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One-quarter cow for a year’s eating means we forgo fancy prime rib and tenderloin roasts in order that we might enjoy steak from time to time. Which means roasting with less-familiar cuts — and at the holidays, proceed with caution. Happily we’ve notched some great successes with sirloin tip and cross rib roasts, which come out as juicy and tasty as you could hope for, and we enjoy eye of round equally well, never mind a reputation for less than top-rate flavor. A big bonus: the price is right. Other cuts considered to be in the same class include tri-tip, rump roast, and top round roast.

Along the way we’ve gleaned a few tricks and tips. Season or marinade a day ahead, longer for larger roasts. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before going in the oven, which encourages even cooking. Begin roasting at a high temperature — 450 degrees is a good starting point — to brown the meat, then lower the heat so everything cooks more or less evenly. It’s done when the thermometer tells you it’s done, and once the internal temperature hits 120-125 degrees for a smaller (3-ish pound) roast, pull for medium-rare or check frequently because temps start to shoot up faster than you’d think. Then let the meat rest for fifteen minutes or more before carving.

And of course, use your pan drippings. Just do it! Ours went towards a capery gravy for one holiday dinner; we’ll definitely do that one again. Horseradish sauce is a nice alternative, particularly when you’ve got roots in the garden.

Happy eating in 2011!

Recipe: Perfect Beef Sirloin Tip Roast

Beef sirloin tip roast, 3 lbs / sea salt & pepper / 1 clove garlic, minced / 2 tsps fresh thyme, minced / 2 tsps fresh rosemary, minced / 1 tsp balsalmic vinegar

Gravy: 1 tbls butter / 2 tsps flour / ½ cup beef stock / 1 tsp dijon mustard / 2 tsps capers, minced

The day before, rub roast generously with salt and pepper, garlic, thyme, and rosemary. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Two hours before roasting, remove from refrigerator and allow meat to come to room temperature.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Unwrap meat and gently rub in vinegar. When oven is ready, place meat on a roasting pan in the middle of oven, fat bib up. After 15 minutes, turn heat down to 350 degrees. Roast about 25 minutes more, then begin checking internal temperature in the deepest part of the meat. Remove from oven when internal temperature hits 120 degrees for a medium-rare roast. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes or so. Tent with foil if meat is to rest for longer.

Meanwhile, pour pan juices into a small saucepan over medium heat. Melt butter with juices, then whisk in flour. Add stock, continuing to whisk. When reduced to desired thickness, add mustard and capers. Taste and add salt if needed. Feeds 4-6 heartily.

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A recent Kim Severson story about a New Mexican steer-share identified the beef shank as among the animal’s more challenging parts to cook. Which was good to hear. Our shanks always seem to sit in the freezer while we eat our way through the steaks and roasts and more recognizable parts. It’s probably because these things are really tough mothers, dense with fibrous connective tissue and sinew, that makes them such a test of kitchen skill.

Bill Buford cooks down shanks with a bottle of red wine and a few generous tablespoons of ground black pepper, and he claims that after a day’s braise few things are more tender or flavorful. But we’re talking beef stew here; how different can it be? Braise your beef in wine plus or minus tomatoes, and I’m not convinced it matters overly whether you layer in bacon, onions, garlic, mushrooms, herbs, pepper, or other flavorings, or whether you choose beer as your flavor base, because the beef taste is often totally overpowering in long-cooked food.

So I was pleased to find that red curry stands up to beef in much the way that red wine does, while also lending spice and complexity. You can add ginger, turmeric, cumin, kaffir lime — even cinnamon and cardamom —  to the mix, and you’ll get a beef braise that’s decidedly different than the usual Euro fare, especially when served over steamed rice or seasoned rice noodles.

Consider this recipe a starting point. Play around with the flavors, and if you like add sliced mushrooms and red bell pepper about 30 minutes before finishing; I think the vegetables add nice balance to this meaty dish.

Beef Shanks Braised in Red Curry

3 lbs cross-cut beef shanks / ½ cup flour / s & p / 1 onion, minced / 2 small carrots, minced / 1 clove garlic, minced / 1 tbls red curry paste, or to taste / 1 tsp cumin / 2 tsp coriander / ½ tsp turmeric / 1 cup coconut milk / 2 cups beef stock or water / 3 kaffir lime leaves, sliced thinly or 2 bay leaves / optional garnishes: chopped cilantro, lime wedges

Rinse and dry beef shanks. In a shallow dish, mix flour with ½ tsp salt and several grindings of pepper. Coat shanks with mixture.

