Beef, it’s what’s for dinner. Tonight. Jokes aside beef is a huge culinary field, but there are three techniques you need depending on the cut. Roasting, braising, and cooking “the steak.”
Roasting and braising are similar techniques, one in the oven and the other on the range. The tougher the cut of beef, the better you are choosing to roast or braise the meat. Now there are guides out there for choosing a cut of beef, but if you are reading this odds are you are poor and are grabbing something from the discount section.
The Mt. Everest of roasts is the “standing rib roast” or “prime rib” (the only difference is the grade of beef used) but odds are good this is out of your price range. But if not, go listen to the pro : http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/dry-aged-standing-rib-roast-with-sage-jus-recipe.html
In any other situation, where you’ve grabbed the “manager special” just follow these steps.
1. have garlic, cooking oil, salt and pepper on hand and two bullion cubes on hand. Rub your cut of meat in salt and pepper, lightly coat with oil. Preheat your oven to 350 F. Mix the bullion cubes with a cup of warm water and set aside.
2. Heat your skillet, add some oil. Once the skillet is hot (the oil will start to smoke if you aren’t careful) sear the roast on all sides. Once the meat is seared on all sides, transfer to your stainless steel pot or dutch oven or roasting pan (seriously they ALL work just fine) and add the bullion and garlic to the bottom. Put the pan in the oven, and cook for 2 hours. Or you can consult the chart here for temps and time: http://www.recipetips.com/kitchen-tips/t–1542/roast-beef-cook-time.asp
3. After two hours, your meat should be done, and there should be plenty of juices in the pan. Transfer the meat to a cutting board, let it sit. Mix half a cup of milk and two tablespoons of cornstarch, put the pan on a burner and turn the burner on, then whisk in the corn starch milk mixture to make your gravy (add salt to taste).
And that is your basic roast.
Braising is like roasting, but generally done with “stew meat” or other small chunks of tougher cuts. To braise you’ll need a flavorful liquid, you can use beef bullion or stock, you can use marinara sauce, you can use sauces of your own creation.
1. lightly coat your stew meat with some salt and pepper, then a little oil. Chop up some onion, celery, and bell pepper (optional).
2. Heat your skillet and add oil to coat. Once the skillet is hot, add the beef and sear all sides. Once all the searing is done, remove meat, drain any excess oil or fat, then add your vegetables. Your veggies should get nice and happy.
3. Add the flavorful liquid, and scrape the bottom of the pan until it is clean. Add your meat back in. The liquid should not completely cover the meat. Cover the pan/pot/skillet with a tight fitting lid, and let simmer until tender.
You can put the skillet in the oven on 350 (with lid!) and finish the braising there, and I recommend it. All sorts of tough cuts of meat do great with braising, short ribs, ox tail, stew meat, etc.
4. Once your meat is tender, remove the meat, skim the fat off the top of the remaining liquid, and boil until the sauce is reduced to a firmer consistency, where it fully coats a spoon or fork without running off immediately. This step is a great time to add fresh herbs to the sauce for an extra kick of flavor.
Now, “the steak.” Say you splurged on some nice thick New York strip or cuts of sirloin… Before you do ANYTHING else, let your steaks come up to room temperatures.
Preheat your oven to 450 F. Add salt to each side of the steaks (if you have any steak seasoning, now is the time to apply it, I like “Montreal Seasoning” myself), lightly rub with oil.
Preheat your skillet to scary hot (cast iron is perfect for this). Turn the hood fan on to its highest setting, and open a window just in case. Add just a hint of oil to check for smoke, once it does smoke add a little more oil, coat thoroughly, and add the steaks. Sear on each side for one minute. At the end of the second minute, transfer immediately to the oven.
Wait 5-6 minutes for rare, 6-7 minutes for medium 7-8 minutes for medium well (this is for thick cut steaks, 3/4 to 1 inch). Remove from oven and put on cutting board to rest. Wait at least five minutes. Serve. Seriously it is that easy.
You can also use this technique with flank steak, then thinly slice the flank steak and serve over salad for a high protein low carb meal.
There is a LOT more to know about cooking beef (such as a pot a feu or steak Chaliapin) but I think this is a good place to get start with tough cuts of beef and the occasional premium steak.