Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Roast Beef in the Oven

On its face, there’s nothing wrong with a crock pot roast. If cooked long enough, it’s tender; if seasoned properly, it’s tasty; and if surrounded by the right vegetables, it can be a thoroughly nutritious meal (and even tastier – roast vegetables are to die for). Of course, crock pot roast is also an insanely user-friendly dish. Let’s be honest: Anyone can make roast beef in a countertop electric appliance.

But how many of today’s home cooks still take the time to roast a slab of beef in the oven – you know, like women on TV say they are when they want to get out of an awkward social situation (think Bree on Desperate Housewives saying, “I’d love to stay and chat, but I have a roast in the oven.” She would never say, “I have a roast in the crock pot” – see what I mean?) Roast beef is just as easy to do in the oven, and as an accomplishment it delivers far more personal satisfaction. Just like pot roast, it can be slow cooked alongside vegetables and aromatics, so that the tenderness and taste factors are all there. Here’s a recipe for cooking roast beef in the oven with delicious vegetable accoutrements – in other words, an oven pot roast.

Oven Pot Roast with Vegetables

4-5 lb. beef chuck roast
2 tbs. olive oil
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
5 potatoes, washed and cut into halves
4 carrots, peeled and cut into halves
1 white or brown onion, peeled and cut into quarters
2 zucchinis, sliced into rounds
½ lb. (about 25) green beans, ends trimmed
2 cups water, red wine or beef stock

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle the roast with olive oil and rub gently. Season it with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan, or if desired, on a roasting rack inside the pan (this will create a convection oven atmosphere). This is going to sound crazy, but for those who don’t have a roasting rack: I had a stroke of genius one day and decided to use my Perfect Brownie cutter as a roasting rack. It fit perfectly into my roasting pan, stood up to the heat of the oven and functioned as a darn good rack. How about that?). A roasting rack is not necessary for oven pot roast, but it can help keep the roast from cooking in its own fat. Then again, the vegetables will still soak up some of the fat so it’s your call. Next, surround the roast with the vegetables. Here is what the arrangement looks like on the rack (ere to, the Perfect Brownie cutter):

I'm not really sure if that was the proper context for the Shakespearean phrase "ere to."

Now, pour in your chosen liquid (water, wine or stock. I’ll be honest, I do love cooking with wine but I prefer not to use it in roast beef unless diluting it with water or stock. If you want to be a foodie-in-training and use wine, I’d advise a 50/50 split of red wine and beef stock. That’s just me, though).

Cover the roasting pan and place in the oven. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 325 degrees, cover pan and cook the covered roast for three hours. When the roast is tender and its internal temperature is 140 degrees, it is ready to eat.

Oven Pot Roast Tips

When making roast beef in the oven, monitor liquid levels so that the roast achieves the same tenderness that it would in a crock pot. This is especially important if you are using a roasting rack, as the roast could dry out more easily. Check your roast halfway through cooking, and if the liquid has dried up, add a little more (up to one cup, depending on how much liquid has evaporated).

Adjust the vegetables as desired: In my book, the potatoes, onions and carrots are the only “musts.” My mother also used celery, but my husband thinks cooked celery is an ungodly invention and yours probably does too. Garlic cloves are a popular and trendy addition, and if you can only stand one green vegetable with your roast beef, omit either the zucchini or the green beans. You got me: I only used the green beans here. Pictures don't lie. But I have used the zucchini as well, and it is equally delicious.

Roast Beef Gravy

Now comes the really fun part! There’s just something about homemade gravy that says, “I’m a real cook now.” Here's an easy recipe for homemade beef gravy:

Beef Gravy with Pan Drippings

Roast beef pan drippings
2 tablespoons flour
1-1 ½ cups liquid (water, milk or beef stock, depending on the style of gravy you want)
Salt and pepper to taste

First, transfer the roast and vegetables to a serving platter (the roast needs to rest anyway). Then, pour off all but two tablespoons of the pan drippings into a small bowl. Pour the remaining two tablespoons of drippings into a small saucepan or skillet. Stir in flour with a wire whisk or fork until the flour has thickened and the gravy is smooth. Continue to cook slowly to brown the flour, and stir constantly. This is the same thing as a roux – fat and flour. Slowly add back some of the remaining drippings until the roux reaches optimal smoothness. Slowly add liquid to the roux (less liquid for a thick gravy, more liquid for a thinner one). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roast Beef: The Final Chapter

When I was about seven, I was working on a coloring page while visiting the home of my English next door neighbor. Like any kid who was ready to move on to the next lightly structured activity, I declared, "I'm done" when all the lines were sufficiently shaded in. She scolded, "You're not done, you're finished. A roast beef in the oven is done." I tilted my head and formed what I assume was a confused facial expression. Well, at least I get it now. Enjoy making - and more importantly, eating - your oven pot roast. 

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