Heat a heavy stewpot over medium-high heat. Swirl in 1 tbls vegetable oil, coating bottom of pot. When hot, brown shanks on each side, about 6 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Add another splash of vegetable oil if pot is dry and swirl to coat. Add onion, carrots, and garlic and cook, stirring, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry paste, cumin, coriander, and turmeric. When spices have released their aromas, about 1 minute, add coconut milk and stock or water and stir, scraping up and incorporating browned bits into the liquid. Stir in kaffir lime or bay leaves and return shanks to pot.

Add additional water to cover the shanks if needed, bring contents to a boil, then turn heat down to a bare simmer. Cook three to four hours or until meat is very tender. Remove bay leaves if you used them and coax meat away from bone. Serve over rice or seasoned rice noodles, with optional garnishes, and toss bones to the dogs. It’s equally good / perhaps better the next day. Feeds 6-8. Serve fresh Thai cucumber pickle alongside.

orange banana paste

Ah, nesting. For some it involves setting up the crib and painting the nursery. Sewing cute baby quilts. Scrubbing the house down and making way for all the gear that comes with modern babies.

Over here, it’s been a cooking frenzy instead.

But who can help it? There’s so much that’s good and plentiful in the garden right now. I made quarts of our favorite Bolognese sauce, using orange paste tomatoes plus handfuls of fresh oregano, thyme, parsley, and basil. Pints of bread and butter pickles for eating with burgers. A lovely green sauce from ripe tomatillos, for enchiladas and similar fare. I cured a big slab of pork belly guanciale, which will make its way into pastas, soups, and stews all winter long.

And because they make me so happy, I assembled and froze multiple batches of my grandmother’s wonton, using pot sticker filling. These we’ll drop into steaming broth and eat with chopped greens and minced scallions for easy cool weather nourishment.

I even peeled, cored, and froze pears for use as baby food down the road. It feels like storing acorns for winter.

Surely we’d be fine without any of it. We’ve been ready for weeks for this new creature to arrive, so the bustle in the kitchen feels more like a diversion, something to distract me from thoughts of just how dramatically life is about to change. One thing that I’m guessing will stay the same: we’ll like having tasty local and homegrown food in the weeks and months to come.

Recipe: Bolognese Meat Sauce

I’ve made this sauce for countless friends in the throes of new parenthood.

1 large onion, minced / 2 carrots, minced / 2 stalks celery, minced / 2 lbs ground beef and/or pork / 1 cup milk / pinch of nutmeg / 1 cup white wine / 6 cups skinless paste tomatoes / a generous quantity fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, and basil, minced / salt & pepper

Warm a heavy pot over medium heat. Swirl in 1 tbls vegetable oil and add onion, carrots, and celery, cooking over medium heat until softened, about 8 minutes. Add ground meat, ¼ tsp salt, a few grindings of pepper, and cook until browned. Add milk and nutmeg and cook until liquid is essentially gone. Add wine and cook until liquid is essentially gone. Add tomatoes and herbs, bring to a slow boil, then turn down heat and cook over low for 3 hours or until flavors melt together richly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over spaghetti noodles, garnished with Parmesan cheese and fresh minced parsley if desired. Freezes great. Adapted from Marcella Hazan. Feeds 8-10.

The New York Times reveals why it’s so confusing to keep straight all those different cuts of beef: grocers, butchers, and even the Cattlemen’s Beef Association are forever designing new cuts with fancy names to upsell meat that’s traditionally turned into ground. Argh. Not really the kind of help I was looking for.

chile-colorado

It’s April, and beef stew is so over. Problem is, we’ve still got plenty of beef for braising, and waiting ’til next year seems unwise, especially after our recent experience with year-old pork chops. Mmm. So I let myself to be suckered in by this chile recipe, from Aidell & Kelly’s Complete Meat Cookbook, seeing as how it didn’t really sound like stew and looked pretty darn easy to boot. Turns out to be a keeper. For such a simple preparation, the flavors were tremendous and played wonderfully with stewed beans and sauteed seasonal greens. And I love the minimal effort involved. It could be very easily adapted for a slow cooker if you wish.

