At work last week we did the Stand Out test, and in my results it confirmed something that I already know, which is that I need quiet rumination time – time to just think and process and ponder over things that have happened, in order it make sense of them. I realized that is a huge reason I gravitate toward cooking, baking, and needlework – they give me that quiet meditation time.
And so, after a stressful two weeks between work and home (plus the fact that it has been unseasonably cool and rainy here), I found myself gravitating toward making a hearty, warm braised beef dish (with pomme puree, natch). There is something so comforting in dishes like this… they envelop you in the food version of a warm blanket on the sofa while the rain drizzles outside and the TV runs softly in the background. It seemed too appropriate to meditate over the creation of this dish; comfort foods to bring peace of mind. If you need a little peace of mind, I would recommend trying this one:
Beef Braised in Beer – Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy
4 ounces thick-sliced slab bacon, cut in chunks
3 medium onions, cut into chunks (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
A 4-to- 5- pound boneless beef shoulder roast (preferably a “top blade” or “top chuck shoulder” roast)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in a bundle with kitchen twine
3 cups (two 12-ounce bottles) flavorful beer or ale
About 6 cups light stock (chicken, turkey, or vegetable broth), or as needed
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Beef chuck, or shoulder, offers excellent cuts for stews and braises, because the meat is extremely tasty and, over long cooking, all the connective tissue adds flavor and body to the dish. For this braise, I especially like the compact chunk of meat cut off the top of the shoulder blade, which is known by many names, including “top blade” or “top chuck shoulder” or “flat iron.” This piece is usually sliced and packaged as steaks, but ask your butcher to give you a whole top blade, as a roast. The more common beef chuck or shoulder roast, which comes from the underside of the shoulder, would be fine in this recipe, too. (It might be called “chuck pot roast” or “underblade chuck.”)
You will need a food processor; a heavy 6-quart ovenproof pot, such as enameled cast iron, with a cover.
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven with room for the covered braising pan, and heat to 375 degrees.
Put the chunks of bacon and onion and a teaspoon of the salt in the food processor, and mince together into a fine-textured pestata. Trim the beef of fat, and sprinkle all over with salt, using another teaspoon in all. Spread the flour on a plate and dredge the roast thoroughly, coating all surfaces, then shake off any excess.
Pour the olive oil into the big pan, and set it over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes, then lay the roast in the hot oil. Brown the beef well, turning it every few minutes to sear another surface, until nicely colored all over, about 10 minutes. Push the meat to one side of the pan, drop the pestata into the pan, and stir and cook it on the pan bottom until it has dried out and just begins to stick, about 5 minutes.
Move the meat back to the center of the pan, drop in the bundle of thyme sprigs, and pour the beer in around the roast. Bring the beer to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from the pan bottom. Pour in enough stock so the braising liquid comes halfway up the sides of the roast, and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon salt all over.
Cover the pan, and bring the liquid quickly to a boil, then set it into the heated oven. After 2 hours, lift the cover, drop the 3 tablespoons mustard into the braising liquid, stir carefully, cover again, and braise another hour.
Remove the cover, and continue the oven-braising, stirring the bottom of the pan occasionally, as the sauce reduces and concentrates. When it has thickened to a good consistency-it should take another 30 minutes or so-carefully take the pan out of the oven.
Lift the meat onto a cutting board and cut it crosswise into ½-inch- thick slices. Fan the slices on a warm platter, skim off any fat from the surface of the pan sauce, and ladle some of it over the meat.
Serve right away, passing more sauce at the table.