Sundays, holidays and company dinners as I was growing up often included a perfectly cooked and sliced roast beef with delicious home-made gravy. My mother’s recipe is easy, fool- proof and always a winner. This delight worked its way into my meal favorites, although I rarely make it unless we have company.
This past Christmas I thought it might be nice to have such a roast beef dinner since my son was visiting and had always enjoyed the meal. After asking the butcher at a prominent local supermarket if there were any beef rump roasts, I was sadly informed that they didn’t carry them. I believe I was told that they just don’t sell. Now, this is a supermarket that sells EVERYTHING. People willingly pay very high prices for meats, organic foods, fish and prepared food. Somewhat baffled, I moved on to the competitor market in search of this cut of beef for my company dinner. None was found in the meat display, so I went to the butcher again. This time, happily, the butcher produced a specially cut piece, weighing enough for my anticipated crowd and our appetites. As is the norm, I over prepared for the number of meals and we just never got to the roast beef.
Since I had frozen it upon purchasing, it remained in my freezer until this past weekend. My brother Ray and his partner Pam joined us for dinner. The rest of the meal included baked potatoes, roasted Brussel sprouts, mushrooms (also my mother’s recipe) some yummy appetizers from the Mediterranean Bar at Wegmans (with martinis, of course) and an angel food cake topped with reluctantly defrosted mixed berries and whipped cream. Ray and Pam arrived with a special bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a huge bouquet of alstroemeria in memory of Ferris. Since there were only four of us (five, if you count Bella) much roast beef was leftover. Not a problem. Ray and Pam left with a nice container of it for sandwiches and I kept one for the same.
It is key to use the rump roast for this recipe. Not the cut you would find on a restaurant menu, but the marbling and layer of fat around the piece make for a tasty meat and gravy. I roast it on a rack in a pan using a meat thermometer so that it cooks until 140 internal degrees and is rare. The beef is rubbed with a fresh onion which I then place in pieces on and under the meat. Generous amounts of pepper and a little salt are all you need. I usually cook the roast at 350, although I remember also going with 325. An estimate is 25 minutes per pound, but I depend totally on the thermometer. Leave enough time before serving the meal to rest, slice and make the gravy. A four pound roast took 2 3/4 hours to cook.
The meat should be removed from the oven and roasting pan and rested before slicing. This is a good time to prepare the gravy. I stir in about five tablespoons of flour or Wondra to the drippings in the pan. Add three cups of water, the onions from the roast, a dash of Angostura Bitters, a 1/4 cup of red wine, 1 beef bouillon cube and a little salt if it still needs some. Bring to a simmer while stirring. I don’t strain the gravy, but you could if you don’t want to serve it with the onions.
My mother had an industrial strength meat slicer. It had a dangerous blade on it which required great care when using and washing it. I remember a summer Sunday while my friend Sue and I were sunbathing in the yard, oblivious to what was going on in the kitchen. My mother was washing the blade and she accidentally dropped it on her toes. My father became so upset that he was relatively useless. The blade did some major damage and as I recall there was a lot of blood. Instead of helping my mother he began cleaning up the blood. We determined it would be quicker to drive my wounded mother to the hospital. I drove, at seventeen, to the nearby hospital with my mother in the front passenger seat, her foot wrapped in towels on the dashboard. It probably would have been better to call for an ambulance, as she would have received some care before waiting forever in the emergency room. We kept the foot elevated and wrapped and I guess the bleeding eventually stopped. I’m sure she had stitches and some recovery time, but my mother was never one to take long for that sort of thing.
When I decided it was time to prepare my own roast beef dinners I purchased a small scale portable meat slicer. It also has a blade that is dangerous if you are not careful. The incident with my mother is permanently etched in my memory and I handle the circular blade with extreme respect and care. After the meat has rested it is time to slice. The electric slicer is the only way. You can adjust the blade to produce a lovely, thin slice of meat. I’m guessing the rump cut is not the most tender, but it is extremely flavorful and when sliced thin it is also tender.
The mushrooms, as many as you like, can be sliced or quartered. My recent dinner used two pounds. I have recently taken to buying the pre-washed and sliced variety. It cuts down tremendously on the prep time. Baby Bella, or white mushrooms work equally well. I blanch the mushrooms in a large pot of boiling water with a 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Pre-cooking the mushrooms gets rid of the extra water and using the vinegar keeps them from turning dark brown. Drain and rinse the mushrooms once they are almost tender. I use two cloves of garlic per pound of mushrooms. Mince the garlic and chop a bunch of parsley. I use about 1/3 cup of chopped parsley. Mix the mushrooms, garlic, parsley, lots of black pepper, a dash of cayenne pepper, salt and some hot pepper flakes. Use a low baking pan; I use Pyrex or an oven proof ceramic baking dish. Drizzle a 1/3 cup of olive oil and sprinkle about 1/3 cup of seasoned bread crumbs. Mix and taste. You can add more of any of the ingredients if you like. Bake uncovered at 350 for 40 minutes or until sizzling. I usually prepare the mushrooms in advance and cook along with the last hour of the roast beef.
Good meal, good company and enough roast beef for sandwiches or another meal. All in all a nice Sunday.