Chile Colorado

2 dried ancho or other red chilies / 2 lbs beef stew meat, such as chuck / 1 large onion, chopped / 1 tsp cumin / 1 tsp coriander / 2 cloves garlic, chopped / ½ tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh / 2 cups meat stock or beer

Soak the chilies in hot water for 20 minutes, or until soft. Meanwhile, cut the beef into 1-inch cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy casserole over medium-high heat. Swirl in vegetable oil when hot and brown cubes in batches, about 6 minutes per batch, then set aside.

When the chilies are ready, remove seeds and stems and place in a food processor along with onion, cumin, coriander, garlic, oregano, and ¼ cup of strained chile soaking liquid or water. Process to a puree. Pour puree into casserole along with browned meat, stock or beer, and enough water to cover the cubes. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and cook for about 3 hours, until beef is tender. Feeds 4-6.

kebab

The grill is now back in the rotation, and recently beef kebabs were on the dinner menu. But which cut to use? Aidell & Kelly’s Complete Meat Cookbook is unequivocal: not the pre-marinated kebab meat from the grocery store cooler, because you don’t know what you’re getting. What you do want is a cut with a bit of chew and lots of beefy flavor, meaning something like skirt steak, top round, sirloin, tri-tip, or chuck steak. Or something more tender, like tenderloin.

I opted for a taste test comparing flank steak and top round steak, since that’s what the freezer yielded. (Tenderloin was not an option — you don’t get many of those, even with a quarter cow.) I sliced the flank thinly, cubed the top round, and both went into a gingery soy marinade overnight. Charlie skillfully undergrilled the beef just slightly, and we dug in with our friends Mark and Alice, both discerning omnivores. Accompaniments included a peanut sauce and a spicy mango sauce.

The verdict? The cubed top round was assertively beefy in flavor and just a bit chewy. The flank was wonderfully tender but tasted as much of marinade as it did of beef. The consensus was that a smarter investigator would have pitted sliced top round against sliced flank, or cubed vs. cubed. But you wouldn’t go wrong with either cut of beef or angle of cut, even if the cubed meat was more kebab-like than the squiggly slices. Me, next time I’ll be slicing the meat and marinating less, for better tenderness and preserved beefy flavor.

And no need for so many sauces — the kebabs are good enough that sauces are almost an afterthought.

lemongrass-meatballs

Thirty pounds of ground beef with our quarter-cow, but a gal can only eat so many burgers. So we’ve branched out. One recurring favorite is a big dish of meatballs with minty yogurt and rice pilaf, and another the lemongrass meatball, which we’ve just discovered this week. This smaller meatball makes for an easy, good looking appetizer, though admittedly the real discovery is the sweet chili dipping sauce, whose flavors make everything taste new.

Recipe: Lemongrass Meatballs

Meatballs: 1 lb. ground pork, beef, or a combination / 1 tbl chopped cilantro / 2 tsps fish sauce / 1 tbl soy sauce / 1 tsp sugar / 2 tsps garlic, minced / 2 tsps lemongrass, minced / 2 tsps baking powder / ½ tsp salt

Dipping Sauce: ¼ cup rice vinegar / ¼ cup water / 1 tbl chili paste, or to taste / 2 tsps cornstarch / 3 tbls sugar, more if you like a sweet sauce / 1 tbls cilantro, chopped

Combine meatball ingredients in a mixing bowl and shape into pieces the size of golf balls. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in 2 tbls vegetable oil. When hot, add meatballs without crowding. Moderate heat so the exterior browns but does not burn; turn meatballs every 3 minutes or so to cook evenly. They are done when cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Makes about 24 appetizer-sized meatballs.

Meanwhile, mix the rice vinegar, water, chili paste, cornstarch, and sugar, ensuring that the cornstarch dissolves thoroughly. Heat mixture over high heat in a saucepan, boiling for 3 minutes or so until the mixture turns transluent. Cool before stirring in cilantro and serve alongside meatballs.

mince1

Another simple, tasty use for all that ground beef from our quarter cow: English chef Simon Hopkinson’s savory mince, as featured in the Times food section two weeks back. I tweaked his recipe slightly, incorporating homemade tomato sauce, fresh garden herbs, and cured fatback in lieu of more standard ingredients, and it made for a hearty local meal after a long day of cleaning up the garden. Charlie, who once lived in London, declared it up there with the best English eating he’s done. I leave it to you, dear reader, to divine his meaning.

