Roast beef takes center stage in either family dinners or more elegant occasions. Add interesting side dishes and a killer dessert for fine at-home dining.
The spoon roast turned out to be one of the best roasts tested in this series on the finest cuts for roast beef from local butchers. While not every cut was analyzed, the focus featured, in descending order of excellence (defined as tenderness and flavor), sirloin roast, spoon roast, rump roast and top sirloin from the local butchers The Farm Stand, Bisson’s and Curtis Meats. Bear in mind there are other choices, too, in such lessor known cuts as tri-tip, culotte and New York sirloin (strip roast).
The sirloin roast that was featured first was the best because it had the most flavor and was so tender—not surprising since it’s cut from the part of the animal that’s called the sirloin, where you would get the steak of the same name.
Names of beef differ from region to region and even locally from butcher to butcher. Ben Slayton of The Farm Stand calls his the spoon roast while others may refer to it as top sirloin. According to Ben it’s taken from the inner, upper part of the sirloin.
The actual sirloin roast, which was cut by Bisson’s, was something I requested, asking for a roast of about 4 inches thick from the part of the cow that’s sold as sirloin steak.
What I love about roasts as the centerpiece of a dinner is that there’s relatively little prep work required, which leaves you time to concentrate on the side dishes.
With the spoon roast I prepare two classics of French cuisine: gratin Dauphinois and a mousseline of peas. The gratin is basically potatoes that are enriched with milk, cream and gruyere and baked in a casserole. It’s a great dish to do ahead and perfect to serve with beef, venison or lamb.
The peas are a very fine puree enriched with a small amount of heavy cream and generous amount of softened butter, which is whisked into the puree, creating a luxuriously silken texture that is smooth but billowy like whipped cream. Good quality frozen peas work well for this. When peas are in season, look for mature peas in the shell.
With roasts I like to serve three vegetable sides if only for more texture and color. Glazed carrots are a perfect match for a threesome of potatoes, carrots and peas.
Dessert could be fruit and cheese because this is a pretty rich menu, but I went all the way and served a butterscotch custard pie.
Cooking tips are these: prep the potatoes and peas and cook ahead. Season the beef with a seasoning blend of salt, pepper, garlic salt and dried thyme rubbed all over the meat. Lightly coat the seasoned roast with vegetable oil.
For a 3 1/2 pound roast put it in a 450 degrees for 15 minutes; lower the heat to 375 degrees and roast for about another hour and ten minutes or until an instant read thermometer registers 125 degrees for medium rare.
This is an old recipe from the restaurant, L’Aubergade in Jouras–Pontchartain, north of Paris. I had this years ago and have been making it ever since.
Use either yellow-fleshed potatoes or russets.
Servings: 6 to 8
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
About 1 1/2 cups milk
About 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
A few generous gratings of nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
About 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Prepare the potatoes and put into a mixing bowl; cover with water until needed and drain, discarding the water.
In a heavy saucepot or Dutch oven bring 1 cup of the milk to a lively simmer. Add the butter, nutmeg, salt and 1 cup of the cream. Add the potatoes. The liquid should just barely cover the potatoes. Add more milk and cream if necessary. Gently lift the potatoes with a wooden spoon to blend well. Cover slightly and bring the mixture back to a lively simmer, lifting up the potatoes with a wooden spoon because they could stick to the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile prepare an 8- by 10-inch casserole dish (or similar size) by greasing it generously with softened butter and rub a cut clove of garlic around the dish, bottom and sides.
Spoon the potatoes into the casserole. You may not need all the cream left in the pot but make sure there’s enough in the casserole to barely cover the potatoes.The cream-milk mixture will have thickened nicely. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling bubbly. Serve immediately or cover with foil and reheat before serving.
Mousseline of peas
The puree is very intense, naturally sweet from the peas and with a luxuriously rich texture from the butter whisked into the puree.
Servings: 4 to 6
1 1/2 pounds frozen peas (about a bag and a half)
1 carrot, peeled
2 sprigs thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
About 3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
About 4 to 5 tablespoons butter, softened
Put the peas, carrot and thyme in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, partially covered and cook until peas are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly, discarding the carrot and thyme.
Transfer to a Cuisinart fitted with the steel blade and process until pureed. Add by tablespoons heavy cream until the mixture is slightly less thick and continue to process until you have a very smooth puree, adding more cream if necessary. But don’t add o much otherwise the puree will thin out. You want a fairly thick consistency, as thick as mashed potatoes or whipped cream
Transfer to a pot set over very low heat and whisk in softened butter, bit by bit, until each addition is melted. The mixture will become very billowy but thick. Add a few touches of heavy cream if you think it’s needed. Serve immediately or set a tablespoon of butter on top of the peas and cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Reheat gently adding a touch of butter and cream to thin the mixture ever so slightly.
Butterscotch Custard Pie
This recipe is adapted from Savannah, GA, cookbook author and food historian, Damon Lee Fowler’s excellent book, “Essentials of Southern Cooking.” Down south it’s called butterscotch or brown-sugar chess pie. It’s a very rich dessert with a captivating flavor.
Servings: 6 to 8
Single crust 9-inch pastry dough, partially baked
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups (firmly packed) light-brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fine white stone-ground cornmeal
1 Table bourbon
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
To prebake: To prevent shrinkage, put the pastry case, the bottom pricked with a fork, in the freezer for 10 minutes. Remove and cover the pastry case with parchment paper and fill with dried peas or beans to weigh it down. Put on a baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until it just starts to color slightly. Remove and put on a rack to cool slightly. Lower the heat to 350 degrees while you prepare the filling.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour, cornmeal, salt and bourbon. Mix thoroughly.
Pour into the warm pastry case, place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking about 35 minutes or until the top is nicely golden; the center will jiggle a bit but a knife should come out clean when inserted in the center.
Remove to a rack to cool to room temperature before serving. As it rests the filling will firm up even more. Serve with whipped cream flavored with bourbon or vanilla extract.
L & P Bisson’s and sons, 116 Meadow Rd., Topsham, ME (207) 725-7215
Curtis Meats, 1719 Camden Rd. (Route 90), Warren, ME, (207) 273-2574