Cooking Tips

Burgers for Many

As we enter the grilling season, lets assume you’re having the neighbors over for burgers. There will be twelve mouths to feed. Unless you’re cooking to order, your first patty is going to dry out before it gets to the bun. What to do?

Here’s my solution. Have a pot of beef broth on a warm spot. Add some butter to it. Make your burgers and hold them in the broth. If you want to add some bbq sauce to the broth, do that too. When you’re ready to eat, pull them out one at a time, dripping in juices. And have a great spring/summer, living large.

More on the Venerable Pot Roast

My Encyclopedia of Enhancements

Last month, we had a tutorial on the quick and easy cooking of a pot roast, be that beef or pork and regardless of where the cut originates. Ham or hindquarter, should or butt, shank or osso buco. Pot roast is the braising technique that deals with the tougher cuts – those that get the most exercise on our creatures. Toughness is a liability in one way – you have to know how to make it tender – but also a great advantage because the most exercised parts are also the most nutritious, fall apart tender, and the most flavorful if braised. It is a known biological truth that exercise increases blood and nutrient flow to those areas, resulting in greater deposits of proteins, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals.
Hence, we spend some time on the venerable Pot Roast! How do we add an increasing base of vegs, minerals and taste to this already superior cut and cooking dish?

Here is my list of Pot Roast Enhancers. You can implement any, all, or a combination of some. Pick and choose or go all the way.

  • After thawing, apply a dry brine; that is, cover in chunky kosher or sea salt, leave in a covered vessel for 24 hours in the fridge. If any salt remains on the surface of the meat after curing, rinse it off before cooking. You won’t usually see any – salt penetrates the meat and liquifies the protein-rich tendons that make the meat tough. So you have begun the tenderizing process while adding moisture by way of the liquefied proteins found in the tendons. For the salt-fearers: you die without sodium in your system. You must have salt. As always, it’s just a matter of too much or too little. This will not be too much.
  • Put your roast under the broiler to brown it well before putting into your dutch oven, slow cooker, or pressure cooker. If you don't have a high performing broiler, brown the roast in a grapeseed or olive oil in a cast-iron Dutch oven. Either way a cast-iron Dutch oven is the best choice, although pressure cookers run a close second.  Either way, broiler or stove top pressure-cooked, the heat penetrates the meat in layers.  The browner the surface the better. Each layer brings forth different flavors, all good.
  • Make a mirepoix. Mirepoixs are combinations of vegetables, including onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic MINCED in your Cuisinart or blender. I mince each one separately, adding a bit of water for flow, the liquid of which is then saved to become a part of your stock for the pot roast. Note well, by using the liquid, you save all of the nutrients that have leached into the water as well as the pulp of the vegs. Mirepoixs are sauteed  in the bottom of your dutch oven or pressure cooker, forming the base of your pot roast. If you are using a slow cooker, then you will have to saute’ in a separate skillet.
  • A butter roux. Melt a stick of butter in a skillet, add flour to thicken, a cook until golden brown. This gives you 2 additions – a nutty flavor and the nutritional benefit of adding the complexity of a dairy product to your pot. And you get a gravy rather than a soup broth. I like both, but in the end, will opt for the gravy approach 2 out of 3 times. Important note: if you go with the roux, add your mirepoix vegs on top of it after bringing it to golden brown, pull off the heat and let the 2 marinate and meld for a while.
  • The broth. Braising is a slow cooking process in a liquid. You have many liquid choices here, but rather than plain water, I like one of these: any bone broth, beef, pork or chicken; bourbon, brandy, red wine or sherry, but with any of the alcohol choices, you can combine with your broth and go say ½ and ½. Sherry may make it sweeter than suits your taste.
  • Now for these added vegs. I like all of these: potatoes, carrots, turnips, mushrooms, green beans, LeSeuer peas, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, but you must have potatoes and carrots at a minimum, imo. The next thing to understand is that these vegetables are added to the pot step by step. So as an example, large chunks of carrots go in first, being the longest cook time. LeSeuer peas go in after you’re finished, only needing to be warmed in the pot. Potatoes are probably second, green beans probably next to last. So just give some thought to expected cooking time for each veg you choose and stage them in appropriately.
  • Seasonings. First, don’t worry about precise measurements. Simply use your vision to season each component one at a time, using this approach: if I was making cooked carrots, how much and what type of seasonings would I add? If you then want to add a dose of something at the end, do it. But I think you need these at a minimum: salt, pepper, perhaps more garlic, powdered or fresh, and bay leaf. But be careful with salt if you did the dry brine suggested here. Some other seasoning choices are herbs. Rosemary, thyme? Whatever you like. Make it your pot!
  • How to serve it. If you made it soup-like, serve in a bowl. If you thickened it with a butter roux, I often serve it over rice or pasta. But thanks to Ken Hoffman’s column, how about with Yorkshire pudding(Google for a recipe) ? Or just cut the roast into slices and put on a platter piled with the vegetables.
  • Garnishes. chopped parsley, green onion, lemon zest.

