Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Beef Is Red

So, this Holiday Feast, we took a small excursion outside our culinary comfort zone, got a might bewildered, but in the end found our way back.

Let me explain. We've done holiday feasts before, Christmas Day, for several years now (so much that some of the seating tags have given up the ghost and now must be replaced). Usually that means a brined turkey, prepared in the manner prescribed by Uncle Alton Brown, with lots of sides brought by the other participants.

This year, we did a turkey for Thanksgiving (to good reviews and minimal leftovers). So a month later we decide to do a poached salmon and a beef roast. And there the fun begins.

Now the turkey is a noble bird, not in the least because it comes packed with copious amounts of two types of meet, so dark meat fanciers are as satisfied as their lighter meat companions. Beefeaters are divided into two main camps - the welldones and the mediumrares. And while the mediumrares are united in name, I have found they include the "rares" and the "mediums" who figure they will find a couple pieces they like.

So we bought an 8 pound roast and I spend a good chuck of Thursday trying to figure out the logistics. This is supposedly my "thing" when I'm doing sou chef work with the Lovely Bride - I build the master schedule and figure out when stuff goes into the ovens (we have two), and how to coordinate them and the stovetop so everything arrives at the table at the correct moment.

Anyway, the recipe we were using was from Bon Appetite and believed in the fast-sear/slow-roast school of cooking - 450 for 15 minutes, followed by 350 for about 30 minutes to get us to medium. No mention of how long for well done. So I started hitting the other cookbooks in our possession as well as the Internet to figure out, if we divided the eight-pounder into 3 and 5 pounds, how long it would take, and if I would need both ovens.

And I found a generation gap. Most sources agree that medium rare is 140-145 and well done is 170. However, the older cookbooks use this as the temp where you pull the beef, while the new recipes take into account carryover heat (the meat will continue to cook after you remove it from direct heat). So I had a plethora of times I could pull it, along with other unmentioned factors, like whether it was bone in or not (it was). In the end, after numerous scratchpads of calculations, I figured that a small roast and a large roast in the same oven would hit the finish line at the same time with different levels of doneness. Which was good, since we needed the other oven for other things like twice-baked potatoes and spinach pie. After all the calculations, the doneness would be determined with a thermometer, and to be honest that sort of thinking plays hobbs with my schedule.

Oh, and the other thing the newer recipes had differently was a bitter hatred of well done. If you like your beef well done, you, sir, are apparently worse than Hitler. This cheeses me off because, while I like my beef pink in the center, I have respect for those who like theirs, as one diner put it - "crunchy'.

Back to the story. I put a sage/thyme/rub on the beast, and the guests arrive and I pop the combined roasts in the over. At the appropriate time, I pull them out and...

The internal temperature at the heart of the beast is 54 degrees. 65 degrees for the smaller, to be well-done roast, but no amount of carryover is going to make up the difference. And I've got rolls waiting for the oven space and the twice-baked are ready and all the sides brought by the guests are queuing up.

Exactly what happened to the roast I cannot tell until the CSI team is done with the crime scene. Perhaps it was a bad recipe (every other beef recipe I found as a low-and-slow roasting of several hours, so I can't compare things). Perhaps it was the fact that the beef was frozen solid 24 hours prior and while we thought it was defrosted, we were in serious error.

Fortunately, we had several things going for us.
1) The Lovely Bride is level-headed and used to such culinary challenges.
2) We had a lot of appetizers, including rumaki (bacon wrapped olives and scallops), sausage-stuffed mushrooms, cheese, and seafood salad that was pretty amazing.
3) Our thoughtful guests brought a plethora of sides, including but not limited to broccoli and cheese, mushrooms, green beans and mushrooms, a brown rice mushroom risotto (that was to die for), a coconut-infused brown rice (completely different and ditto), squash, and corn cut fresh from the cob.
4) Out thoughtful guests brought a lot of wine, which we refreshed while the LB and I were scrambling in the kitchen.

In short, we had enough sides for two courses, so that's exactly what we did. We led with a poached salmon, and after about forty-five additional minutes, the welldone was done enough to rest and serve, and the mediumrare was in good enough shape to just slice up (as I said, some of the mediumrares were really fans of rare, and some were really fans of mediums).

Wine was consumed. Plates were passed. Given the length of the meal, there was very little in the way of leftovers, the deserts (baklava, cookies, fresh fruit from Pike Place, and a perfectly acceptable cheesecake) were fantastic. The conversation bounced along nicely, since our guests (brilliant that they are) can be left alone to talk while the LB and I are putting out culinary fires in the kitchen.

It is always nice to have a plan, but a requirement that you have to figure out what to do when that plan meets reality. In the meantime, I think I'm going to be figuring out the mysteries of the roast in the coming year.

More later,