If there are 52 Sundays in a year’s time, and Mimi cooked roast beef a lot on Sundays, then we probably had roast beef Sunday dinners maybe 40 out of 52 Sundays. The way Mimi cooked roast beef, you never got tired of it, so it was no problem to eat it almost every Sunday.
A roast beef Sunday dinner menu:
- roast beef and gravy
- Mahatma white rice
- green beans (sometimes with new potatoes)
- brown-n-serve rolls (sadly, this is “not scratch”)
- Waldorf salad or congealed grapefruit salad
- strawberry shortcake for dessert
Now this particular menu lineup was not necessarily set in stone, but pretty much if you had roast beef, you’d have the rest of it. For instance, for some reason Mimi didn’t usually have butterbeans with the roast. Butterbeans were more the type of vegetable that we had with fried chicken or fried pork chops…that’s just how it was.
The gravy varied from a thin pan juice (my favorite) to gravy thickened with flour and water…also very good; it just depended on Mimi’s cooking mood that day.
White rice—was basmati even INVENTED back then??? A rhetorical question, if you will.
The fresh green beans were always delicious, and even though there was a starch hanging around in the form of white rice, a few potatoes added to the starch offering via the green beans were okay.
The squash were of the yellow crookneck variety, of course…just your ordinary delicious from-the-southern-garden squash. Mimi would scrub them a little to get the garden dirt off, slice them into medium-size chunks, slice up some Vidalia onion and green bell pepper in small pieces, put squash, onion, and bell pepper in a pot of salted water (just enough to cover), bring to a boil, and then simmer until just soft.
Then drain, put into a LIGHTLY buttered Pyrex dish, dot some butter chunks (remember…Land O’Lakes unsalted butter) over the top, and “cook” in a 350 degree oven maybe 20 minutes. Since the squash was already cooked, of course, this 350 action was just to get things heated through good.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE…this post is supposed to be about how to cook a roast beef!! I got so full of looove about the squash that I got sidetracked!! But let’s quickly finish the menu first.
Brown-n-serve rolls. Not scratch, but you just didn’t serve biscuits, hoecake, or cornbread with roast beef. Sometimes Mimi would get inspired and make some what she called “angel biscuits” which were a delicious quick yeast bread, but, more often than not, it was good old brown-n-serve rolls.
Waldorf salad or congealed grapefruit salad. This is where my younger sister and I pleasantly have a difference of opinion. Younger sister says…if we had strawberry shortcake for dessert we never had Waldorf salad. Well, I just don’t know if I agree with that or not. Must ask older sister and see what she says.
Strawberry shortcake. Sometimes we called it that, sometimes we said when we were done eating (that’s some strong vernacular talk there) “go get the pound cake and strawberries and whipped cream out for dessert”.
So, let’s see…before the roast beef cooking lesson, let’s recap what recipes need to be discussed in later posts:
- white rice (really very easy—just have to watch the sticking)
- green beans and new potatoes
- squash (see the above “how-to” when got sidetracked)
- brown-n-serve rolls (go to store, buy, read directions)
- angel biscuits (now we’re talking)
- Waldorf salad
- congealed grapefruit salad
- strawberry shortcake
ROAST BEEF COOKING DIRECTIONS, FINALLY
Mimi always bought a rump roast (and I always just hated having to hear that word or even say it and when I got older and knew that touching raw meat was just part of life and if I went to the grocery store I might have to ask the meat guy do you have any rump roasts if I didn’t see any in the meat counter and that would remind everybody within hearing distance of “rumps” like your “hiney” and it could just potentially be so embarrassing or awkward…I did LOTS of over-thinking in my earlier years).
And I swear on a stack of Bibles that it’s not the word “rump” that made me switch to buying a sirloin tip roast for my roast beef cookings; a sirloin tip just seems tenderer to me somehow.
So, you can get a rump roast, a sirloin tip roast, maybe even a chuck roast (ummm…maybe not—remember this is not a pot roast we’re cooking here)—one that costs about $15, which at this writing amounts to 3-4 pounds of beef.
Sometimes I rinse it, sometimes not, just depends on the mood of the moment…but just be sure if there’s a string around the roast to take it off. Pat the roast a little dry if you rinsed it.
You will pepper, but NOT SALT, the roast rather vigorously—a switch from Mimi’s roast would be using coarsely ground black pepper, not the fine fly-speck kind of black pepper she used. Pepper rather lackadaisically, but vigorously, on all sides (primarily the top and bottom, with a little casual shake on the sides).
Have a cast iron dutch oven getting good and hot on the stove eye. You want the cast iron hot enough so that when the beef hits the iron it will start searing.
Sear it on one side ‘til you’ve got almost a little char action going on. You don’t want the heat to be low enough and the time spent searing in the dutch oven short enough that the meat is just unappetizingly middling-tan looking. When the one side is seared sufficiently, turn over and sear the other side, then kind of fool around with searing the sides in a desultory fashion.
