Sailor's Steak - My mother's recipes


Sailor's Steak or Sailor's Beef (Swedish Sjömansbiff or Finnish Merimiespihvi)

Husband and I have now been in Corona-lockdown for a little over a week. He finally got home last week after being stuck in Iran for several very anxious weeks. Fortunately I stayed incredibly brave and strong. Stoic even.

I may have burst into tears on horrified workmates on the odd occasion.

I may have shouted at and hung up on some Foreign and Commonwealth Office people, who to be fair (to me) were complete dickheads.

And on the day he was finally flying I texted and WhatsApped him possibly a bit too frequently to make sure everything was going to plan. He had two plane changes and I had to make sure he wasn't falling asleep somewhere in between or waiting at the wrong gate or in some other way messing it all up. When he got home he said he almost blocked me.

And obviously I burst into happy tears when he finally walked through to the arrivals at Heathrow. But other than that and maybe a few too many glasses of red wine to calm my nerves I was a picture calm resilience. 

So in a way this week having husband back to me safe and sound has been a happy one. But naturally the ever more worrying news from around the world have taken the shine off things. 

I know it's only been a week and there will be so many more. But days already blur into one.  One day I was on a conference call wondering why no-one else was joining. I started messaging people possibly slightly accusatorially asking if they were planning to join. They said they were, the next day. I had been looking at the following day's calendar and had actually missed another call earlier in the morning, a really interesting training session on mobile gas detection (!?!) so I was gutted. 

The other day husband was asking me if he had had a shower that day. I said I thought he had, but couldn't be sure. So he took a peak into his lounge pants and noticed that he seemed to be wearing a new pair of boxer shorts, so he took that as a sign that a shower had taken place.

I keep calling my dad who is slightly prone to pessimism at the best of times to keep his spirits up. My parents are in their 80s and dad had made some mathematical modelling and come to a conclusion that he and mum would not make it through this. So he had come up with the idea that they should go out and try and get it now when hospitals still have intensive care capacity. He reckoned if they get it later they will just be left to die. I suggested that another possible strategy would be to stay in and not get the virus at all. He saw some promise in the thought and said he's give it a think.  

On a slightly more optimistic day he told my sister that he thought he definitely would not survive this, because he has some weakening of lung function from an influenza and subsequent pneumonia, but mum might have a chance. My sister told him not to worry, she would look after mum. He felt my sister could have shown a bit more emotion about his possible demise.  

Toilet paper hoarding left me with this delightful option.
We are well stocked for food. My freezer and cupboards are always full. I just came back from Finland with more lovely game meat and some fish and smoked goodies. I also have a substantial stock of tinned smoked mussels which of course is essential in a global virus lockdown situation like this.

And before husband got back I went out to get some things to prepare, because we can't visit shops until we know he hasn't caught the virus on his travels. It's starting to look likely he hasn't, we are on day 10 now.

All the supermarket home delivery slots have been booked up in our area, but I managed to order 15 bottles of wine from Aldi this week which will keep us on a cheerful mood. And eventually I found a company delivering food boxes and ordered a delivery because we were running low on milk and fresh veg. There was milk, eggs, bread and butter and all sorts of fresh fruit and veg. I was particularly delighted to find a little carton or fresh raspberries and an avocado!

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For some reason I seem to have accumulated lots of potatoes. Probably because I have bought lots of potatoes. And there were some more in the box. I love potatoes. A potato to a Finn is the same as pasta to normal people. A meal is not really a meal if there aren't any potatoes. I pretend sometimes with my rice dishes and orzo and other silliness. But in my heart I know a proper dinner table needs a pan of boiled potatoes and a jar of pickled herring. 

My mum, who is my cooking inspiration and idol used to make a dish called Sailor's Steak. It's a traditional Finnish dish, although Swedes obviously claim it as their own and I suppose it's possible. I'm usually up for these fights but now I'm thinking it doesn't matter, whoever came up with it should be knighted. The dish is a brilliantly simple but tasty bake with beef, onions and potato. I actually have never made it before and if turned out perfect. I made it with lamb leg steaks because that's what I happened to have and it was amazing. But next time I will do it with beef, that's the original way.

Sailor's Steak or Sailor's Beef (Swedish Sjömansbiff or Finnish Merimiespihvi)

Sailor's Steak or Sailor's Beef (Swedish Sjömansbiff or Finnish Merimiespihvi)

(serves 4)

700g beef or lamb (topside, brisket, lamb leg steaks or similar)
2 yellow onions
4-5 large potatoes
Vegetable oil
Black pepper
330ml bottle of beer (lager)
300ml beef stock
Bay leaf

Cut the meat into approximately half an inch / 1 cm thick small steaks across the grain (around the size of a match box). Flatten them with a meat tenderiser. Some recipes call for dredging the meat in flour, but I don't bother with that.

Heat oil in a pan and brown the meat on both sides. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a plate.

Peel and slice the onions thinly. I used a mandolin for ease. Do the same with the potatoes, although you can leave them unpeeled if you like.  Sauté the onions in a pan until they soften, don't brown them. Remove to a plate. Sauté the potato slices until they start getting some colour.

Take a large baking dish and start layering the ingredients. You can use a large dutch oven if you like. It does't really matter how you want to layer things, but maybe start with some potato, then meat, onion and another layer of potato. Finish with a layer of potato.

Pour the stock and beer in the pan you have been using to fry the ingredients. Warm it up, season with salt and pepper. Pour in the baking dish. It should come to about 1cm from the rim. Add water if you don't have enough or if you have too much reserve to add during the cooking if necessary.

Add a couple of knobs of butter on the top of the potatoes. Cover with foil and bake in a 180C oven for 2 hours. Then remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes until the potatoes on the top are brown and crisp. Check the liquid during the cooking a few times and add if it looks it's getting too dry. It's not supposed to be a soup in the end, but there should be some sauce left.

Let rest a little before serving.

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