Left to his own devices in my house while I spent some time back at my parents', my boyfriend lovingly cultivated, over a period of four weeks, what he matter-of-factly calls a 'man fridge'. For the uninitiated: this basically means that, when I returned and opened the chilled receptacle that is at the heart of my kitchen, I found four items: a steak, some bacon, a tub of marmite and a packet of blue cheese. Furthermore, the majority of those items were past their sell-by date.
In a similar vein, this meal is what I believe is technically termed 'man food'. In order to classify as man food, a dish must comprise at least three of the following items: bread, pasta, potatoes, alcohol, rice, meat, mayonnaise, chips, condiments, cheese. Of these elements, meat must make up the predominant component of the meal, with refined carbohydrates in an esteemed second place. I think I performed the task admirably. Note the ratio of meat to vegetables and how it is all enclosed in a piece of bread. Extra man food points for enclosing everything in a piece of bread (calzone might be, perhaps, the ultimate man food).
Huge outdated gender stereotyping aside, this is definitely the kind of big, bold, hearty, guilt-inducing food I make on a very occasional basis. But after seeing Tom Kerridge in his latest TV series roast a huge piece of beef brisket slathered in sugar and spices in the oven before shredding it and immersing it in a huge vat of sticky, glistening homemade barbecue sauce, sandwiching the whole lot in a burger bun and garnishing with 'hardcore coleslaw', something primal within me spoke out and compelled me to recreate the same in my kitchen (not, currently, equipped with a 'man fridge').
The meat was great. How couldn't it be, after that delicious treatment? You rub it with spices, leave it overnight then slow-cook it for hours until you can shred it with a fork. The timing was perfect, as I've just acquired a great new roasting tin from Viners online cookware shop (it's this Mermaid one, if you're interested). I normally just use the tray that came with my oven, but it's very shallow and useless for anything involving much liquid; plus, this recipe required covering the tray with foil, which with my existing tray would take probably a whole roll of the stuff. This one is sturdy and has steep sides, plus a great little wire rack that fits in the dish with a dip in it to rest the meat on. The piece of brisket I used was relatively small, but the dish would be great with something like a whole chicken or a big shoulder of lamb. I've also used the tray alone as a bain marie to cook desserts in ramekins, because of the nice steep sides. It's worth the investment, I reckon - and Viners have a lot of really lovely kitchen equipment on their site, so go have a look if you're inspired.
The barbecue sauce was a nice complement, although I genuinely couldn't bring myself to put coca cola in it, as Tom does, so I skipped that part (and also used brandy instead of bourbon as, alas, I am not the kind of girl who just has a bottle of bourbon on hand in her kitchen). I baulked at the use of tomato ketchup but I went through with it. It took guts.
To be honest, though, the best part - for me - was making the milk buns, which filled my kitchen with the scent of croissants and were just gorgeous, soft and fluffy with a golden glaze and a gentle aroma of butter and happiness. They were the simplest thing to make, but I can't understand why I haven't done it before. You basically make a normal bread dough, but instead of using water as the liquid you use melted butter and whole milk. Glorious.
Sadly, I was not hardcore enough for the hardcore coleslaw, which involved basically an entire mug full of oil as well as egg yolks, anchovies and a lot of garlic. I instead made what I will term 'coward's coleslaw', with a dressing of lemon juice, vinegar, wholegrain mustard and Greek yoghurt, but which was actually really delicious and tasted indistinguishable from a mayonnaise version, only without being so cloying. It's definitely necessary with the beef, which is very rich - the sauce features red wine vinegar, dark brown sugar, brandy, concentrated beef cooking juices and tomato ketchup.
Putting all this in a bun is a nightmare. It spills out everywhere. You will need napkins. It's very messy and undignified, but it tastes really, really good. Man food for the masses. Amen.
For Tom Kerridge's recipe, see the link on the BBC website here.
For the coleslaw, I made a dressing using the juice of half a lemon, 2 tsp cider vinegar, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp wholegrain mustard, 2 tbsp olive oil and 200g thick Greek yoghurt. I used shredded carrots, fennel, celeriac, red onion and white cabbage, 1 tbsp chopped dill and a tsp of fennel seeds, tossed well with the dressing.