Have the oven ready at 325- 350 degrees.
Put the lid on the dutch oven, stick it in the oven on a middle or lower-middle rack. No water necessary AT THIS POINT.
I like to cook a roast this size somewhere between 3 and 4 hours. The meat wrapper often states “cook 20 minutes to the pound” but I-Gad!! that wouldn’t be but an hour to an hour and a half. Horrifying!! The thing won’t be done right is the only way to say it!! But then again, I am frequently accused by my older sister of cooking meat until it’s Son of Hockey Puck, to which I say “I’m sorry”…which in this family means no you’re NOT sorry one bit. I repeat to my sisters…”I’m sorry, but I just like to make sure the meat is well-done”.
It would be good to state at this point that I freely admit I’m not the greatest meat cook and have certainly overcooked meat before…we’ll never die of trichinosis in this household…but this roast is PERFECT when cooked 3-4 hours.
So, the roast is in the oven, and some of you may be wondering “well, is it going to STICK without any LIQUID??”
Answer—no, not in the beginning. The beef will start to exude its own juices for a while, but you’ll need to start checking it maybe after 45 minutes or so to see if you need to throw a little water in (the pan juices will start to get thick and syrupy and start gumming up and reducing way too much). You will add water several times during the cooking of the roast—maybe three times. Amount of water?? Maybe ½ cup at a time—or a little more. No need to turn the roast over but you can if you want to.
So, the clock is ticking…you put the roast in around 2:00 and it’s getting to be 5:00 now (this would be a weekday supper roast, not a Sunday dinner roast—more on that later***). You may be thinking “surely it’s done by now”.
Well, stick a fork in it and see if it seems tender.
Oftentimes you might feel like…well, the fork’s telling me just a little more time in the oven. So basically there’s a good chance you’re going to cook it almost 4 hours.
When the roast is done (extremely tender), take it out of oven and let the dutch oven sit on a cold stove eye to kind of rest after all its hard work. You can read cooking articles about how the meat continues to cook, let it rest in its juices, something about the grain, etc etc, but basically just know that 1) it’s just about too hot to eat straight out of the oven and 2) after cooling a little bit, the flavor is not as “hot wet meat” if that makes any sense. My father, a beyond-wonderful man, preferred to eat his fried chicken cold, because he said when hot it was like eating hot wet chicken. Perfectly understandable, so treat the roast beef cooling time similarly to the fried chicken.
So now you’re left with the gravy quandary. Lord Jesus!! Gravy can be tricky!! Hmmm—could I be trying to STALL here and perform a DELAY TACTIC of sorts, since sometimes MY gravy comes out rather hit or miss??
Possibly. First, take the roast out of the dutch oven.
Look at the pan juices, think positive, and ask yourself “do I need to add just a little water, not so much that it turns watery, but just enough to stretch out those juices?”. That would be your pan juice gravy. All that’s needed then is to heat up the juices just a little to account for the water you’ve added, if any.
For a thicker gravy, you’ll want to start a stove eye to heating up, place the dutch oven on it, put just a little sprinkle of plain flour (White Lily) in the juices, and start stirring on medium to medium-high heat. Add a little more water, then add a little more flour, stirring all the while. Repeat ‘til you think there’s enough. Some people use cornstarch to thicken the gravy, but Mimi always used flour and never had any problem.
Sometimes in a fit of desperation if things aren’t going right (i.e. gravy is lumpy with flour lumps), it’s a good idea to stir up the flour in a little cold water BEFORE you add flour/water to the gravy. Why it works sometimes to just throw some flour in and sometimes it doesn’t work is a mystery. Probably the safe thing to do is to use the flour/water mix first, then add to juices.
Mimi could stretch gravy with flour and water ‘til you thought you had made a pot roast instead of the seared roast there was so much gravy; she just had the knack. And her gravy never misbehaved (got lumpy), no matter which way she added the flour. So irritating that it always worked for her and sometimes doesn’t for me. Another one of those cooking mysteries that can lead one to butt their head against the wall.
Either of these gravies is just MADE for putting on white rice. Gravy is optional on the roast beef…it just depends on if you prefer the purity of the meat sans gravy.
And that’s the end of the roast beef recipe.
*** When Mimi cooked roast for Sunday dinner (dinner being the meal after the 11:00 church service, which ended a little after 12:00), she would put the roast on in the morning before Sunday School, have the beans and potatoes cooked and turned off before leaving the house, cook the rice and the squash after church, and the salads and dessert were made the day before. The roast would therefore be cooking all during church time. The house never caught fire.
HATE POINT: it’s hard to find anything to hate here, except maybe the brown-n-serve rolls
LOVE POINT: families enjoying traditions like a roast beef Sunday dinner so that years later, after death separates us, the memories still comfort, and the adult children and grandchildren realize how blessed they were to have parents and grandparents like Mimi and Papa