Don’t believe your eyes…of round…
The eye of round looks really good. The shape is uniform, there is usually marble apparent. Not an awful lot of trimming seems to be required. If we didn’t know better, we might let ourselves believe it was like a filet/tenderloin, just waiting to be cut into steaks. But like I said in a recent article about New Yorks and rib eyes, selecting steaks on the basis of overall appearance is not always a good idea. For lack of a less jargonistic way of saying it, some of the ugliest steaks make for some of the best eatin’. According to the strictest definition of a steak as being inherently tender, eye of round is no steak.
This muscle gets just about as much work as the brisket. The eye of round is part of a group of three muscles that correspond anatomically to our own thighs. We know these muscles are strong, we use them for almost everything. Just like a steer, we have an inside/top round, an outside/bottom round, and the eye of the round. On a human, that inside round is right where it says it is. On the inside of the thigh. And so it is with the outside round–it’s on the outside of our thighs. But where is the eye? The eye is that muscle that hurts like heck when an athlete injures a “hamstring.”
You see them limping in agony, grabbing at that muscle and the surrounding tendons behind, and it’s not hard to imagine. I think most of us have strained or cramped that muscle running, walking, swimming or doing one or another of the ungodly exercises that doctors keep telling us we had better do or die young. Not sure which is worse.
On a steer or heifer, the eye of round is usually between 7-8 lbs/4-5 Kg. I cleaned this one up all the way and ended up with 24 oz/700 g of trim. That is not garbage. Not much fat, mostly connective tissue, which means we are going to use it to make a concentrated brown beef stock. This is going to be important later, as the picture at the top of the page pays testimony to.
First, we are going to brown the roast(s). I cut the sub-primal into 4 pieces, about 24 oz/675 g each–that’s usually about the size of the packages in the typical butcher’s case at the market. Into the skillet, starting with one and adding. I just left the scrap in the big skillet and did it all together, so the work in progress looks like this.
Start on medium heat. The bulk of the meat will cool off the pan, so I slowly increase the heat–eventually it ends up on high or close to it.
As with all recipes and procedures, patience, no haste. It’s not like the meat is going to over cook.
Ultimately I have all four roasts in the pan, and the trim just gets shoved aside for the time being.
Dark and approximate, this is not exact science. This is primordial.
Let it all brown, stay busy with something else and cruise back and forth. Listen for sizzle. Pop is too hot, hiss is too cool. Adjust as needed. After the roasts get well browned on all sides, seal in bags with a generous pinch of salt and stage into the bath at
130 F/54 C for at least 54 hours.
Don’t be afraid to go as long as 72, and use the pinch and poke method to evaluate texture.
If the fat doesn’t render out of the trim after browning the roasts, use the bacon press to squeeze the meat a bit. Keep listening.
Carrots and celery, don’t peel or anything. Why no onions? Onions brown faster, we add them after everything else is brown.
Anxiety is the bane of the novice. Relax, and don’t get wrapped up in stopwatch timing. When you add the onions, the celery and carrots don’t completely stop browning, but they slow down because of the water coming out of the onions.
They call it brown for a reason.
Wine is optional but good. People screw this up a lot. Wine is there for flavor. Wine is there for color. But wine should not provide volume. Using wine to create volume gives you a purple sauce.
Cook the wine dry, and then add water or unseasoned stock. 2 qt/2 liters.
Simmer for at least
until everything is cooked out. This means if you taste a piece of meat out of there, it does not taste good.
Strain the stock through a colander into a vessel to remove the larger pieces. Rinse out the skillet. Pass the stock through a moistened paper towel or coffee filter back into the pan–if you don’t moisten the filter fabric, the flavorful stock will cling to it instead of passing through to the vessel below. At this point, you should have about 1 quart/1 liter. This is rich and flavorful, but if you continue reducing to about 4 oz/120 ml, it will turn almost to syrup. Into a squirt bottle, you will see drops of it on many of things that I make.
