The perfect Roast Beef

This is a recipe that was given to me by Erik from Slagerij de Wit in de Wakkerstraat in Amsterdam. My brother is lucky enough to be living around the corner from this amazing butcher’s and put me on to them. Slagerij de Wit is one of the last butchers in Amsterdam still butchering themselves, using the whole animal to create a high-quality product. They are famous for their sausages and cured meats (their ossenworst is award-winning!) and even have their own, 100-year old smoker in the cellar of the shop! One of the great things about having a butcher around the corner like this is that you can go in and ask him for any cut you want and he’ll cut it for you. Plus, because they personally buy in the animals, they know everything about provenance, age and quality of the meat they sell. They are passionate about their products and gave us an impromptu tour of the shop, including the smoker, last time we were there.

When it comes to roast beef, he recommended a “wrong way around” method; achieve the cuisson you would like your meat to have first (blue, rare, medium etc.) by putting it in a very low oven for a long time and finish it off by browning the outside last. The big advantage of this method over the traditional way of browning first and then roasting in the oven is that you get meat that is correctly cooked throughout with a crispy brown crust.

The theory behind this is as follows: When it comes to achieving the perfect piece of roast beef it is all about the temperature of the core. What happens when you put beef in a high oven to roast, the temperature needs to penetrate the meat until it reaches the core and starts cooking this to create the cuisson.
This means that the outside of your cut is exposed to the higher temperature for a lot longer than the inside, in effect over-cooking it. This creates the triple layering of a typical roast beef: if you slice the average roast, you will see a brown crust, then a grey, overcooked layer to rare in the middle.
The greying of beef happens because the exposure to high temperatures boils the water in the meat and denaturates the proteins (just think how egg white goes from translucent to white when cooking; that is denaturating). And, as everybody should know, you do not overcook good quality beef on pain of death, so why would you overcook a good 50% of your Sunday roast if it can be avoided?

So, ideally, we want to eliminate the grey, overcooked layer and only enjoy a perfectly cooked roast; the crust and the rare bit in the middle.  So, what a lot of higher-end restaurants do is vacuum pack their beef and cook it in a water bath at 54°C. This temperature is perfect to achieve the perfect rare steak, but low enough not to overcook any part of your meat. The trick is to leave it in for long enough for the temperature to reach the core, which can be measured by sticking a meat thermometer into the center of the meat. This way, the whole piece will achieve the same temperature without the outside getting too hot. Once the correct temperature has been achieved throughout, the last thing to do is to create a nice crispy brown crust by pan-frying your meat on all sides.

Now, because I am not a Michelin-starred chef, I don’t have a water-bath and sous-vide machine (I know, I really should have a word with the Urban Wildwoman) but Erik from Slagerij de Wit has the perfect tip for people like me: sit your piece of beef in an oven set as low as it will go (50°C is perfect) until the core reaches that perfect 50-54°C. Then you can take it out and because the heat has reached the center, it will retain its temperature for a while. This means you can whack up the oven, ready for your roast potatoes, vegetables, chips, whatever while the meat has a rest. Then, when everything else is done, you finish of the meat in a frying pan or skillet, brown it on all sides and serve to cries of admiration for achieving the best roast people have ever had!

So, to try this out, and because we don’t live around the corner from Slagerij de Wit we went to the Watnall Farm Shop to get some very nice beef. This was only going to be for the 2 of us, so we got a 1 rib-width piece of sirloin, bone in, weighing about 1.2 kg. IMG_0675

IMG_0676It had been dry-aged for 4 weeks, and you can see the side that had been exposed had turned very dark with age and started to dry out. It smelled amazing, good enough to eat raw. The smell of properly hung and aged beef is something special and makes your mouth water!

It then went into the oven at 50°C for 2 hours, after which the core temperature had reached 52° (see the thermometer punctures in the middle), perfect for the blue to rare piece of meat.

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I increased the temperature of the oven, put the chips in, made a nice rocket, tomato and parmesan salad with pumpkin seeds and balsamico dressing and put my skillet on a high heat with some of the beef fat for frying. IMG_0678Fried the  piece on all sides, put it on a board and sliced it. Nice big blob of mustard on the side, oh my…

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The beef was so good, so succulent, so flavourful and tender that we almost finished of the whole 1.2 kg on the night. We had to force ourselves to stop eating or we would have exploded.

