Tuesday 14 October 2014

Roast beef - rest, don't rust

Meat rusts fast. The process of red to pink to brown to bleugh is the gradual oxidation of the iron rich haemoglobin in the meat. The trick to perfection is to rest, not rust.

What? Read on.

Twenty minutes per pound plus twenty minutes, at about 200°C. Yeah? Sounds about right? We've all been told this?

It's utter guff. Try and expunge it. There are French people pointing and laughing at us. Ignore them. Try and remember that fifteen minutes per pound is a much better bet. Or, seeing as we've been metric for forty years (those pesky French again): 33 mins per kilo.

The joint of topside above weighed in at exactly three kilos (6.6 pounds) so convention would have me roast it for 152 minutes; two and a half hours, at between 180°C and 200°C (350-400°F). This is what I actually did.

Remove the joint from the fridge an hour before cooking. 
Season the whole joint with salt and pepper. 
Dust the fat with 50/50 mix of mustard powder and flour. 
 Place in a solid baking tin on a bed of red onion slices. 
Cook for 20 minutes at 240°C - to crisp the fat and brown the meat. 
Remove to baste, leaving the oven door open... and reducing the temp to 180°C. 
Roast at the lower temperature for just 103 minutes, basting every 20 minutes. 
Remove meat and rest for an HOUR, under three layers of foil. 

Why 103? Because I was doing a final baste and I probed the meat. It was done.

123 minutes in total. Two hours. So that's twenty minutes and then just fifteen per pound. I would call that meat pictured medium. Would you call it rare? Delia does... as do the BBC.

I often have a problem with recipe timings. You wonder if it's a typo, bad research, tending to caution or simply indifference. Overdone meat especially desert dry chicken, soufflés that would be unrisen, (un)roast veg that would challenge even a master masticator.

Worse is the instruction: 'cook until done'. My boys hate me saying that. You can press the meat, raw meat feels like your hand, which is fine for steaks and burgers but you can't get inside a four rib, forerib of Angus beef... and nor should you. And what is 'done' anyway?

The only certain way to determine 'doneness' is to use a probe to read the internal temperature of the meat. These are very cheap now. However, there's also much disagreement over what temperature means rare, medium, medium-rare etc. To worsen matters, the OFFICIAL guidelines state even higher temperatures, preferring caution over cooking. They recommend ALL beef be cooked to 63°C. Someone's having a giggle! Safe to say that most restaurants do not serve meat at government guidelines.
This is my probe. Get your own.

This Aberdeen Angus site declares a medium joint to be 71°C while this American site says 60-63°C. They can't both be right. I side low. This is a good and comprehensive guide. Sadly it's in Fahrenheit and I don't deal with bushels, pecks and barleycorns no more thanks. Thank God for Siri.

Always check your timings - OK, so you can't assume they're wrong -  but treat them as just a guide not as holy writ. Remember that the temperature of the meat as it's presented to the oven is a major consideration. It'll clearly take much longer to raise the internal temperature if it starts out at a fridgey 4°C. Most importantly, you must also factor in resting times.

Oh Lord, get me and my 'must'. I didn't mean to sound so earnest and foodie but you'd think something as commonplace as roast meat prep would have more agreement by now.

Take your meat out when it's 5°C less than you want on the dinner table. The meat will continue to cook, meaning the interior temperature will rise while it's resting... and rest it must. Unrested meat is not as succulent as the juice (it's not blood) will leak out when cut. A joint like this needs a minimum of thirty minutes. A large joint or a big bird can sit happily under layers of foil for up to an hour. 

Increasingly I think the answer is to sear the exterior, in a pan or a hot oven and then slowly cook the joint as a very low oven - maybe only 60°C. The other way, almost the reverse, is to 'sous vide' the joint, bagged up in a water bath and then sear the meat when desired. Yeah... I may have news about that soon. With sous vide, there's no need to rest the meat and you can serve it when you want it.

Finally, I know my family struggle to gift me at Christmas. So... I'll just park this here.

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