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This is Episode 1 of my new occasional series, Quarter of A Cow.  Given I have not been very good about my earlier series, Meal of the Week, I am opting for an unscheduled series.  I would like to help others eating through a beef share with helpful hints and tips, and I’d like to keep a record of what might work for next year. 

Today’s topic: chuck roast.

Life in the southern Willamette Valley means we’re kissing cousins to our livestock production.  All along the valley, one can buy some of the best local meat in the world in bulk — cow, lamb, pig — for an astonishingly low price/quality ratio.  Until just a few years ago, we couldn’t easily buy poultry, but that has changed with more purveyors of chicken, turkey and duck, not to mention chicken awareness in the form of the urban chicken craze.  I had the fortune to watch a chicken butchering at Sweetwater Farm last spring, and I see that the Ancona duck farmers Boondockers Farm is allowing folks to attend their own butchering process.  It’s a good thing to see and understand.

But…I’m already getting off topic, no?

Beef.

This year marked my first as a chest freezer owner, so I opted to share a quarter of a cow with a friend from a small farm with just a few head of cattle.  Completely grass fed, the cow worried me a bit because I was concerned with flavor and fat content often not sufficient to create juicy, marbled meat.  And yes, it is leaner, but the taste is marvelous.  It’s almost as if it was aged. (Um, could that be because we couldn’t pick it up for a week when it was ready?  I hope so.)  We had the meat cut and wrapped at Farmers’ Helper in Junction City, a charming little place that does custom cutting and sells local meat by the pound.

As we move into grill season, I’ll be offering suggestions for the primer cuts; for now, it’s all about the soup bones, chuck, and other tough cuts suitable for braising. A note on names: butchers’ cuts are often confusing because of the bewildering number of names each cut can be called, and similar names for very different cuts.

On a chilly, rainy spring day, I wouldn’t say no to a simple pot roast.  My spring recipe modifies my winter lemon pot roast recipe — it cooks the roast at a low temperature overnight, so it doesn’t heat up the house during the day, and it’s not browned, which creates soft, tender, mild slices of beef.  Browning the pot roast does unquestionably provide a richer broth and a pretty sear, but I also like the cleaner spring version with lemon.  A beef share usually comes with a bone-in chuck roast, so I’ve written the recipe using that cut, but feel free to use a 3-4 lb. boneless roast more commonly available in the market.

Even springier is to forgo the mirepoix — the saute of chopped celery, carrot, and onion which forms the base of so many winter braises — and use the vegetables instead as a chopped salad with a lemon and parsley vinaigrette to serve on the side.  Substitute chives or green onions for the yellow storage onions, in this case.  I would mince the carrots, celery, and parsley instead of chopping it roughly as I did in the picture.

Instead of potatoes, why not cook up some whole grains, like the purple barley from Open Oak Farm?  Also nice and light for spring.

Spring Chuck Pot Roast

This roast needs to be cooked overnight or for at least 10 hours, then cooled so it slices nicely, so plan ahead.

  • 4-5 lb. chuck roast, bone-in
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion or shallot, or a mix
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • a few fresh thyme springs (lemon time if you have it) or 1/4 dried thyme
  • Juice of two lemons
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup beef broth (homemade or low-salt)
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Face the roast situation: how large is your pot?  If bone-in, I recommend deboning.  For me, that means cutting into two or three large pieces, which fit nicely into my 5 L. dutch oven.  Rub the meat with liberal amounts of salt and pepper.

In a dutch oven large enough to hold your roast, saute onion and garlic in butter slowly over medium-low heat until golden brown.

While the onions are browning, zest one lemon and juice both of them.

Add the meat to the pot with the lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme, and beef broth.

Before closing the lid, take a large sheet of aluminum foil and cover the pot tightly.  Then add the lid. This improves the seal.

Place in oven and let cook overnight or for about 8-9 hours.  In the morning, open up the pot.  The meat should be a ghastly grey.  As long as it’s thoroughly cooked and falling apart with tenderness when you slice off a piece, you’re good to go.  If you’re feeling unsure, don’t hesitate to turn the oven up to 300 degrees and let cook another hour or so.

Essential: after cooking, remove the roast and let rest until cool.  You might do it quickly on the counter for about 20 minutes, or even better, in the refrigerator for a few hours.  You’ll find the roast slices beautifully when cold, then you can reheat it in the juices left over from the braise.  Don’t discard your meat juice!  Boil it down with a pat of butter, then strain and pour over the meat after sliced.  Add some chopped chives to be very springy, indeed.

Serve with the salade mirepoix described above (minced celery, carrots, and chives in a lemon-parsley vinaigrette) and steamed barley.  Also wonderful with spring greens.

Other Chuck Roast Recipes from the Files:

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