So, with this technique we will be able to achieve the perfect piece of beef everytime. The only thing that varies is the time it will take in the oven, but the principle applies to any size piece.

Oil-drum Barbecue

So I thought I’d jinx the summer for everybody already and create my first post for the Urban Wildman about barbecue. I love barbecue-ing and especially grilling large cuts of meat on a slow roast. This prompted me a couple of years ago to attempt building my own barbecue. 
I had a vague idea if what I wanted, so after some research I settled on the idea of building my own oil drum barbecue, a cheap way of creating a very large barbecue that can also be used a a smoker or a slow roaster.

The first step was to source a drum. Ideally it would have to be one that hadn’t contained anything flammable as I would be cutting it with an angle grinder and the idea of this thing exploding in my face did not appeal to me. In my research, I found some old news articles, published on my birthday (!) the year before about a gentleman in Oxfordshire who this happened to with obvious consequences… 

I turned to Preloved and found one there for a tenner. It had contained urethane resin for some packaging company so after a good rinse with washing-up liquid and opening both holes to get some fresh air in it, I figured now would be as good a time as any to start cutting.

 

 

 

 

I had never used an angle grinder before in my life but I found it easy enough to use, fairly precise as long as you don’t want to go too fast and don’t force the blade too much. It is a very violent little machine so I made sure I was wearing gloves and eye-protection!
First, cut the top line of the hinges. When this is done, drill the holes and mount the hinges as it is a lot more difficult to do this and line them up properly after you have cut the whole lid. 

After this you can cut the rest of the lid out.
I went for a quarter size opening, instead of cutting the barrel in half. I figured this will allow for better heat retention and give the opportunity for smoking as well. I cut it following the lip to give it a bit of an overhang to stop rain from coming in.

I had laid the beast in an old steel table frame I had lying about and it started to look like the real deal already! Now all that needs doing to it is burn it to get rid of as much paint as possible to clean the inside of the drum and season it, mount some brackets for the grills, drill extra ventilation holes at the bottom, attach a handle and insert a thermometer in the lid, as well as adding a chain to stop it opening too far. And oh yes, try and find a frame to mount it on. And a grill, otherwise it is just a very large outdoor fireplace, and we already have one of those. And paint it somehow…But, as always, I ran out of time this weekend, so this would all have to wait until a few weeks later…

 

When I asked at work, it turned out they had a spare steel packing table from one of our distribution centres and they very kindly let me have it, as well as a few spare pallets for building materials. Went to pick everything up in the Volvo and with some very crafty disassembling of both the table as well as the car it fitted right in and we got it back home. It is very big, made to be worked on standing up and very deep, so we had to be very careful getting it through the alleyway into the back garden to preserve our knuckles.

Not being a welder, the only solution I saw was to mount the red steel table frame from the pictures above in the new frame, creating a cradle in the middle of this massive blue frame, giving the option of creating some work surfaces either side as well as underneath. A frantic weekend of angle grinding, cutting, drilling and mounting followed, with the result being a cradled oil drum sitting inside a nice blue frame. If I thought the drum was big, this frame was huge!

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SAMSUNGAs you can see, I already made a start with the handle (made from a broomstick), brackets for the grilles and a retaining chain for the lid. I also drilled some holes on the side for air on both sides, mounting an old mayonnaise lid as a means to close of some of the vents.

 

That evening I lit the first fire in there to burn of residues and to get rid of as much paint on the outside as possible. SAMSUNG

 

 

 

 

The next day I sanded the whole thing back to metal and painted it with special black stove and barbecue paint. This would protect it a bit more from the elements without creating noxious fumes that would taint the cooking.
After this, we were on the home straight, time to finish it off. 

I disassembled some pallets and created some shelves left and right and below the drum. SAMSUNGI made these with the idea of using them for storage of wood/garden chairs, charcoal etc. Maybe I’ll make some doors for them later on, I don’t know yet. 

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Last, I sanded them roughly and coated them in linseed oil to give them a little bit of protection:

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The finished job (for now), not looking too bad for someone who has never done any metalwork before in his life!

So now all we have to do is wait for barbecue summers…I will post actual recipes and barbecue tips separately, for the moment I can say that it has performed beyond expectation so far!

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