Spicy noodles are my comfort food — I like to cook a bowl for myself whether it’s meal time or not. And they’re never really the same thing twice; I’m constantly tinkering with the ingredients. This particular adaptation uses a little ground beef plus the meaty Romano beans that I grew from my friend Caroline’s seeds. The only thing I don’t tinker with is the fresh tomatoes that get stirred in at the end. I know stir-fried tomatoes sound odd, but they really tie the sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors together. These days I’m chopping in the last stragglers from our garden and bonus, you don’t really notice that the fruit is barely ripe. Good timing for the very last of the summer crops. And, I get my noodle craving satisfied in fifteen minutes.

Recipe: Spicy Noodles

1/3 lb rice stick noodles / ¼ lb green beans / 2 medium tomatoes / 2 tbls fish sauce / 2 tsp sugar / 2 tbls fresh lime juice / 1 tsp chili paste, or to taste / ¼ tsp salt / ¼ lb ground beef / 2 tbls minced onion / 1 tsp ginger, minced

Soak rice noodles in hot water for 10 minutes or more, to soften. Cut green beans into 1-inch pieces and tomatoes into ½-inch cubes. Thoroughly mix together fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, chili paste, and salt. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high. Swirl in vegetable oil. When hot, add ground beef, onion, and ginger and cook, stirring, until beef has lost its raw appearance. Add noodles, fish sauce mixture, ½ cup water, and green beans. Cook, stirring constantly, adding additional water to keep noodles from sticking if needed. When noodles are tender, about 5 minutes, mix in tomatoes and serve. Feeds 2.

Seems like half the work of eating locally comes in securing ingredients, inevitably from some combination of scouting farmer’s markets, tracking down pastured animals, composting, and growing your own from dirt and sunshine. The next forty percent of the local eating puzzle, at least for me, is in contemplating old recipes and playing with new ones, the goal being to combine raw materials in simple but interesting ways, ways that enable the materials to shine.

Those elements in place, the actual cooking often feels like a mere formality.

Such was the case with this Julia Child recipe for carbonnade a la flammande, which translates more or less as beef braised in onions and beer as the Belgians do. We ate the carbonnade alongside a fresh tomato salad and pan-roasted potatoes with parsley, and it was one of the tastiest things we’ve done yet with our Lopez Island beef. The best part was that with ingredients on the premises and a bulletproof recipe at hand, it wasn’t such a stretch to get dinner to the table. Plus the carbonnade is a nice way to work that stew pot back into the kitchen rotation, and right now you can find all of the supporting ingredients at farmers markets or in the garden.

Recipe: Julia’s Carbonnade a la Flammande

1 tbls pork fat or vegetable oil / 2-3 lbs beef chuck / 2 medium onions, halved and sliced / 1 large clove garlic, minced / salt & pepper / 1 cup meat stock / 12 oz beer, such as lager or ale / 2 tbls brown sugar / 1 bay laurel leaf / 2 tsp cornstarch / 1 tbls balsalmic vinegar / ¼ cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat a heavy ovenproof pot over medium heat. Render the pork fat or warm the oil. Cut the chuck into thick steak-like slices, approximately 3″x1″x1″. Pat dry and brown the slices in the pot, 3-5 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Add sliced onions and cook over medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and a generous pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Stir and cook for another minute or so, then remove and set aside. Add stock and bring heat up to high, scraping browned bits off the bottom. Remove from heat and add beef slices in a layer on the pot bottom. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper, then cover with onions. Pour in beer, which should just cover meat, and stir in sugar. Tuck bay leaf into the center. Cover pot, place in oven, and bake for about 3 hours, until beef is falling apart. Check midway through: liquid should just be bubbling gently.

Remove pot from oven and pour pot juices into a sauce pan, and turn heat to high. Dissolve cornstarch thoroughly into 2 tablespoons of water and add, along with vinegar, to the juices. Reduce quickly over high heat. Serve beef topped with onions and fresh parsley, with reduced juices poured over it all. Feeds 6-8. Adapted from Julia Child.

Eat Local Northwest

A food blog documenting the adventures of two friends trying to cook and eat sustainably in Seattle and in Anchorage.