Sunday, February 22, 2009

Every Sunday Should be So Sweet, or Roasting Meat in a Pot Sure Beats The Oscars

After indulging in a great big bunch of beer and bourbon at my friend's enormous party in his new roasterie (something that took me out of commission for a good 36 hours), I needed some sweet, sweet medicine to ease the pain. That medicine was, naturally, a Pot Roast with Yorkshire Pudding. And I was in luck, because I happened to have, in my fridge, a bottom round roast, and a big shoulder of pork.

Pork you say? Strange route to take on a journey to slow cooked meat heaven, but let me explain. You see, I owe a friend approximately $16.55 worth of spaghetti and meatballs. A strange amount, I know--and a long story involving our world famous Clementonics, and probably more Thin Man movies--but a debt owed nonetheless. And during my shrewd grocery shopping sessions, I keep an eye out for good deals on large amounts of things. Huge sacks of potatoes, for instance, and in this case, the large amounts of meat as described above. And this would serve me for many meals to come.

That said, I started out by browning about 2/3 of the beef roast, which (lucky me) had a great layer of fat on it, left on by a kind, if unwitting, butcher. Heavily seasoned, I let it roll in my heavy cast iron dutch oven for a good 10-15 minutes per side as I moved on with the rest of the meat. This meant boning the pork shoulder in order to prepare it for my meat grinder; a wonderful byproduct of this is a pork bone that was added to my pot for my roast--extra bones are always a welcome addition in my kitchen. Once that was done and the bone in my pot, browning with the beef, I cubed the pork and the remaining beef, putting a bit of each aside for stew or something of that nature down the line, and sending the remaining 3 1/2 pounds through my grinder for the infamous meatball dinner. All this into the freezer until I decide to make stew or I get the call from the Godfather that the time has come for his meatballs.

The thing about browning meat is that it requires the patience of letting things happen at a lower heat for a longer period of time. I suppose it's easy to think that browning = hot heat really fast and loud and hard, but this really just creates smoke and splatters and black stuff. I let the cast iron heat over a low to medium-low flame for about 5 minutes, add some oil, and then add the seasoned meat. Things should crackle in a pleasant manner rather than splatter everywhere, and the sugars in the meat will slowly be drawn out and caramelized, at which point you can rotate the meat for a nice, even browning. Things in your kitchen will start to smell and sound really, really good, and neighborhood pets may decide they like you even more.

Again, I was lucky enough to get a good fat cap on this piece of beef, and it crisped up really nice. After all sides were browned, I took the meat out of the pot (along with the pork bone), and poured all the rendered fat out and saved it for the healthful (if in an 1800's sense) Yorkshire Pudding. Into the pot went quartered onions, carrots, a can of tomatoes, peppercorns, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, and garlic; the meat and bone were snuggled into all this and a bit of water added to keep everything moist and happy. Oh, and salt. Don't forget to season things!

The tough yet flavorful and cheap cut of bottom round got a lid and went into the oven at about 250 degrees. Here it would remain for about 2 hours or so, maybe 2 1/2, slowly cooking up nice and tender without overdrying at all. Nothing's going to be medium rare with a cut like this, as that would be unbearable chewy; the slow, moist cooking breaks down all of those tough muscle fibers, and done right, a bottom round can come out as a beautiful roast.

I roasted some red potatoes to go with it, and braised some turnip greens as well. Oh, and don't let me forget the almond cake--I made a quick almond cake with some leftover sliced almonds, buzzed in the food processor with some sugar, beaten with egg yolks and flour; a meringue was made with the egg whites and some more sugar, then all combined with a touch of almond extract and baked in a buttered and floured round pan (the spring-form pan bought, incidentally, at one of the country's remaining water-powered grain mills in Rhode Island, in a funny little shop they have to the side--but really, this place has some awesome grains and is in a gorgeous setting. I'm convinced I saw a hobbit there.) until nice and brown. After it cooled a touch, it got brushed it with a syrup made by boiling sugar, water and rosemary in order to keep it moist and preserve it a bit, and to give it a great rosemary scent.

As the roast was finishing up, I pulled the pork bone out, and the meat left on it just fell right off. What better to do while waiting for a hunk of beef and tallow-soaked pastries than to shred the pork up, dust it with some sea salt, and introduce it to some good mustard? When I was done cleaning my fingers of the juices, I filled a six-shooter muffin tin with the reserved drippings from browning the meat and put it in a cranked-up oven, after about ten minutes I married the lethally hot, near-smoking fat and cold Yorkshire Pudding batter (milk, eggs, flour) that had been separated much like the McDLT of old in a quick and daring manner, getting all back into the oven without delay, and resisting the urge to look in lest the puddings fall. Well, okay. Maybe I looked once.
Some deliciously melting, unctuous vegetables were salvaged from the pot roast braise, and the rest of the solids were strained out of the liquid, which created a great jus that I didn't bother tainting with any sort of thickening agent. All served along with tumblers of a big bottle of wine, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The almond cake was cut, and served on a quick creme Anglaise (eggs and sugar tempered into warm milk then cooked until the eggs thicken the sauce around 170-180 degrees), and was a nice, simple way to end the meal. A good feast had by all, and plenty of leftovers to pick at as I ponder the upcoming spaghetti and meatballs. If only Mickey Rourke could have come over for dinner instead of doing whatever it was he did that night, he'd have felt much more appreciated.