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Monday, October 25, 2010

I don't mean to brag . . .

I don't mean to brag, but I really know how to cook a roast.  It has been my wedded ambition to learn how to cook a roast perfectly - to achieve that balance of moist, tender and pull-apart harmony.  For the longest time I never could achieve it.  I'm not sure if it because I was buying meat from the grocery store and now I have  a freezer full of the best cuts of locally raised grass fed beef or if it is because I have better equipment or what it is, but now, my roasts ROCK!

One of the secrets I feel is  the most important in achieving the perfect roast is to sear it prior to cooking it.  If you don't know what searing is, it is a very simple technique.   Obviously, the better cut of beef you start off with, the better the results, but I've had great success with this method with the most random cuts.  One of the customs that the Burmese share is that when they butcher a cow, they offer us a portion of the cut.  It usually transpires like this.  Several Burmese men are hacking away at the cow dividing it into piles.  One of the men will cut off a piece, say to Erik, "Hey Boss!  For you, Boss!"  and hand Erik a warm piece of flesh.  It's not as gross as it sounds.  Then Erik carries it to the house where, the first time, okay, I was a little grossed out.  But, thankful and respectful of the gift, I took the meat, rinsed it thoroughly, cut the silver skin and excess fat off and put it in the fridge.  A day or so later, I took the meat out for cooking.  I don't know what portion of the cow the meat was cut from but my fool proof method works!

Take your piece of meat (this works with pork roasts too. I have not tried searing a chicken or turkey) and season it well on all sides with your favorite seasonings.  By well, I mean douse thick!  My seasoning of choice is and has always been Garlic Salt.   I use this Spice Club version that you can buy at Aldi's for about $1.30 a jar.  It is a nice coarse salt (similar in size and texture to sea or kosher salt) and they also add parsley flakes to the mixture which is a nice touch.  I like the parsley because I can see how much I am spreading.  I also enjoy the Spice  Club Steak and Pork chop seasoning.  It comes in a self contained grinder.  The Spice Club selection also includes a Country Herb mix that I would compare to an Herbs de France type seasoning.  All are very good.  But, in my mind, nothing beats good old Garlic Salt. 

Pour enough oil in the pan to barely cover the entire bottom.  You can use whatever oil you prefer - I've used vegetable oil, canola oil and olive oil.  Extra virgin olive oil doesn't do as well in searing, but it does add flavor.  Most of the time I use vegetable or canola oil.  Heat the oil until it is very hot, then take your seasoned meat and put it in the pan.  You'll see a frying effect happen - the oil will bubble up a bit on the sides of the meat as it cooks.  It will smell heavenly after about 25 seconds!  Allow the meat to cook for about 5 minutes or until you see a nice cooked crust forming.  Turn the meat and repeat the procedure on each side - even the tips.  

After you sear the roast thoroughly, immediately put it in your cooking device.  I asked for and received a 7 quart enamel cast iron dutch oven for Christmas last year.  (Thank you to my Mother-in-Law).

I love cooking in this pot.  The brand is Chantal and is much cheaper than the classic Le Creuset cookware that is so famous.  I was at TJ Maxx the other night and saw several sized of this particular brand there ranging from $39.99 to $79.99 I love this pot and am considering asking for a second and third!  Typically, I do everything for the roast in this pot including sear the roast in this pot, but for some reason I did not have a photo of doing that.  When you are done searing the meat on all sides, you can transfer the roast into an oven safe pan or crock pot,  just add a little bit of water and some beef bouillon cubes/ beef broth, put a lid on the pot and put the entire thing in the oven.  If you are transferring the roast to a crock pot (something I typically do in the summertime when I do not want to heat up my house by using the oven, I place the seared beef in the crock pot and put the pot on the "keep warm" setting).

 I do not preheat the oven because I cook the roast LOW and SLOW, plus, I am careful of drastic temperature changes with the cast iron.  If you change temps too drastically too fast, you can crack the cast iron!  I highly recommend getting the roast on pretty early in the morning - I typically try to get it done by 9 am.  I set the oven to 225 degrees and let it cook at that temperature all day.  Seriously.  I don't take the roast out until we are ready to eat that night, which is usually 6:00 or later.  

When it is done cooking you will find a roast that, with gentle pulling, will fall apart and shred into pieces like this:

The juice will make delicious gravy if you so choose.  If I am going to make gravy, I try to remove the roast whole onto a cutting board so I can make the gravy right in the same pot as I cooked the roast.  Gravy used to mystify me as well, but I learned a great tip at a cooking class.  Use corn starch to make  a slurry (a thick mix of water and cornstarch) to make your gravy.  I don't really know the scientific culinary reasons why, but since I started using cornstarch, my gravy is thicker and I don't get those lumps in it that you can get from flour.  Most times, I just shred the beef right into the pan and we eat the beef smothered in the au jus.  

The best part about cooking a roast this way is that if you cook a large enough roast,  it lends itself to several diverse meals.  Meal one can be a pot roast with potatoes and carrots.  Meal two can be beef, bean and corn enchiladas and meal three is usually some type of shredded beef sandwich.  I recently had a yummy little appetizer at Applebees of shredded beef in an asian sauce topped with some cabbage and stuffed into a fried won-ton wrapper.  I am thinking this would be really easy to duplicate at home and I plan on trying to make it the next time I have some left over shredded beef!

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