Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Beef for a Winter's Night

Do you know what my favorite sandwich was when I was a kid? You might guess PB&J, and you would be close (I certainly remember a phase). I had my ham now and then. I would go on and off bologna. I eschewed turkey.

My sandwich of choice was roast beef.

When I think of it, I think I would have been happy to leave off the sandwich part. Those slices of rare beef were the best thing in the world and didn't need any bread to take away from the experience. The bread just made it more portable for school lunches.

I loved hot roast beef soaking in gravy as well. I didn't have it very often at home growing up. The folks most likely to cook for me weren't into rare beef the way I am. Large cuts of beef tended to be braised or else served in single serving cuts like steak or burgers so everyone could have beef cooked to his or her liking. Hot sliced roast beef was a restaurant or party food. I would have it most often at catered events or hotels.

I don't see much in the way of hot sliced roast beef and gravy these days. Sure there is rib roast au jus. I often see filet with peppercorn-brandy sauce. I even see all forms of brisket. But what about an oven roasted top round coated in gravy that you can eat with a fork? The closest I can find is the hot open beef sandwich* at the diner. (Unfortunately the gravy at my local diner tastes strange and I don't order it anymore.)

I hadn't thought about roast beef and gravy in quite some time until I found myself watching Cooks Country last week. I only caught the last half of it. The cook giving that day's demonstration had just made a lovely roast beef. Her next order of business was the gravy. She assured the host that this was no jus. This was real gravy and it was the best part.

In the pot she used to cook the roast she browned some onions, carrots, and mushrooms that were cut in big chunks in some oil. She added flour for a roux. Next she added beef stock and red wine. That was brought to a boil and taken down to a slow simmer. At the end she strained out the vegetables and then sliced the beef that had been patiently sitting under foil, doing its thing with its juices.

I wanted that. I wanted that for dinner right then and there.

I didn't quite have it right away, but I did make it last night. I tried to remember what I learned from the TV show, but made a tweak or two.

I cut some slits in the meat and stuck little slices of garlic in them. Then I rubbed the meat with Penzeys Special Seasoned Sea Salt and let it come to room temperature.

I roasted it at 375 until it came to 140 degrees. I tented it with foil and let it sit while I made the gravy.

First I browned sliced mushrooms in olive oil and then removed them from the pan.
I cut up some onions and carrots in really small pieces and browned them as well. Some potato starch and a little more oil went into the pan.

Next came beef broth and red wine. There was lots of stirring in every step to make sure that every last brown bit from the pan was loosened. Boil and reduce to a simmer till thick.

Initially I did not want to strain the gravy the way they did on Cooks Country. I wanted to integrate it and blend the onion and carrot into the liquid in the blender to make it even thicker. I purposely cut the carrots and onions small so they would cook faster. They didn't cook fast enough though and the night was growing later, so I strained them out after all. Then I was annoyed that I had cut them so small!

I added the mushrooms back to the gravy (so it would be mushroom gravy) and served it over the beautiful sliced meat. Mashed potatoes would have been more traditional, but I made sweet potatoes because I felt I needed something really nutritious amongst all of this saturated fat. Some green beans made the plate really pretty.

The snowstorm began as I was cooking this meal. What could be comforting on a snowy winter's night? The beef was tender and lightly perfumed with garlic and perfectly cooked. The gravy was everything gravy should be. The wine I used was a South Africa red I was unfamiliar with that had been left over from Christmas. It gave the gravy a taste of sweet spices.

Roast Beef with Mushroom Gravy

1 3-4-pound bottom round roast
1 Tbsp of your favorite seasoning blend (or just salt and pepper)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

2 Tbl olive oil, divided
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbl potato starch (or flour)
2 carrots cut in large chunks
1 onion chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves
3 cups beef stock
1 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove roast from refrigerator an hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut 8 small slits around the roast and insert a slice of garlic in each one. Sprinkle generously with seasoning.

Place in a pan (one that you can put on the stove and make gravy in) and cook for about 20 minutes per pound or until temperature reaches 145 degrees.

When cooked remove from pan and tent with foil.

Place the pan on the stove and add 1Tbl olive oil to the pan. Brown the mushrooms in the olive oil and remove. Keep scraping up the brown bits from the bottom. Set aside.

Add carrots, thyme leaves, and onion to the pan and let the carrots take on some color and the onions soften. Make sure you keep scraping up those bits!

Add the next Tbl of olive oil and whisk the flour/starch into it. Cook until it stops tasting raw and becomes somewhat fragrant.

Whisk in wine and stock and stir till smooth. Add bay leaf and bring to a boil. Take it down to a simmer and simmer about 20 minutes or until thick.

Add mushrooms back into the gravy. Serve over sliced meat.

*Maybe I take back what I said about the bread. When gravy is involved, bread is handy for making sure you don't miss any of it. I guess bread is superfluous only when the meat is served cold and plain.


Lo said...

I must admit (and I'm not a regular red meat eater) that this dish is calling to me. Definitely food for a winter's night -- and delicious stuff at that.

Emily said...

If you had a cooking show I would watch it. I think you'd be a good host.

Also, I like your long comments. They're good ones.

This sounds really good. It's making me want roast beef and gravy. Did you make a sandwich with the leftovers? What if you made sort of a croque monsier except with roast beef... with maybe some provolone and then a jus for dipping. Yes.

The CDM said...

I had a roast beef sandwich this morning, what a coincidence.

Also, I have GOT to stop snickering to myself when I read about "rubbing meat". Dammit, Beavis!

Polwig said...

Roast beef was not my favorite sandwich growing up but it was never made this way. I think this meat would be eaten way before I would get bread out, looks great

The Blonde Duck said...

I just made a pot roast this weekend! Ben loves tender roast beef in aus jus.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Lo - Maybe I can convert you to the dark side? :-)

Em - I actually tried to be "good" and cut the leftovers into a salad with tomato and avocado. I wish I had thoght of your sandwich idea though.

CDM - Ha! You and the Neelys!

Polwig - We don't need no stinkin' bread. ;-)

Duckie - Pot roast is likely my next big beef project.

A Feast for the Eyes said...

You can't go wrong with Cook's Country, since it's a Cook's Illustrated stepchild. What are you talking about? Your plated meal looks beautiful! I love the sweet potatoes and beautiful green beans. Roast beef and gravy are on my recipe queue. I love your honest when you explain how you made a recipe. It looks like it all turned out great! I'd be tempted to turn any leftover beef and gravy into a soup-- not to be politically incorrect, but my family calls me "The Soup Nazi".