cow butt). Silverside or topside would also be great
- Onions 4 medium sized onions (around 300g)
- Coca-cola 600ml (we’re using the cola as a substitute for sugar in this recipe, so don’t go ‘diet’ on this. If you’re not a fan then you can try lemonade -sharpens it up, Dr Pepper or ginger beer for a real kick)
- Tomato ketchup 300ml
- Balsamic vinegar 4 tbsp (it doesn’t need to cost a fortune, the one from LIDL is very good)
- Cider vinegar 2 tbsp
- Worcestershire sauce 4 tbsp
- Crushed chillies 1 tbsp (If you don’t like spicy food, please don’t put this in! You can use smoked paprika in its place for a more mellow taste)
- Salt 1 tsp
- Pepper 1 tsp
1) The hardest part of the recipe (and I use the term ‘hard’ loosely) is dicing the onions, so get them cut up as small as you can first. The onions will form part of the BBQ sauce, and you’ll find that they soak up the flavours of the other ingredients, especially the spice of the chili peppers. If you have a food processor, then use it to dice the onions!
2) Ok, so with the hard part over (!), line the bottom of your slow cooker with the onions. My slow cooker has a capacity of 4.2 litres, and fits this piece of beef perfectly - but I couldn’t have gone bigger. Keep that in mind when buying the meat for your cook!
3) Sprinkle on the crushed chillies, salt and pepper, then add the Worcestershire sauce, balsamic and cider vinegars to the bowl
4) Pour your 600ml of fizzy drink into the slow cooker. It should bubble up a bit but if you take your time you should avoid getting it all over the kitchen ceiling
5) Ketchup time - add it to the pot. If you bought the right sized bottle then you should just need to empty the whole thing in, especially satisfying if it’s a squeezy one
6) Stir all of these ingredients together, and take a breath. We’re nearly ready to begin cooking
7) Take your joint of meat and make sure it is free of all netting or paper that you bought it in. When you’re happy for it to be transformed, slowly lower it into your barbecue sauce base liquid. Some slow cooker recipes may tell you to fill the bowl to two-thirds or three-quarters full, however as you’re going to be leaving this on for 12 hours (in my case, overnight), I like to cover the meat fully because some of the liquid is going to be lost
8) Heat time - put the lid onto your slow cooker and turn it on - making sure you use the ‘LOW’ setting. Now leave it alone for 12 hours. LEAVE IT! No peeking under!
- - - - - - - - - - - 12 hours later - - - - - - - - - - -
9) If you’re using my timeline, it’s now 10.30am. You’ve had a great sleep, and something in the kitchen smells awesome! But before you dive in…
10) Prepare your rolls. If you can find a bakery nearby, ask them for rolls which are quite ‘bready’ and chunky. This will act as a sponge for your BBQ sauce, but it won’t disintegrate like a thin roll can. I reckon that a joint of beef this size is enough for at least 15 well-stuffed large rolls, so buy enough!
11) Remove the lid from the slow cooker and gently lift the meat from the pot and into a large bowl. The meat should be very tender (falling apart), so it should be easy to tear it apart using two forks
12) Transfer a quarter of the remaining BBQ sauce from the slow cooker into the bowl with your meat, and stir it in. This will make it nice and moist without being watery
13) Now stuff your bread rolls with your pulled beef, and make sure you pile lots of meat in there. I like to add a little spoonful of coleslaw from the local deli to each roll, especially if it’s a particularly spicy batch
14) Wrap each roll in foil, fill up a bag and get out in the sunshine!
You can add yellow mustard or more potent chili sauces to vary the kick of your own offering - just make sure you take extra for everyone, because one is never enough…
Inspired? For more delicious picnic recipes visit Great British Chefs collection