Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Fare: Roast Beef 101

A hearty plank of roast beef served with Yorkshire pudding, oven roasted potatoes, and creamed spinach–all holiday traditions in our combined families.

I have to really crow about our roast beast this year. First of all, it was recently excavated from the bottom of our chest freezer on the back porch. That alone is something to crow about. Allow me to recap the scene here about a week ago:

SCENE: A small doublewide kitchen on a ridge in Kentucky, a few days before Christmas.

Tired Old Wife: "Remember, hon, when we got that huge roast at Kroger's last year on sale and we cut it in half?"

Tired Old Husband: "Um, I think so." (reading the paper, feet propped up, sort of not really listening)

Tired Old Wife: "Well, I'm almost positive it's in that freezer somewhere..."

Tired Old Husband: "I take it that means you would like me to look for you?"

Tired Old Wife: "Yes, but only when you have a minute..."

Tired Old Husband: "You mean, like 'right now,' don't you?"

Tired Old Wife: "Well, yes, that would be nice...thank you so much. You know, before I forget...I would go myself, but you know I'd fall in if I start reaching into the very bottom, being of gnome stature and all..."

Tired Old Husband tromps out to back porch. Fusses because freezer is covered with Tired Old Wife's cookie doughs in various covered plastic containers and a bunch of items that won't fit in the kitchen refrigerator, and a box of apples in various states of decay. Rummaging and fussing can be heard for several minutes.

Tired Old Husband: "Found IT!"

The old couple examines the 12 pounds of solid, boneless Delmonico roast. The old label was still on it and they'd paid about $110 for 24 pounds (about $4.58 a pound for excellent meat–at half price), which saved then about $120 with the use of their Kroger® card (the original roast was well over $200). It was double-wrapped in foil and had been placed in a zippered freezer bag (one of those really large ones). After a year in the bottom of their chest freezer, dread overcame the Tired Old Wife.

Tired Old Wife
(somewhat vexed): "Do you think it has freezer burn?"

Tired Old Husband
(somewhat annoyed but aware that his wife is generally prone to needless fretting): "We'll see–There's no sense getting yourself all worked up about it...yet."

Tired Old Wife sets up coffee maker and pats roast thawing on the counter for good luck before turning on nightlight and heading to bed.

Loud applause as kitchen set goes dark.

+ + +

We were supposed to have had it on Christmas Eve, late in the evening "Le Réveillon-style," after our deliveries of baskets of food and banana bread. But we were exhausted from that and my sensible husband suggested we have it Christmas Day at noon instead (our traditional Christmas dinner is usually served around 5pm but we were going to the Hursts for singing and the quilt-giving so I thought, this year, we'd have a French Réveillon, but served well before midnight).

When it thawed and I looked it over, there was not one bit of freezer burn to be seen or felt and the meat was still a lovely fresh pink. Maybe it had somehow "dry aged" itself in the freezer or maybe it was our "Christmas miracle" of the season. Either way, you'd never have known it had been frozen for twelve months. Vive le boeuf!

About ten years ago, after years of struggle and occasional blind luck, I finally asked a restaurant chef how they always managed to get pink, juicy roast beef straight through. "First I braise and raise (the temperature) and then it's slow and low," he said. All you need, apart from a really good roast, is a reliable roasting pan and an even more reliable meat thermometer. Here is my recipe for succulent, juicy, fool-proof roast beef (that is, if you follow the directions!).

Christmas Roast Beef
  1. Get the best cut of beef you can, ideally on sale: Delmonico is great but there are others. [Don't hesitate to ask the guys behind the meat department at your local box store, either. They love to be asked and will tell you all you want to know about meat and what the best cut is for the price you want to pay. Make sure it has some fat on it, but not too much. That marbling is what gives it the flavor.]
  2. Put the fresh, or thawed, meat in the pan, fat side up, to come to room temperature, several hours before roasting.
  3. Slather the meat all over with coarsely ground pepper, sea salt and fresh minced garlic and dried rosemary, if desired.
  4. Heat oven to 450 degrees and place meat thermometer in the middle of the roast, piercing it towards the center. Put just a bit of water in the bottom of the pan, perhaps 1/2 inch.
  5. Place roast in center of oven and cook roast at 450 degrees for 20 minutes (make sure you set your timer).
  6. After 20 minutes at 450 degrees, turn oven down to 250 degrees (without opening oven).
  7. Cook until meat thermometer registers "rare" for beef or 60 degrees Celsius (or 140 degrees Fahrenheit), about 2 hours.
  8. Take beef out of oven, remove from pan to platter and put tin foil all over it. It will continue to cook slowly to "medium rare" while you make the gravy and/or Yorkshire pudding. [Transfer juice to another pan to make gravy if you plan on using roasting pan for Yorkshire pudding and return pan, with suet or lard in it (several tablespoons) to oven and turn up to 475 degrees, for 8 minutes**]
  9. If there are those who want more "well done" pieces of beef, give them the ends or stick a piece or two back in the oven for a few minutes.
**For Yorkshire Pudding recipe: follow the recipe for "Uncle John's Popovers" but triple the ingredients, as found in this blog entry, but put batter in the roasting pan (instead of individual cups), after you've melted a bit of suet or lard in it first. PHOTO–The Yorkshire Pudding should be suitably puffy and egg-y, as it crawls up the sides of your roasting pan. Slightly crispy on the bottom, and somewhat glistening on the top is also good. But never, and I mean NEVER use bacon fat as I did this year: always always use suet or lard in the pan before pouring in the batter–butter if nothing else.

NOTE: This dinner would also be a great option for New Year's Day or Eve. We traditionally do a big brunch on New Year's Day after just sort of lolling around at home on New Year's Eve with various hot and cold appetizers.


Mrs. P. said...

We're still eating the leftovers from our Christmas Beast, I mean Beef. Your pitures are gorgeous and your meal looks devine.


Wendy said...

That looks AMAZING. At Christmas I made a 9 lb rib roast per my dad's request. He always thought that my late mom's slow-low recipe made dinner late, so he gave me a Nigella Lawson recipe that he'd been using. The meat was wonderful in the end, but the recipe called for an olive oil rub, so while it was faster my oven smoked like crazy the whole time. I think I'll try your method next time...sounds less frantic!

I also made Yorkshire pudding with drippings from the roast. Why didn't the bacon fat work out? Was it a different taste?

Catherine said...

Thanks, Gail and Wendy, I just thought of you and your upcoming book when blogging today about "nostalgia".

I don't know what it was: I think the suet or lard has less flavor and maybe burns off? The bacon fat, leftover from breakfast, sort of rose to the top of the pudding and did not burn off and made it really greasy...and I only used a few tablespoons. I never seem to get enough drippings from the roast–just enough for gravy.

But olive oil--I haven't tried that before. We roast our potatoes that way: we parboil them first, then pour over a mixture of melted butter and olive oil and lots of sea salt. Oh my, I could go make some right now!

Merry, merry!