25 February 2011

Old Sturbridge Village's Beef 'Olives' ...

I have been waiting for a few days to pass before re-visiting this recipe. I made it with my cohorts at last weekend's visit to Old Sturbridge Village. These little two-bite beef roulades reminded me of a German beef and dumpling recipe that I had in Weinheim when Silent Bob and I lived there for a bit. They have the chopped pickle, too,  that is so reminiscent of a German flourish on meat dishes. The center is like a firm bready dumpling - very German. I really wonder what the original source of this 'Beef Olives' recipe is!

Wherever it comes from, it sure is good! Now, of course I did play with it just a bit. And I used all my modern conveniences to produce the dish, so here goes!

First things first, I was a lazy girl and sliced the top round while it was still frozen so I could have really uniformly thin slices that were about an eighth of an inch thick. Then, I let them thaw the rest of the way. Because I was dealing with an old recipe that doesn't have standard measurements, I made twenty slices so that we'd have some leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. Then, I adjusted the amount of breading to match the amount of beef.

The center of the beef olive consists of a bread dumpling that is spicy and held together with beef suet (I used a bit of vegetable shortening) and egg yolks. One would normally use day old white bread. I had a loaf of    'processed'  Italian bread that I used to make French toast last weekend - a perfect way to use it up.

This is where I got a bit inventive. The original recipe calls for beef suet, chopped parsley, nutmeg, and lemon zest.  So ... I used (clock-wise from the fresh parsley) flat-leaf parsley , poultry seasoning, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, allspice, and nutmeg. I cut about a tablespoon and a half of Crisco shortening into the bread crumbs as you would if you were making pie crust. Then I smushed it all together with four egg yolks.

Once the eggs are mixed in the olive mixture is very moist and sticky ... perfect for making little spheres that are just about the size of a large olive. I made the little balls of  'olive' dumplings and used toothpicks to secure the beef strips around them. And here is where I put the camera away for a bit ... sticky fingers, working with a claypot with a bit of olive oil in the bottom, my hands were full.

After searing the beef olives on all sides over medium high heat, I poured a rich beef broth and some dry vermouth over them until they were not quite covered, brought it to a simmer, and covered them so that they would gently cook for about an hour. I reserved just a bit of the broth and stirred some flour in to make a gravy slurry. I also substituted a bit of Browning sauce for the 'mushroom catsup' ... whatever that is. Then, I stirred it into the beef olives after their hour of slow bubbling. The gravy thickened beautifully.

These beef olives are traditionally served with a side of mashed potato and a bowl of minced sweet pickle for sprinkling over them. May sound weird, but boy, was that little bit of cool sweet tart flavor perfect! I opted to not serve mashed potatoes. Instead, I steamed a big bowl of broccoli and made poached pears to accompany the beef olives. So good!

This dish would be a perfect dinner party recipe because you can so easily alter the amounts of everything to account for the number of your guests. You can also make this dish ahead of time and then add the gravy thickening at the last minute. If you were really ambitious, you could make the beef olives one-bite size so you could serve them as hors d'oeurves. A small beef bite with a tiny pickle piece skewered on a toothpick would be an awesome treat! Just planting a seed ...

Below is my recipe adaptation ... the recipe card is what we followed when we made them at OSV.

OSV's Beef Olives
an adapted recipe

Ingredients for 2 servings:

1 good sized top round steak or London broil steak, partially frozen
7 slices white bread - a soft Italian or potato bread, processed (or chopped) to fine bread crumbs
3 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
zest of half a lemon
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. black pepper
two pinches kosher salt
2 tbsp. vegetable shortening, cut in until crumbly
4 egg yolks
4 c. strong beef broth
1/2 c. dry white wine (extra dry vermouth was awesome)
2 tsp. Browning sauce (gravy fortifying sauce)
4 tbsp. flour
5 small sweet gherkins, finely chopped

Making the Dish:

1. Slice the partially frozen steak across the grain into long strips that are about 1/8 inch thick. Make about 20 strips. Set aside in a bowl to finish thawing.

2. Prepare the bread crumbs and place them in a deep bowl.

3. Add the parsley, lemon zest, poultry seasoning, cayenne, nutmeg, allspice, salt and pepper and toss with a fork to mix.

4. Add the shortening and cut it into the bread with two knives until it is crumbly.

5. Turn in the egg yolks and toss the mix to incorporate. The olive mixture will form a sticky dough.

6. Form small spheres (20 of them) and place them on a nearby plate.

7. Wrap each 'olive' with a strip of thawed beef and secure with toothpicks.

8. Heat a small amount of olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) in the bottom of a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

9. When the oil is shimmering, add a layer of the beef olives and let them sear until they can easily be turned. Continue to sear on all sides and then remove to a plate while you finish searing the rest of the beef olives. You don't want to crowd the beef olives or they won't sear well.

10. When all the olives have been seared, return them to the pan and pour all but 1/2 c. of the beef broth over them. They should not be completely covered ... just almost covered.

11. Bring to a gentle simmer, add the dry white wine ( I used dry vermouth).

12. Cover the pan and simmer (very gently) for one hour. If necessary, use a heat diffusing pad between the pan and the burner/gas heat.

13. After one hour, mix the flour in the remaining 1/2 c. beef broth and Browning sauce. Stir the gravy slurry into the beef olives, being gentle. When a smooth gravy forms, turn off the heat, re-cover and let sit until you are ready to plate the meal.

14. Meanwhile chop the sweet pickles and place them in a small bowl on the table for serving over the beef olives.

15. Serve with mashed potatoes, the sweet pickles, and side vegetables.


  1. Oh my goodness Susan - this is fantastic - what a concept. I have never seen anything quite like this and it comes as no surprise what so ever that you're the one to bring this to us.

    Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  2. "Beef Olives" are so called because they look like, yep, olives. It's a VERY English dish, one that goes back centuries. I know that receipts (recipes) for it are in numerous published cookbooks, beginning with (at least) the 17th century and then throughout the 18th and 19th. Incidentally, The Cook's Own Book (1832) was/is billed as an encyclopedia of "the very best" receipts, so it's highly likely its "Beef Olives" came from an earlier source. Interestingly (to me), after a quick perusal of several different cookbooks from those three centuries, I found that the receipts for "Beef Olives" changed very little. Making them sounds like fun. HUZZAH! I'll have to try it sometime.

  3. They look delicious.

    Great idea to cut the beef while still partly frozen - makes life alot easier.

  4. Mmm, a nice hearty meal! I've got to put this on my list, we love London broil! Thanks for sharing!

  5. What a neat recipe! I've never heard of anything like this either. My "I love everything German" daughter would go crazy for it. Susan, Cookbook Sundays is next weekend. First Sunday of each month, although I try and post it Saturday evenings. So next Saturday evening I'll be posting March's CS. See you then (hopefully, lol). :o)


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