Cheap beef, transformed

January 24, 2010

Whacked up in chunks, salted and peppered, awaiting transformation.

NOTE: I updated the recipe. I originally left out the Worcestershire. If you happened to do anything serious like save it, make the change.

Consider the lowly chuck roast.

That unappreciated piece of meat, dubious star of many a stringy, dry Sunday dinner pot roast, can become, with the right treatment, perhaps one of the most delectable chunks of cow anatomy ever to hit plate.

The chuck comes from the shoulder of the cow, and it tends toward toughness, given that it gets a regular workout as Bossy wanders about the pasture or the feed lot. Because, you know, Bossy is a sizeable young lady, and a shoulder has a lot of meat to hold up off the ground, plus all that sleeping standing up and stuff.

But what the chuck also is, is marbled with lots and lots of luscious fat, that in the proper atmosphere, will yield up its yummy moisture to those tough muscle fibers, while the collagen that makes it tough will break down and leach out into some wonderful sauce and the whole thing winds up being just plumb delectable.

Plus, it’s cheap, comparatively speaking. You can generally catch it on sale for around two bucks a pound, and a 3-pound roast will serve six people easily, eight if they’re not real big eaters and you’ve got several sides.

If you cook it right.

Julia Child first glorified the chuck roast in bouef bourguignon. The Belgians did nice things with it in carbonnades a la flamande. The North Africans cook it over coals in a tagine. It all amounts to the same thing; lots of aromatics, a gracious helping of moisture, and long, low, slow cooking after an initial sear.

Add this one to the pantheon:

Does that not make you want to eat your computer screen?

Braised Hungarian Beef.

Or, if you’re feeling particularly historic, The Triumph of the Maygars.

Or, if you want to be literal, the best damn thing you ever did with paprika and chuck roast. This one definitely rises to Sweet Baby Jesus level.

Commence by whacking your chuck roast, as above, up into roughly two-inch-square pieces, as if you were going to channel Julia and do bouef bourguignon. Salt and pepper the chunks, douse ’em in Worcestershire, and sear them in a Dutch oven.  (Depending on the size of your Dutch oven, it may take a couple of batches; don’t crowd them too much.)

Shallots. I suppose onions would work. Saute ’em, and hit the pan with a good glug or two of red wine (on the sweet side) to deglaze. Then it’s time for tomatos, thyme, bay leaves.

Meanwhile, take a metric assload of sweet Hungarian paprika and coat those chunks of beef; make sure it all sticks. Gently, gently immerse them in the tomato stuff that’s burbling away in your Dutch oven, and add beef stock. Cover it and plunk it in the oven, and try to ignore the marvelous odors wafting through your house for the next three hours or so. Marry it off to some brown rice or egg noodles, and moan in delight.

More accurate directions:

  • 1 2 1/2 to 3 pound chuck roast, cut in two-inch chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup red wine, not terribly dry
  • 1 10 3/4 oz can tomato puree
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • Rice or egg noodles, for serving

Preheat oven to 325. Salt and pepper all sides of roast chunks, liberally, and sprinkle with worcestershire. Sear on all sides in oil in Dutch oven; remove. (You may need to do this in batches so as not to crowd the beef.) Add scallion to pot, and saute until soft; add garlic and wine and deglaze pan. Add tomato puree, thyme and bay leaf and bring to simmer.

While sauce is coming to simmer, put about 6 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika in a small bowl. Coat beef chunks in paprika and immerse in sauce, doing your best to get them all in a single layer. Pour beef stock over all. Cover Dutch oven and put in oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Remove from oven and put over medium heat; add tomato paste, remove bay leaves. Stir. Cook, uncovered, until sauce reduced to a nice thick consistency and meat is falling-apart tender.

Serve over cooked egg noodles or rice.

Somehow, this winds up being way more than the sum of the parts. The sauce is unctuous and velvety, with just a whisper of a kick from the paprika, and a hint of sweet from the late addition of the tomato paste. (I tasted it before I added; the TP does make a big difference. Don’t leave it out.)

I made spicy carrot salad and roasted turnips with mine. Bad choice. It wanted something tart and tangy; red cabbage would’ve been a good pick, or a good tart coleslaw or cabbage salad. Plus, I put too damn much harissa in my carrot salad and it is seriously hot.

I picked up corn tortillas at the grocery today. I’m thinking it’s migas tomorrow night.

Gotta go. You and y’mama ‘n ’em help me pull the Vikings and the ol’ man in purple through.

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