For as long as I can remember, it has always been a tradition to make a roast for Sunday dinner.
Sometimes it was beef and sometimes it was pork, and once in a while we would throw in ham, turkey or roasted chicken. No matter what it was, Sunday dinner was the big deal meal of the week and not to be taken lightly.
As the children grew and went off on their own, weekends seemed to evolve into something equally as busy as weekdays. Yet when I think of comfort food on a lazy Sunday, I always think of the aroma of a beef roast slowly braising in the oven, filled with flavor and ready for the accompaniment of whatever vegetables are in season.
Braised beef roast cooked inside a foil pocket on low heat produces a moist, tender roast that is full of flavor. Serve with your favorite vegetables for a complete meal.
We often call it roasting, but it's really braising when we cook the main ingredient in liquid in a covered container. In this case, beef is the main ingredient. I used to cook all of my roasts in a covered pan, usually with a little seasoned water or broth in the bottom and sometimes surrounded by the vegetables I planned to serve. What I ended up with wasn't much different than boiled meat that dried out as fast as I could I put it on the serving platter accompanied by mushy potatoes and carrots.
Then one day I was watching Food Network and saw one of the chefs prepare a roast in a foil pocket. While similar to the store-bought roasting bags, the foil pocket didn't swell with steam the way roasting bags do as they're cooking. The chef also stressed the need to braise the beef on low heat for longer periods of time. This method, the chef said, was necessary for breaking down the meat fibers.
The first step is to sear the meat in a hot skillet using either vegetable or olive oil, or if you use a non-stick pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet, you don't have to add any additional fat to the searing process. After the meat is browned on both sides and the edges (you will have to hold it up with kitchen tongs to get the edges browned), place the beef on one end of a long sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. I like to do this in the bottom of a roasting pan just in case something leaks out. It is important to use heavy duty foil as thin foil will tear easily and all your juices will run out of the pocket. The idea is to keep all the sauce inside with the meat.
2 or 3 lb. beef roast
1 - 15 oz. can fire roasted, diced tomatoes
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup steak sauce
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
For the gravy
Put two tablespoons butter in a sauce pan and melt on medium heat. Add two tablespoons all-purpose flour and stir until the flour is dissolved making a roux. Cook stirring over moderate heat for one to two minutes. Slowly pour in the pan juices from the roast, continually stirring. Continue to cook for a few minutes to thicken the gravy. If it is too thick, add extra water or beef broth until the desired consistency.
In a large skillet, sear the roast two or three minutes on both sides and along edges. Using heavy-duty aluminum foil, tear off a sheet long enough to enclose the entire roast. Place the roast on one end of the foil sheet and pull the long edge up and over the top of the roast. There will be a fold at one end and the two open edges at the other end. Wrap the side edges of the foil to seal the roast inside, leaving the end open.
Mix the rest of the ingredients to make the sauce. Using a measuring cup with a lip, pour the sauce inside the foil packet that contains the roast and seal the open end of the foil. Gently massage the packet to distribute the sauce throughout.
Place the foil packet inside the bottom of a roasting pan. Cook in a 350 degree oven for one hour. After one hour, turn the heat down to 250 degrees and continue to cook for four to six hours.
When ready to serve, take the roast out of the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes. Cut a small slit in the folded end of the foil packet and pour the juices into a pan to use as a base for the gravy.
Pull the foil up and over the roast like an envelope. Fold the long sides as many times as you can to seal them, but don't wrap the meat too tightly. This is supposed to be a pocket, not a shrink wrap. Be careful not to run your finger through the foil. You don't want any leaks.
Once the sides are folded and sealed, the only opening left will be one end where the two raw edges of the foil come together.
This is where you can get creative. The recipe accompanying this article is simply a guide. I made this roast a few weeks ago and instead of using the fire-roasted tomatoes, I used a jar of savory beef gravy I had on hand in the pantry. You also can make a sauce using onion and mushroom soup mix or whatever flavors you prefer. Once you've created your sauce, carefully and slowly pour it into the pocket through the open end. It might take another person to hold the pocket upright while you pour in the sauce. Just make sure the pocket doesn't come open.
Once the sauce is poured into the pocket, fold the foil to seal the open end and give the pocket a gentle massage to spread the sauce to the other end. Don't squeeze too tightly or the liquid will ooze out the folded edges. Put the roasting pan containing the foil packet into the oven. There is no need for a cover.
Start the cooking process at 350 degrees. After one hour, turn the heat down to 250 degrees and go about your business. Let the roast braise in the flavorful sauce for four to six hours.
If a little of the sauce steams out into the bottom of the roasting pan, that's OK because most of it will still be inside the pocket. If you've sealed the foil pocket securely, you won't have to open it to check on the roast.
When the cooking time is up, take the pan out of the oven and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Cut a small slit in the folded end of the pocket and lift the roast over a sauce pan. Again, another pair of hands might be helpful here. Be sure to use oven mitts as it will still be plenty hot. Let the sauce run out into the saucepan and this will be the base for your gravy. If you prefer, you don't have to make gravy, but can simply serve the roast with the savory sauce just as it is or strain it for a smooth au jus.