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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: October 22, 2014

The best cut for perfect roast beef? Suprising answers from Maine butchers

There’s no dilemma in the omnivore’s delight: Roast beef is the ultimate joy, a universal fondness for red meat!

Written by: John Golden

Consider the idiomatic expression “there’s more than meets the eye” and you’ve summed up the richly complex etymology of roast beef and the various names of cuts that define the dish.

Prime rib and tenderloin are the most popular and are served as the centerpiece roast for celebratory dinners. But a bigger world of beef roasts awaits.  And getting the best will depend on the skill of the butcher.

Roast beef was the standard meal in my family for many a Sunday supper.  The cut was either eye round or sirloin; my mother was not an inspired cook and these were plainly seasoned roasts plopped into the oven, roasted until medium rare and served with baked potatoes and rather mushy overcooked green beans from the Bird’s Eye freezer pouch.

Still there was a purity of flavor to those roasts, the elemental elan of beef all juicy inside and crusty on the outside.

Several weeks ago I had a yen for a good roast beef and I wanted to make something different from the usual prime rib or tenderloin. So I went to several different butchers and asked them for their favorite cut for roast beef. The answers were as surprising as they were different.

At left the sirloin roast from Bisson's; right, the Farm Stand's top round, which includes eye round, rump and bottom round roasts

At left the sirloin roast from Bisson’s; right, the Farm Stand’s top round, which includes eye round, rump and bottom round roasts

At Curtis Meats in Warren the butcher recommended the rump.  Local farmers who raise beef cattle also favor the rump.  At Spring Brook Farm in Cumbereland, Kay Fowler sells what she calls the face rump and thinks it’s great for roasting.  Fans of the rump like it for its strong beef flavor and when roasted correctly will emerge very tender and juicy.  The rump is also less expensive than premium roasts, generally about $4.99 per pound.  At three or four pounds the roast goes a long way.

I didn’t choose the rump at Curtis Meats because I wasn’t convinced of its tenderness, thinking it’s more suitable for braising. Yet not all rumps are created equal and its softness quotient depends on where in the round it’s cut

Ben Slayton of The Farm Stand in South Portland, who also favors rump for oven roasting, says the tenderest cut comes from the back of the rump.  His other favorite is the spoon roast, aka the New York strip roast.

Cut from the back of the top round, this is the rump roast

Cut from the back of the top round, this is the rump roast

JP, the butcher at Rosemont’s new Commercial Street butcher shop, is a fan of the New York strip roast and the eye round.    Eye round is the most popular with such other butchers as Pat’s Meat Market and the  Great East Butcher Company in Scarborough.

At Rosemont the NY Sirloin, often called the spoon roast--basically a strip steak shaped into a roast

At Rosemont the NY Sirloin, often called the spoon roast–basically a strip steak shaped into a roast

If this all seems confusing it helps to know your beef anatomy.  In descending order of tenderness, it’s basically the loin, the round and the chuck. But in ascending order of flavor what’s perceived as the tougher cuts have more richer beef flavor.

It all boils down to how well the butcher cuts the meat, and that’s when the artistry of the master butcher counts.  At Curtis I wound up buying the sirloin tip roast, which comes from the loin.  At the Farm Stand I bought the rump roast, which I froze along with the silver tip for future use.

But then I went to Bisson’s in Topsham with the bright idea that I’d ask for a sirloin roast.  Now that opens up a whole world of cuts with different names.  Bisson’s favorite two roasts, however, are the eye round or the sirloin tip, which is also called top sirloin.  But I had another plan.   I asked the butcher to cut a roast of about 4 pounds directly from the part of the beef that is used for sirloin steaks.  This is how British butchers cut their meat—into big roasts from the loin or what the French call entrecote or for Porterhouse roasts, the contre-filet.

What a specimen!  This roast stood about 4 inches thick and 12 inches wide.

I prepared it later that evening for a dinner party.  I seasoned it with a blend of kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder and dried thyme, rubbing all sides of the meat well with it.  Then oiled it lightly with canola and put it into a hot 450 degree oven for 15 minutes and finished it off at 375 degrees, turning it halfway through cooking until it reached an internal temperature of 125 degrees for medium rare in about 1 hour.

This 4 pounds of sirloin roasted up beautifully; served with thrice baked potatoes and glazed carrots

This 4 pound sirloin roasted up beautifully; served with thrice baked potatoes and glazed carrots

I let it rest for 15 minutes loosely covered with foil and carved 1/4-inch thick slices, moistened with pan gravy. It was a phenomenal roast—tender, juicy, with deep rich beef flavor.  With it I served thrice baked potatoes (see recipe) and glazed carrots.  For wine I poured a very pleasant French red, a Cotes de Bourg, Ch. Fleur de Plaisance 2010 that I found on the shelves at Rosemont’s Munjoy Hill store for about $12.

