Braised Top Round Beef Roast

To paraphrase Juliet in Shakespeare’s wonderful love story, “A braised beef roast by any other name would taste as good.”

Call it a pot roast if you like. Brown the beef well, add some vegetables and a cooking liquid in which to simmer the meat, and you will have a braised beef roast. Braising is a cooking method for turning a tougher cut of meat into a tender main course for dinner. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word comes from a French word, “braiser,” which means hot charcoal.

In the eighteenth century, “braise” came into English to describe a method of cooking a la braise, which the O.E.D. describes as “to stew in a tightly-closed pan (properly with a charcoal fire above and below), the meat being surrounded with slices of bacon, herbs, etc.” Neither the French nor we use charcoal fires to braise beef or cook pot roasts today, but we all enjoy a good roast.

The source of the heat is not really important. Electric, gas or wood ranges work equally well. However, you cannot make a true pot roast or braised beef roast in a slow cooker, since you need to sear the meat in a hot pan or Dutch oven before adding the other ingredients.

The recipe below creates a rich flavorful roast. The bacon and parsnip add a complexity of flavor lacking in conventional pot roasts, hence my naming it Braised Top Round Beef Roast. You could use bottom round roast if you prefer. A chuck roast has more fat, so it might not work as well. I would suggest making an Easy Beef Pot Roast with it instead.

INGREDIENTS:

2 to 3 lb. beef top round roast
3 or 4 slices bacon
1/4 tsp. salt plus a little on the carrots and potatoes
1/8 tsp. black pepper plus a little on the carrots and potatoes
1 medium onion (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1 beef bouillon cube
1 small parsnip
1 bay leaf
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
4 to 5 carrots
2 to 3 medium potatoes
1 1/2 T all-purpose flour
1 1/2 T softened butter
A little brown gravy sauce (optional)

PROCEDURE:

Though round roast is very lean, there may be a layer of fat left on the meat on one edge, most of which you should trim away. You do not need to trim all of it off, and be careful not to cut away any of the lean meat. Cut the bacon slices into pieces about two inches long. Put the bacon along with the fat trimmings into a covered skillet over moderate heat and cook it for three or four minutes. Do not overcook the bacon. It should not be crisp. Discard the fat trimmings and set aside the bacon.

You should have about a tablespoon of grease in the skillet. Increase the heat to high and brown the roast on all sides. There should be dark brown areas on the roast. Drain the pan to leave no more than a teaspoonful of grease. Reduce the heat to low. Sprinkle salt and grind pepper over the roast.

Layer the bacon on top of the roast. The bacon adds flavor and bastes the meat as it cooks. Clean and cut the onion into quarter-inch slices and layer them on the bacon. Don’t worry if some pieces of onion fall off the roast. Pour the water and wine around the meat.

Peel and mince or grate the parsnip. You should have about a quarter cup. Sprinkle the parsnip into the liquid around the meat along with bouillon cube, the bay leaf and cloves. Cover and simmer very slowly for two hours. Check occasionally and add liquid if necessary.

If you are using thin-skinned red or yellow potatoes, just wash them thoroughly and cut them into quarters or sixths, depending on the size of the potatoes. Thicker-skinned potatoes such as russets should be peeled before you quarter them. Peel or scrape the carrots and cut them into two inch pieces. I like to split larger carrots in half lengthwise before cutting them into pieces.

Arrange the vegetables around the meat, sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender, thirty-five to forty-five minutes.

In a small bowl mix the butter and flour together to make a paste. This paste is what the French call beurre manié (roughly burr-mun-yay). Literally, it means kneaded butter. Think of it as a soft dough that thickens a broth and makes it taste even better.

When the vegetables are tender, remove the meat and vegetables from the pan and keep them warm while you make the gravy. If necessary, add equal amounts of water and wine to the liquid in the pan so you have about a cup and three-quarters of liquid.

Drop the beurre manié paste you made earlier by small amounts into the hot liquid, using a whisk or fork to blend away the lumps. Keep stirring and raise the heat slightly if necessary to bring the gravy to a simmer. Cook the gravy for three or four minutes. Add a few drops of brown gravy sauce if you want a darker gravy. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with a salad or relishes and bread.

NOTES: You can make beurre manié in quantity and store it to use later. Knead equal amounts of flour and butter together until you have a firm paste. Roll marble-sized balls and store them in a closed container in the freezer. When you need to thicken a sauce or gravy, stir two balls into the hot broth for each cup of liquid. Add more balls for a thicker sauce or gravy.

I keep encountering people who say that they don’t like parsnips. When we have time to visit about this vegetable, I often find that they don’t even know what a parsnip looks like and have never eaten one. Trust me, you will not taste anything odd in the sauce. The sweetness and pungency of that little root works wonders in beef sauces. However, you may have to tell the cashier at the checkout that the little white root is a parsnip, so he or she can key the right code into the scanner.

Grandma Emma’s Swedish Meatballs

Here is another recipe from Pegi’s grandmother, Emma Ada Melrose, that she passed on to her daughter and granddaughter. Dale and Pegi brought these Swedish meatballs to a church potluck a few years ago, and I asked for the recipe. Most Scandinavian recipes are light on spices, but Grandma Emma’s doesn’t call for any at all, unless you want to call salt a spice.

Apparently Pegi’s grandmother devised a shortcut by using a can of condensed cream of celery soup rather than the more traditional milk or cream and various spices one finds in most Swedish meatball recipes. The list of ingredients for condensed cream of celery soup includes “flavorings” which suggests spices. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw that not even black pepper was in the recipe, but I followed instructions, and my meatballs were as tasty as those I remembered.

Jerri thinks that Grandma Emma probably put this recipe together in the 1950’s when almost every cook in the United States was experimenting with condensed Campbell’s soups. That statement, incidentally, includes my mother and aunts, who fed us kids dozens of dishes promoted by the Campbell Soup Company. Jerri’s Green Bean Casserole is one deriving from that time that I still love. Since Campbell’s introduced cream of celery soup in 1913, it’s possible that the recipe is even older.

The one thing I know for certain is that this is a recipe worth making once in a while. It’s extremely simple and produces Swedish meatballs just as good as most of those I have enjoyed over the years at many a lutefisk dinner. Serve the meatballs with boiled or mashed potatoes and a vegetable. If you want to be a true Wisconsinite, pass a bowl of cranberry sauce as well.

INGREDIENTS:

1 can condensed cream of celery soup
1/2 cup water
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg
2 T minced onion
2/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
A little extra water

PROCEDURE:

Blend the water into the condensed soup in a small bowl to make a smooth sauce. Combine a quarter cup of the sauce with the ground beef. Lightly beat an egg and mince two tablespoons of onion. Thoroughly mix the egg, onion, bread crumbs and salt with the meat.

Lightly oil a large skillet and shape the meat into balls about an inch in diameter. Brown them in batches over moderate heat, leaving room to turn the balls without breaking them. Once all the meatballs have been browned, drain any extra fat from the skillet. Return the meatballs to the skillet and add a tablespoon or two of water. Cover the skillet and simmer the meatballs about twenty minutes until they are done.

When the meatballs are fully cooked, you can cool and store them and the sauce in the refrigerator. Later you can mix the sauce with the meatballs and heat them thoroughly in a pan, casserole or microwavable bowl before serving. If you wish to serve them immediately, mix the hot meatballs with the sauce and continue simmering them for another ten or fifteen minutes.