Monday, March 12, 2012

Sunday Roast with Baby Root Vegetables

Stage one - show that roast you really care -  with a spice massage

My mother and brother have birthdays within days of each other - a terribly good excuse to have a dinner party.  Could there be a better dish to serve than a proper Sunday Roast? I think not.

As seen in the previous blog, this turned out to be a two-day cooking affair. Saturday was spent roasting, simmering and skimming a beef stock. Sunday was spent preparing a beef forerib roast with all the necessary accoutrements. Here's what I did:

This first step is only required if you did not buy your roasting joint from a butcher. I bought this roast in a grocery store, which means it was sitting atop a bit of styrofoam and had plastic cling wrap all around it. When you get it home, remove all this packaging, place it on a plate so that the smallest part of the roast (the bottom of the ribs) is on the plate, and the most area is exposed to the air. Then drape a clean dish towel over the roast and place in the fridge overnight. This is a quickie way to dry-age the meat a bit. In the morning, it will be dry, tacky and slightly darker in colour. This simple step actually developed a lot of flavour. If the roast is bought from a butcher, chances are it was stored in the open and dry aged sufficiently at the point of purchase. The next morning, take out your roast, and prepare to season. First, I scored the fat cap on top of the roast. You want a thin coating of fat, not thick slab. Clean up the fat a bit if necessary, and then the criss-cross scoring will allow for the seasoning to penetrate into the flesh. That bit of fat on the top will be a 'self-baster' during the cooking process. Then,  take a pestle and mortar and start bashing about equal parts whole juniper berries, whole peppercorns, whole fennel seeds and whole mustard seeds. Then add one part rock salt and continue bashing. Once you've broken and bruised most of the spices with the salt, drizzle a little oil on to the roast. This oil will only act as a way to adhere the spices, so don't use the good stuff. Then start massaging the spice blend all over the roast. Once sufficiently covered, return the dish towel over the roast, and back into the fridge. I find a good 2-3 hours marinade with the rub works well. Also, you've probably been told a thousand times not to salt your meat too early before cooking - it will draw out all the juices and make it dry. Poppycock! This is what empirical cooking is all about - experiment and test things to determine the truth - not what your mom told you! Thomas Keller, one of Americas greatest culinary minds, heavily seasons his steaks several hours before grilling them. When I read this in the French Laundry cookbook, I was astounded because it went against everything I had learned about cooking meat. So just for the hell of it, I tried it. Here's what the salt does - it flavours the meat, and it slightly dries the outside, in a way, further mimicking dry aging. What makes meat juicy is mostly locked up deep within the flesh, along with the fat. To salt the meat in advance improves it. To salt it days in advance would result in cured meat - not what we're looking for here.

A beautiful pile of baby vegetables, ready to be processed
In any event, whilst the beef was in the fridge getting acquainted with the spices and salt, I started to prep my veg. As I blogged the other day, I founds some beautiful French Breakfast radishes at Maple Leaf Gardens. At the same time, I bought some baby carrots (in three colours) and baby zucchinis (so cute). These little veg require a lot of cleaning and sorting, and as with human babies, you have to be very delicate with them. First I scrubbed them all gently with a vegetable brush, and with my paring knife, delicately removed little roots etc. Then I blanched them in a very large pot of very violently boiling salted water. The more violent the boil, the better - you need to blanche the vegetables as quickly as possible. The longer they cook, the faster they lose their colour. That's why you need a huge pot with tons of water - there's less chance of dropping the water temperature with the addition of the vegetables if there is a high volume of water. These veg really only need about four minutes or so, then I dropped them into an ice bath to lock the colour. Once cooled, the blanching also allowed me to easily scrape away the last few gnarly bits of the carrot that my original cleaning missed. Keep the green tops on! They look pretty. Once the veg have cooled, then they can be refrigerated (or even frozen) until you need them. To finish, toss in a pan with a bit of garlic, butter, herbs and salt. This frees you up for your guests and makes a beautiful vegetable dish come together in minutes (along with impressed oohs and ahs from the  peanut gallery).

The veg after being cleaned, blanched and shocked. Purty.
The roast comes out of the fridge a good half hour before roasting it - it has to come up to room temperature first. Never put cold meat into a hot oven - it is unnecessary stress on your beautiful roast. Once the roast is ready, put it in a hot 425 degree oven for  25 minutes (or maybe a bit less or a bit more depending on how large your roast is - my two rib roast was 25 minutes). In the Rivercottage Meat Book (an excellent authority), this is called the 'half-hour sizzle'.  It does two things - it creates caramelization on the outside of the roast, and it starts the process of free flowing juices. You don't want the juices to ooze out of the roast, but to start circulating within the roast, for this reason, the 'sizzle' part of the cooking is short lived. After the sizzle is done, drop the temperature to 250 degrees - you may want to open your oven door and fan it a bit so that the oven cools quickly - it's very important that the temperature drops quickly. Then you cook very slowly until a meat thermometer plunged into the dead centre of the meat reads about 125-130 degrees F. You want the meat in the middle to finish at about 140 F, but it will continue to cook after you take it out. It's easier to cook something a bit longer than to 'uncook it', so always err on the side of rawness - for rawness is fixable.

The next stage is rest. I can't over-state the importance of this step. If you just cut into that roast, all the juice would just flow out and you'd have dry meat. Let it rest for at least a half hour, maybe even longer. Once it's been rested, cut the main joint off the bones (the bones are the chefs treat - gnaw on them in triumph). Then slice as thickly as you like. Serve with the baby veg that have been tossed in warm garlic and herb butter (except for the radishes, I placed them raw on the serving plate as a bit of crunchy whimsy). Also make a very large batch of extremely buttery mashed spuds.

Horseradish is a definite must, but why buy it in a jar? It's a root. Buy it, peel it, grate it and then mix it in a bowl with a little apple cider vinegar, some salt and pepper, and a bit of sour cream or creme fraiche. You might even need to drop in a bit of sugar. Play around with it. Maybe some Lea & Perrins might go well in there or's your garnish. Either way, the fresh stuff is really, really potent, and could stand to be made well-enough in advance that a bit of resting will temper it slightly. Wear eye protection while grating -  trust me. Most of all, use sparingly with your roast - delicious but hot, hot, hot!

Of course, we can't forget the gravy. I took the dark brown stock from the previous day's cooking and got it on the stove to reduce a bit more. Once reduced, I poured some into a dish with a good dash of seasoning and this was my au jus for the wife (who requested it). The rest went direcly into the tray that the roast had cooked in with a bit of beurre manier (cold butter mashed together with flour) to thicken and a bunch of sliced,  sauteed mushrooms to up the flavour quotient. Let it bubble a while until it gets nice and thick and velvety. Then into  second serving dish (I can't bring myself to say 'gravy boat') for those at the table who wanted a proper gravy - made completely from scratch, I might add.

The mother and the brother and all the rest loved the grub. The wine flowed and the candles flickered.  A wonderful way to spend a Sunday evening.

My slicing skills leave a bit to be desired, but certainly strong on taste.

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