Magic always has a caveat
In review, we used processing temperatures that are typically applied to steaks and roasts that we intend to serve “rare.” But challenges and limitations remain.
There is a reason that eye of round is inexpensive–it just doesn’t have the same characteristics as higher priced cuts. It cannot be turned into prime rib, or anything that even resembles it. You may get a desirable pink color, but all those hours required for tenderization are bound to remove moisture, of which there was not much in the first place.
Sliced thick, sliced thin, it will be tender because sous vide does that for us. In the long run, eye of round is best used for other things. What we used to call “Swiss steak” would be my first choice. Beyond that, sandwiches, French Dips and shredded for BBQ. I almost want to say that the jus/sauce we made is as valuable as the meat.
I’m not here to fool anybody. Sous vide cannot turn water into wine. On the other hand, try to create this level of tenderness and color using any method of cooking OTHER than sous vide. Honestly, I don’t think it can be done.
What does the rest of the world do with eye of round? Well, you can skip the cooking process altogether and cure the meat into Italian Bresaola, the bovine equivalent of prosciutto. The collagen remains, but so much moisture is removed as a result of the drying process that the end product is tender as long as it is sliced paper thin. This is a long and arduous process, so most of us can scratch it off the list right away. But there is still hope for our bargain basement beef!
Shred like Malmsteen
Eye of round is perfect for any application that calls for shredded beef–tacos, nachos, sliders, you name it. For best results, shock the processed beef to 40 F/4 C, this helps to prevent “over-shredding.” I don’t think you need me to show you how to shred cooked out beef, but I did make some with the now famous Dark Side Sauce.
The onion rings stand out because they stand up. The recipe is HERE.
The coleslaw is in the sandwich, but I made it look like it was cascading out into the plate. It’s a photography thing. Your basic coleslaw–mayo, cider vinegar, brown sugar, garlic powder with a little bit of apple AND pineapple in it, cilantro, it’s a thing these days.
It’s not steak, and it’s not Swiss either
As old and weathered as I am, I don’t know where that name originated. I lived in Switzerland long ago, and I never saw anything even vaguely resembling that. My earliest memories of Swiss Steak are from TV Dinners, and it may share that birthplace with Salisbury Steak and a few other sort of ersatz entrees that most of us would rather forget.
If you thin slice two green onions, 3-4 mushrooms and then snag a few peas out of the freezer, a wonderful sauce/gravy can be made from the stock outlined in this article. Drain the liquids from the bag, clarify them according to this procedure and set aside for the moment.
Cut 2 thick slices from the roast, about 3 oz/90 g. each. Dredge lightly in flour and shake off the excess.
Heat a skillet to 250 F/121 C.
Add 1 oz/30 ml vegetable oil and put the “steaks” in the pan. Fry until brown on the first side, no more than two minutes. Turn the steaks over, count to thirty and remove them from the pan to a plate. Add the scallions and mushrooms to the pan and toss lightly in the oil until the mushrooms wilt. Turn off the heat. This is important. Add a few drops of vegetable oil and sprinkle 2 measured teaspoons of flour over the mixture–LESS than a tablespoon. Stir the flour into the vegetables and it will disappear.
Add 1 cup stock/clarified purge and turn the burner back on medium. The sauce will thicken almost immediately and then start to simmer. Season with salt and pepper, add the peas and return just to a simmer–if you cook the peas they will not be green any more.
That’s your sauce. In the picture, I garnished with a few seasoned cherry tomatoes, but mashed potatoes, noodles, rice, yada yada, all good. If you like you can put it on a foil tray, cover with foil and put it in a warming oven for a few minutes to evoke the memories of the 60’s and TV trays, with Walter on the boob tube. Those were the days.
Instead of cutting the roast into steaks, cut it into strips. Leave the peas in the freezer. Cook some noodles. Use the same procedure for the meat and add a little sour cream AFTER the sauce is done (so you don’t get dots). You now have a popular common version of Beef Stroganoff.