Last September, we bought a half of a cow. A friend and fellow mom, Jessica, did the research and found a farmer in Vermont who raises cows naturally, on a grass-fed, antibiotic free diet. He sells his cows at $3.60 a pound, in ground beef or thick-cut, Cryovac-sealed glory. All we needed to do was buy a freezer to store it.
At first, my husband loved the idea. His eyes turned glossy at the thought of a half cow worth of steak. Then it was delivered, and he was shocked at how little turned out to be steak. That steak was only a portion of the cow, and that rump roast and rib roast and plain ground beef also made up the half cow, was a moment of disillusionment/crabbiness for him. If we need evidence that we don’t know where our food comes from, I offer this up as Exhibit A.
Since then, however, our lives have taken an up-word tick. Grocery bills have been slashed. When stumped at the ‘what’s for dinner?’ question, plain old burgers can be made in 10 minutes. But oh-my-gosh is this delicious is the result. Grass-fed burgers are heavenly. I crave them. So simple, yet there is nothing that comes to mind that is as satisfying and soul-filling as this dinner.
A correlation of having the half cow in our freezer is that we also usually have beer in the fridge, and these make for a happy marriage (literally and figuratively). I have discovered that if you cook good beef with beer, great things happen. This equation is pretty fool proof. Ok, I did have superb guidance the first time I attempted this : Fresh & Honest is the cook book from Chef Peter Davis, and his restaurant Henrietta’s Table is right next to Jody Adam’s restaurant Rialto in Cambridge, MA. His New England style menus are simple and amazing. Seriously, his Pale Ale Braised Short Ribs, made with our grass-fed short ribs were close-your-eyes-let-the -angels-sing-around-you delicious. It helped that I made his mashed potatoes exactly as he instructed. And the meal was rounded out by his Brussels Sprouts with Bacon.
I attempted to re-create this beer and beef nirvana when we went skiing recently. Packing up 3 kids and a dog is made easier when you just grab a crock pot and grass-fed cut-up beef chuck and let it defrost on the way there. The night before skiing, I attempted to follow the William Sonoma Slow Cooking Cookbook recipe for beef stew (a great resource, I love the Lamb and Spinach Curry recipe). But, having to rely on a kitchen that was not stocked as my own, I combined two different recipes in the book, as I only had onions and potatoes, a very small amount of butter, an aged generic pepper shaker and God-knows how old Canola Oil Spray. That’s right, spray. I sort of sobbed as I cooked the well-floured and peppered high quality of beef in such a sad representative of cooking oil. Then I deglazed with a Pale Ale while I drank one as well. I refrigerated it overnight, and plugged it in in the morning before skiing. I commented to my husband on the chair that I did not have high hopes for the outcome.
Happily, when we returned home, with tired kids and tired feet, the smell that greeted us at the door was simply heaven. It was rich and peppery and succulent. We hurried to put the kids down for a nap and grabbed our bowls and spoons. Turns out that even expired Canola Spray cannot override the flavor of grass-fed chuck. It was a perfume for the soul. If I hadn’t just had the Pale Ale Short Ribs, I would have called it the best meal ever.
So in an effort to use up Old Bessie (Barney?) I defrosted a small roast not knowing what I was going to do with it. Answer: braise it in beer. I looked up Julia this time, and her beer and onions roast looked good although she lost me at the cheesecloth bouquet step since I am chasing an 18-month-old and don’t have time to search for cheesecloth. I seared my meat, sliced some onions, chopped some thyme, threw in some Bay, and deglazed with Beer. After braising it for a while (it was small so it only took an hour), I added some apple cider vinegar for a finishing flavor. I served it with roasted veggies and mashed potatoes and celery root. Heaven. When I served it to my kids I put it on egg noodles (I subscribe to the ‘alcohol burns off’ theory) and my son, who is 4 ½, said, ‘can we have this every night for dinner?’. My reluctant taster turns fan. Thanks, half cow.
I’ll keep you posted on my future beer and beef adventures. Part of me feels like I am cheating on wine, since I haven’t cooked with it in a while. Who knows, maybe Boeuf au Vin is in my near future as well. All I know is drunken meat , in any fashion, is my friend.
Beer Braised Beef and Onions
by Katie Curtis
3 lb. beef roast such as chuck roast or rump roast.
(If your roast is closer to 2 lbs or 4 lbs, just adjust the braising time, about 1/2 hour per pound)
3 T canola oil
1 1/2 lbs. sliced onions (about 6 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & Pepper
1 cup beef stock
1 12 oz. beer, such as a Lager or a Pilsner (I used Sam Adams)
2 T light brown sugar
1 t. thyme, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 T apple cider vinegar
Heat Canola oil on high heat in a large heavy pan, such as a Dutch Oven.
Cover beef with salt and pepper on all sides, and brown on each side for 3-4 min, 10 min. total.
Remove beef from pan and rest on a plate. Reduce heat to medium, then sautee the onions in the drippings, 5-7 min or until soft. Add garlic and cook for 1 min then add thyme and bay leaf, cooking for 1 more minute. Pour in beer and deglaze pan, cooking for 3 min. Place beef back into pan.
Add beef stock, and cover with lid. SImmer for 1-2 hours depending on size. After cooking, add apple cider vinegar to the remaining juices in pan and boil to reduce for 5 min. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If a thicker sauce is preferred, add flour or butter (or both mixed together). Serve over mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.