Monday, September 08, 2008

Pot Roast

I bought a lovely piece of silverside at the market on Saturday with the idea of making a dish from Anna del Conte's The Classic Food of Northern Italy that combines larding and pot-roasting to make for a gloriously moist, well flavoured joint. I had planned to make it earlier in the year when I was in Australia where it was winter and the weather was well bleak. I thought my parents would enjoy it as it would cheer them against the cold but I ended up making a daube instead. With the same kind of reasoning given the weather and all here in London I planned to make it this week for us.

Slow moist cooking methods are ideal for tenderising less expensive, tougher cuts of meat. Larding meat is probably a fairly old fashioned thing to do but it makes a lot of sense. Silverside is a very lean cut and a lot of the flavour in meat comes from the fat. So an economical way to moisten the meat and add flavour is to finely chop fatty parma ham – buy the end piece from your deli – or bacon. Then make deep cuts into either end of the joint and stuff the chopped meat deep inside using the end of a chopstick. Ideally, by the time you finish, the chopped meat fillings should meet up in the middle making threads of fat all the way through. Traditionally you would use a needle to thread long strips of fat all the way through but the chopstick poking method is probably easier.

Pot roasting uses whole boned rolled joints of meat, that are first browned all over in a large pot to caramelise the outside of the meat – this is a very important step, and quite exciting when the meat is hot and spitting. Easily done though with a bit of care. Then it is simply a matter of adding some vegetables and a little stock or other liquid, cover tightly with a lid and that’s it. Pop it in the oven on a low heat for a few hours. It requires very little attention during cooking so it’s ideal for a Sunday while you finish the weekend’s chores. Or if you’re more organised than me while you sit and relax with a glass of wine and the papers.

Fricando - Pot Roast Beef

200g/7oz fatty proscuitto or bacon
1.5kg piece of chuck or silverside of beef
60g unsalted butter
2 tbspn olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and studded with 4 cloves
2 tbspns flat leaf parsley leaves
1 medium carrot, cut into chiunks
the leaves of 2 stalks of celery
150 ml meat stock

Cut the prosciutto or bacon into large pieces, put them into a food processor and whizz for a couple of seconds till coarsely chopped. Take the beef and stand it on one end. With a sharp pointed knife make a deep incision in the roll of meat, along the grain, ie along the length of the meat. Take a lump of the minced fatty meat and push it into the incision. Push it down to the bottom of the cut using a chopstick. Make and fill 4 or 5 incisions and then turn the meat over and repeat the operation. If the incisions are deep enough you will be able to lard half the meat from one end and the other half from the other end.

Put a tablespoon of salt onto a boar and mix it with plenty of fresh pepper. Roll the meat in the seasoning mix and pat it hard into the meat along with any bits of leftover prosciutto.

Choose a heavy flameproof casserol in which the meat will fit fairly tightly. Heat the butter and oil and, when the foam of the butter begins to subside, lower the meat into the pan. Brown the meat on all sides on a lively heat, letting one side get lovely and brown before you turn the meat over. This step is important for the final flavour - done properly it will take about ten minutes.

Heat the oven to gas 2/150C/300F. Throw the onion into the casserole with the caremalized meat together with the parsley, celery and carrot. Give the vegetables a good stir and then pour in the stock. Put the lid on and place the casserole into the oven. Cook for 3 to 31/2 hours, turning the meat every hour.

When the meat is tender - when the prongs of a fork can penetrate it easily, lift it out, cover it with foil and set it aside. Let the liquid in the pan rest for a couple of minutes and then skim as much fat as you can from the top. (Do not throw it away - it is mostly butter and will keep in the fridge to be used to braise potatoes or add depth to a meat sauce. Waste not!) Use a stick blender to process the remaining juices to a smooth liquid.

Serve thick slices of meat over mashed potatoes and steamed cabbage, generously drizzled with the gravy for one of the all time great comfort autumn suppers.
Cold, the meat is lovely in lunch boxes with herbed white beans and fresh baby tomatoes.

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