Other Cooking Tips

Do your pork chops and steaks tend to draw up on themselves? Mine do, but I have the solution. Cut slits along the fat side toward the meat. There is a tendon that runs along the edge of the meat. It contracts more quickly that the meat when the heat hits it, bringing the rest of the meat with it. If you cut it, that will prevent the curl. 2 or 3 slits will do the trick.

Some ask why we leave such a thick layer of fat on our pork chops. We do that because fat is a good thing, at least in the case of properly raised meats. In the case of pork, it profiles just like oleic oil – think olive oil here. The bonus is that it is very tasty when cooked. But if you remain in the Dark Ages about the necessity of fat in a healthy body, just trim it after cooking. At least you will get some of its benefit in the jus.

Eat well to live well!

The Eaters Write

Trish Hooper sends this easy recipe for round steak in her slow cooker. I am always impressed by our members’ cooking skills. Check this out, and notice the subtleties (toss with flour; roasted red peppers; pepper jelly).

“JVF Round Steak, cut into 1/4 slices, sautéed after toss with flour and Creole seasoning, browned. Into crockpot with sliced onions , roasted red peppers, garlic powder, thyme, onion & pepper jelly, 2 cups + hen broth. Cook 10 hrs. slow cooker. Tender, succulent and yum.”
— Trish Hooper

I would add that you could change cooking time to less than an hour with the same recipe in a pressure cooker. But slow cookers are a blessing and perfect for overnight cooking for the next day’s dinner.

The Ham Steak

Found a ham steak in the deep freeze during the Christmas season while I was looking for the dinner entrée. Wanted something quick to cook, so I did this.

Seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder while it thawed. Oil and butter into the skillet and seared the ham on medium heat, removing it and then adding fresh rings of onion. When they softened, added the ham back in on top, a little water for steam, and covered it for 30 minutes on low heat. Result: tender ham steak with a delicious gravy.

Next month, we will introduce the beef round steak, the mirror image of the ham steak and a regular at my mother’s dinner table. Cook it the same way.

The Cardinal Rules

There are 2 things to remember at all times when preparing and eating pastured beef and pork:

  1. The roasts and osso buco cuts should follow the low and slow method of cooking. Or get the new pressure cooker and eliminate the “slow” part.
  2. Fat on our meat is your friend. Absolutely eat it, or at least its juices that are formed in the cooking process. The Omega 3s and CLAs are found only in the fat (that is why they are known as “fatty acids” in the nutritional science world.

Basting Away

Standing around a charcoal grill while keeping the kitchen cool and the sink clear of pots and pans in the summer is one of my favorite weekend and holiday routines. I think it is an instinctive thing – like finding peace at the ocean. Fire and water must be in our DNA. They both compel us.

But grilling is incomplete without a proper basting sauce. Chicken, pork or beef; doesn’t matter. They are all better with a good baste. Here’s mine.

The base of any basting sauce is the same. It must have oil and vinegar, in about equal portions. Even better if you substitute, in whole or in part, the juice of good fresh lemons for the vinegar. Then add a raw egg for richness and “cling”. Here’s the best part – squeeze in a lot of honey. Then add copious amounts of garlic powder and black pepper. I finish it off with many dashes of Worcestershire and some store-bought BBQ sauce. I like Stubbs, but choose your own; but it should be a spicy not a sweet sauce. Just enough sauce to give it a slightly red tint. What you have as a result is sweet, spicy and tart. All of the complementary flavors you would want in any meal.

Baste away! It’s a good thing. 

Cooking Tip

I have often recommended a hard sear for our pork belly. It can take it because it’s fat layer is so thick – and delicious when it is a bit charred. But It also makes the meat a little chewier than some like. So here’s an alternative: cook the belly low and slow first and once it is tenderized, throw it in a skillet or on the grill for a finishing sear. Takes longer but you will have tender meat as well as the charred fatty outer layer.