An Irish specialty for drop-in guests and informal gatherings

As for many people, the holiday season for us is one of hospitality, a time when guests drop in unexpectedly, a continual open house. One of our favorite things to serve comes from a recipe given to us by friends in Ireland who enjoy spiced beef, a particularly fine holiday food, which can be - indeed, must be - prepared a week in advance, and which is then on hand to offer to friends and family alike during the festivities and informal gatherings.

Throughout the Irish Republic, and especially in the city of Cork, a large joint of cold spiced beef, glistening in its own bright aspic, takes pride of place on the buffet table. Irish Spiced Beef 6-pound joint of beef 1 pound coarse sea salt 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon ground mace 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon coarsely crushed black peppercorns 1 teaspoon saltpeter 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed 4 bay leaves, crushed 1 cup brown sugar 1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced 3 onions, peeled and sliced 3 sticks celery, chopped Bouquet of fresh herbs Water

Unroll beef joint, if necessary. Mix salt and spices together. Rub thoroughly into joint and lay in a shallow dish on a bed of more salt and spices.

Place in refrigerator. Turn meat daily, thoroughly rubbing in the salt and spices, about a week. When ready to cook, wash and roll up joint and tie securely with string.

Combine chopped carrots, onions, and celery in large casserole. Add beef. Cover with cold water, add fresh herbs, and slowly bring to boil.

Cover, simmer gently until tender, up to 5 hours, depending on size. Remove from liquid and cool; stand in a flat dish with a weighted board on top.

Meanwhile, reduce cooking liquid to a concentrated aspic, place in bowl surrounded by ice, and glaze meat repeatedly when cold. Serve cold.

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