Before Christmas I was assisting my lovely wife while she was exhibiting at East Renfrewshire's Winter Fair. During one of the quiet periods I took a wander around some of the other stalls and had a chat with Alan Steel who runs Lochbyre Rare Breed Meat, on of my favourite local producers who I have also previously written about on the blog. The stall next to Lochbyre was taken up by Glasgow butcher, R.McDougall of Paisley Road West, who was keen to educate me on the advantages and benefits of Highland Beef. Until then I wasn't aware that you could actually eat Highland Cattle. I thought the cute long haired coos with the big horns were dotted around Scotland to provide handy photo opportunity for the visiting tourists!
Resident butcher Roddy kindly donated a pack of highland beef sirloins steak to help me understand why R.McDougall Butchers are proud to promote and stock Highland Beef.
The Highland breed of cattle has a long and distinguished ancestry, not only in its homeland of western Scotland, but also in many of the far-flung parts of the world. One of Britain's oldest, most distinctive, and best known breeds, with a long thick, flowing coat of rich hair and majestic sweeping horns, the Highlander has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.
Written records go back to the 18th century and the Highland Cattle Herd Book, first published in 1885, lists pedigrees since that time. New folds, as herds of the Highlanders are known, are founded every year both at home and abroad. In the British Isles folds are found from the furthest south to the extreme north on many different types of ground varying from the slopes of the Sussex Downs, the fenlands of East Anglian, to the windswept mac hears of the Outer Hebrides.
But it is on the vast areas of rugged mountain land with high annual rainfall and bitter winds, where no other cattle could exist, that Hghland cattle thrive and breed. The breed is exceptionally hardy with a natural unique ability to forage and convert poor grazing efficiently. Calving outside and seldom, if ever, needing to be housed, they make a real economic contribution to hill and upland areas. They are remarkable for their longevity, many Highland cows continue to breed to ages in excess of eighteen years having borne fifteen calves.
Highland Beef is slow maturing resulting in lean, well-marbled meat that ensures tenderness and succulence with a very distinctive flavour. Highland Beef is healthy and nutritious with lower levels of fat and cholesterol and a higher protein and iron content than some other beefs.
The steaks that we were given were delicious. I simply panfried the steaks for a few minutes on each side before resting for a further five minutes, before serving with thick hand cut potato wedges. The steaks were medium cooked, and very tender. In fact they were so tender that there was no need for a steak knife, our regular cutlery cut through the steaks like a hot knife through butter.
Highland Beef has a very distinctive flavour, tasting like what beef used to taste like. If there was one negative that I could write about is that the 9oz steaks that we had were too tender and too tasty and as a result Nicola somehow managed to finish her steak far too easily for my liking, leaving me disappointed as I had one eye on potential leftovers from the other side of the table.
Highland beef is served in some of the top restaurants across the country, being offered as a gourmet choice. As a result, Highland Beef does carry a premium price, however for a special occasion I can heartily recommend spending the extra money on this truly tasty beast.
For a complete list of where to buy Highland Beef, visit the Highland Cattle Society website.