In an era when cured pig back is more chic than caviar and the once prized but hopelessly lean fillet (filet mignon) cut may soon be sold off for scrap it’s hard to remember back to a time when fat was a four-letter word. Seek out any good Old English dictionary and you’ll find fat listed as fæt – f-a-e-t, I kid you not.
Sure there were peasants who by circumstance or choice sought out the fattier bits of fatty meats. They regarded the streaks of marbling running through beef as thoroughfares of flavour and happiness. But it’s unlikely many striving for acceptance in genteel London managed to be as unabashed about their preference for the bad white stuff as Walter Matthau, who, as Oscar Madison in Neil Simon‘s The Odd Couple, tells the New York waitress: “Give me a corned beef on rye, all fat.”
Euphemism crept into the brine for salt beef when the British counterpart to New York Jewish corned beef moved up from London’s East End to to its West End. In the 1950s, if you stepped into one of the salt beef bars on Great Windmill Street and wanted a cutter like Bambos Georgiou to make you a sandwich with enough fat left on the meat to clog even your peripheral arteries you didn’t say so in quite those words. Likewise, the proper punters who followed Georgiou to the Brass Rail, the salt beef bar he helped open at Selfridges London flagship in 1966, used three polite, deceptively undemanding words to communicate their partiality for cuttings of the unlean variety.
And even now in the naughty post-Naughties, when trendy eaters are less inclined to have their meat trimmed of fat than their fat trimmed of meat, you mustn’t say as much to the cutters at B & K, the suburban salt beef bar Georgiou opened with Jerry Kosimar in 1967. If you do so at either the original location in Edgware or the newer Harrow outpost one of his sons, Michael or John, may correct your English, as he did mine.
“The next time you come in,” advised John Georgiou, “if you want it that way just ask for it ‘as it comes’”.
By this he meant fat-glistening slices of salt beef cut from a brisket with its fat side left largely intact. Untrimmed. As it comes.