Sunday, October 6, 2013

sunday roast: beef chuck NOT used as pot roast?!

I don't really like pot roast. There, I said it. I think pot roast is boring. I mean, it's ok once in a while, but pot roast is just not one of those things that I get a hankering for on the regular. Thus, when chuck roast inevitably go on sale at the grocery store about once a month, I spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what kind of non-pot-roast things I can do with it. Beef stew is an obvious choice, I've got a very good Texas-style chili recipe that uses chunks of chuck, and I've had great success with making beef enchiladas out of chuck.

Those three recipes all have one thing in common with pot roast: they cut the meat into chunks and braise it in liquid for ages. The General Internets would have you believe that braising is the ONLY good way to cook chuck, that if you try to roast it you'll just end up with a chunk of terrible grey shoe leather.

I am here to tell you that, in regards to chuck, the General Internets is wrong. You can dry-roast a piece of chuck in the oven and end up with delicious, rare slices of meaty awesomeness like this:

Gravy makes everything better.
There are a couple of tricks to this, though. First, you need to cook the beef "slow and low" - that's at a low temperature for a long time. The roast I did was about 3 lbs - I started it in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes, then turned the temperature all the way down to 200 to cook for the next two hours. You could even turn the oven lower and let it cook longer, but my oven only goes down to 200 so I had to make due.

Second, flipping the roast halfway through will help make sure it gets cooked evenly. See how the bottom edge of my slices are just starting to turn a little grey? That's because I didn't flip the meat over after the initial 450 degree blast. That side of the roast got more heat for longer and started to over-cook a little bit. Probably if I hadn't been so lazy and I had seared the roast off in a frying pan first, I could have just put it directly into the low-temp oven and avoided the problem completely. I still would have needed to flip the roast halfway through, though.

Third, slicing thinly does wonders, especially if you can slice across the grain. Chuck tends to be hard to cut across the grain because it's a large, developed muscle. The muscle fibers run in several different directions depending on what part the roast is cut from. If your roast is shaped such that you CAN cut across the grain, it will make the end result that much more tender.

Lasty, gravy improves all things. For the gravy, I moved the roast to a plate and used a little beef stock to deglaze the cookie sheet I had baked the roast on. When all the brown goodness was scraped up, I added the accumulated juices from the plate where the roast was resting, dumped it all into a small sauce-pan, added some coarse-ground black pepper and let it reduce on low for about 15 minutes.

The result of all this yielded slices of meat that were fork-tender, succulent, and full of the big beefy flavor that chuck is known for. So, next time you find yourself with a big piece of chuck, a lot of time on your hands and want to branch out from the run-of-the-mill braise, give roasting a try instead!