But I was still curious about the rump that I got at The Farm Stand and about a week later roasted that in the same way.  I cut very thin slices and served it with a sauce made by reducing equal parts beef stock and red wine until it was syrupy in consistency.  I thickened it with a beurre manie (butter blended with flour).  This easy to make gravy and  has a silken, luxurious texture.  The beef was accompanied by roast potatoes and carrots.

The roast rump with wine gravy and oven roasted potatoes and carrots

The roast rump with wine gravy and oven roasted potatoes and carrots

Those who recommended the rump were right on: It had tremendous beef flavor, almost gamey in its richness.  And cooked at the high-low heat method and cut thinly it’s utterly tender and certainly less expensive than sirloin cuts.

Next week I will feature the sirloin tip roast and the New York strip.  And I’ll also discuss the more esoteric cuts of beef like the culotte, petite chuck filet and tri-tip and how they fare as roasts.

Amy’s Sirloin Roast

The name of this recipe came about when I served the sirloin roast from Bisson’s.  One of my guests, my neighbor, Amy, was so impressed with the roast that she accompanied me on my next trip to Bisson’s so she could get the same roast for her family.  Cuts of this roast are not normally found at butcher shops except by custom order.  Just ask for a sirloin steak cut at least 3 to 5 inches thick. Serve with thrice baked potatoes and glazed carrots or green beans

Servings: 6 to 8

4 pounds sirloin roast

Spice blend

1/2 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon garlic salt

A pinch or two of cayenne

2 teaspoons dried thyme

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Spice blend. Prepare the spice blend by mixing everything together. For a finely textured salt, give it a few whirls in a clean spice grinder or mini Cuisinart with the grinder blade.Store in a covered jar.

Rub the meat all over with the spice blend and lightly coat with canola oil.  Place in a baking pan and put into the preheated  oven and roast for 15 minutes.  Lower temperature to 375 degrees and continue to roast, turning over halfway through cooking until reaching an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Let rest 15 minutes before carving.

Thrice backed potatoes

Russet potatoes



Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prick the potatoes with a fork and lightly rub with oil.  Put into a 425 degree oven for about 1 hour and bake until done (or roast with the beef).

Remove from oven and make a slit in the potato, not cutting all the way through.  With thumb and forefinger squeeze the potato so it opens up wide.  Scoop out most of the flesh into a mixing bowl.  Mash in the usual way with butter and warm milk or cream.  Season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile brush the potato skins with melted butter, set on a baking tray and bake for about 10 minutes until the outside is crisp.  Put the mashed potatoes back into each potato case, sprinkle with Parmesan and brush the potato skins with more melted butter.  Return to oven to bake for about 10 minutes until the potatoes are lightly browned.

Rump roast

Prepare this roast exactly the same way as the sirloin roast.  Carve into thin slices and serve with a quick wine gravy.  This is made by combining equal parts (about 2 cups each) beef stock and red wine.  Boil it down by half or three quarters until syrupy.  Add a few pieces of softened butter blended with flour (beurre manie) and whisk into sauce.  This will thicken it slightly.  Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Servings: 4 to 6

4 pound rump roast (back of rump)

Seasoning blend ( see Any’s roast)


Seasoning blend (see Amy’s roast, above)

Wine gravy (see head notes)

Oven roasted potatoes and carrots

Peel potatoes and cut into golf-ball size rounds or similar size and parboil in salted water for 10 minutes; drain and set aside.

Peel the carrots and par boil for about 5 to 10 minutes depending on size.

If your roasting pan is large enough to accommodate the  potatoes and carrots without crowding then roast them all together.  Otherwise, roast the vegetables separately by doing the following.  Melt duck fat, goose fat or pure lard in a cast iron skillet until very hot.  Add the potatoes and roast for about an hour  until tender and browned.  Cook the carrots in the same way.

Breaking News (from the rumor mill): According to insider babble at Whole Foods Market, the employees are awaiting an announcement today from the parent company whether Whole Foods will be accepting a buyout offer from Publix, the 1000-plus store supermarket chain that predominates in the South.  Consider these facts: Out of Whole Food’s 360 stores nationawide and Great Britain, the Portland Whole Foods Market is the third highest grossing store in the company, after Texas and Chicago, averaging over $800,000 in sales per day.

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