The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License, Flickr.com

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Love Me Tender: Cheap Roast Beef Perfectly Slow-Cooked for Royalty... How to Do It Yourself

By Vicki McClure Davidson

 

The secret to preparing a tender roast with a cheap cut of beef is to cook it at a low heat, long and slowly. | Photo credit: Jeffrey Kohn, Flickr, Creative Commons

The secret to preparing a tender roast with a cheap cut of beef is to cook it at a low heat, long and slowly. | Photo credit: Jeffrey Kohn, Flickr, Creative Commons

 

My "cooking-whiz-of-a-wiz" mother-in-law, Nancy Davidson, bless her heart, taught me years ago how to easily cook a cheap cut of meat. Her method, one that I had not heard of at that time, was so foolproof and made the meat so tender and flavorful, that it's Crazyville that there are still so many men and women who don't know how to cook one. Sad, sad, sad. I almost weep when I hear young home cooks lament about how they can't cook a tender roast.

Serving chewy, shoeleather-tough meat, to a hungry family in these days of high meat prices is a heartbreak. Throwing it out would be wasteful, but eating it is abominable. I will always be grateful to Mom D. for teaching me this bit of "beef magic." It's so easy and so delicious, it's fit for the table of royalty.

I've determined that the cheaper the cut of beef, the tastier and more tender it becomes.

I subscribe to many free cooking and recipe e-newsletters, and one of my favorites is from America's Test Kitchen. I recently received their cooking method for cooking tender roasts and was incredulous to see that the roast beef cooking methods we both use are quite similar.

My method uses a frozen roast, whereas their method uses a non-frozen or defrosted roast.

 

My Method of Making Slow-Cooked Roast

My method is a bit different from that of America's Test Kitchen in that I put a FROZEN roast, with various liquids (balsamic vinaigrette, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, plain water, beer, salad dressing—I've tried many different liquids with many yummy successes), and spices and diced onions and garlic, maybe some diced bell pepper or Hatch chiles, in a large, covered baking pan into the oven (oven set really low, at about 180 degrees F) before leaving for work. I turn my regular kitchen oven into a big slow cooker.

My mother-in-law named this her "Working Woman's Roast," and I've made it for years without a single disaster. My husband and kids adore it.

What could be simpler? Frozen roast beef and spices and liquids into the oven, slam on the lid, off to work, return 9 or 10 hours later, and yes... it is now falling-apart-before-your-eyes beef heaven! From the drippings, I usually whip up a fast homemade beef gravy in a few minutes that is far superior to that of canned or bottled and costs next to nothing to make. And I can make 6 to 8 cups of it, to boot. I've also used this method with large pork roasts. The trouble is, pork roast usually doesn't become as tough as beef when it's overcooked, so if I'm not careful, the meat loses much of its texture and can disintegrate into pork mush instead of pork shreds if in the oven too long. Although, it does still taste great.

If you don't have a roasting pan with lid, you can use a large baking dish or casserole dish. Cover completely with aluminum foil.

America's Test Kitchen's Method of Making Slow-Cooked Roast

What I love about America's Test Kitchen is that there is a team of culinary experts who focus on the science of why something does or does not work in the kitchen. While you and I may analyze our disasters or triumphs with horror or delight, they actually dig deep into the method and determine the real reason something worked. Or, didn't.

Their scientific explanation for why cooking beef at a low temperature is imperative for tender meat. The science of it is amazing.

I never knew about the maximum temperature for cooking beef and why it's so important, but now I do. If you read their explanation below, so will you! My cooking method doesn't duplicate theirs, but I'm thinking that because I've been putting the roast in the oven while it is in a rock-solid frozen state, I've delayed the time it reaches the maximum temperature and starts to toughen. My method for cooking tender beef works, as does theirs. Take your pick. May you never again have to serve a tough roast!

 

From America's Test Kitchen newsletter, sent October 4, 2008, taken from their cookbook, "The Best of Slow & Easy Recipes":

"For most families, Sunday Roast Beef isn't prime rib; it's a lesser cut that's sometimes good, sometimes not. Our goal was to let the oven do the work for us, using low, slow heat to transform a bargain cut into a tender, juicy roast that can stand on its own at dinner.

After deciding on the best cut of meat to use—eye round roast, perfect for its uniform shape and even cooking—we had to find the optimal low cooking temperature. We'd heard of an 18th-century technique that called for a 24-hour roasting at an extremely low temperature of about 130 degrees. Tossing aside all practical considerations like food safety and the gas bill, we decided to give it a try.

While we were initially skeptical, the resulting roast actually had juicy, meltingly tender meat that tasters likened to beef tenderloin. What special beef magic was going on here?

It turns out beef contains enzymes that break down its connective tissues and act as natural tenderizers. These enzymes work faster as the temperature of the meat rises—but just until it reaches 122 degrees, at which point all action stops.

But given that most modern ovens don't heat below 200 degrees — and who wants to run it all day? — we had to do some improvising. What could we do to keep the meat below 122 degrees? The answer was simple: shut off the oven just before the roast hits 122 degrees. As the oven cooled, the roast continued to cook slowly, and after just 30 minutes more—we had the tender meat we were searching for."

Here's another secret revealed by America's Test Kitchen when making a pot roast... slow cook it for an extra hour to make it even more tender.

"We didn't perfect our pot roast until we accidentally overcooked it. Every once in a while in the test kitchen, we happen upon a true 'Eureka!' moment, when a chance mistake leads to a breakthrough cooking technique. We were deep in the middle of testing the best way to cook pot roast—from braising to boiling—when we inadvertently forgot to remove one of the test roasts from the oven and it cooked an hour longer than intended. After that fateful hour, we noticed the meat had a noticeably different appearance and texture and to our surprise the roast was so tender that our fork poked into it with no resistance at all. It seemed in this 'extra' hour, nearly all the fat and connective tissue had dissolved into the meat, giving each bite a soft, silky texture and rich, succulent flavor. We then 'overcooked' several more roasts to see if this one was a fluke, but it turned out that we had indeed hit upon the best method for fork-tender pot roast."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," February 10, 2010.

Also from America's Test Kitchen on tough steaks...

To tackle a too-tough steak, we baked it at a low temperature before finishing it in a skillet. Why? Enzymes in the meat work overtime between 80 and 122 degrees to 'age' the meat, producing a tastier and more tender steak.

 

Should You Salt the Roast?

Never apply salt to meat during the last few minutes of cooking. It will pull juices out of the meat, toughening and drying out the surface of the meat, without adding any extra flavor to the inside.

Because salt reacts with the meat's proteins, early salting will improve the texture, juiciness, and flavor of the meat. It has a tenderizing power, without using MSG. This early salting is especially beneficial for cheaper cuts of meat that have a chewier quality, like the tougher types of steak (such as skirt and flank steak), firm roasts, brisket, and pot roast.

If you’re going to use salt when cooking meat, do it early—or don't do it until the meat is done cooking.

 

 

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