Autumn harvest means deep, sweet flavors, ripening colors, and cooling, early-darkening skies. Ovens warm their coils for gas-fueled flames and spill their recently dormant heat across suddenly chilly kitchen floors, and the crisp cold breeze softens the aroma of roasting meats and freshly dug root vegetables that bake, and broil, and baste in rekindled hearths all across New England. I know this because today I smelt the burning logs wafting their bouquet through the twilight, and today I spied the pillowy puffs of smoke etching staccato patterns across the indigo and azure air. Some plump purple plums found at Whole Foods formed the backbone of Lolita’s plat du jour; their roasted flesh burst complexsweet against tender chewsome slices of Boeuf au jus nestled in pureed green watercress spooning buttered oregano scented side-stacked slices of crispy salted russet spuds. Elegant and hearty, crackling crusty and richly meaty, fruit-sweet and beef-rich: a complicated combination of down-home deliciousness & heartwarming wow. Come, dear readers, and indulge in tonight’s dinner with me. I would make it for each one of you if I could… because that’s love.
Roasted Beef with Crisp Domino Potatoes, Italian Plums, and Watercress Puree
2lb chuck shoulder roast
1.5 oz concentrated demi-glace (I use More than Gourmet’s)
4-6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 large russet potatoes
1 bunch watercress
4 small, fresh ripe Italian prune plums
8-10 tiny chanterelles
10 whole black peppercorns
10 juniper berries
6 tablespoons granulated sugar (divided)
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon zest
fresh lemon juice
1 stick butter, melted and clarified
2 tbs butter
1 tbs corn starch
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs fresh oregano
smoked sea salt, Maldon sea salt, cracked black pepper
The chuck roast is a relatively cheap and tough cut of meat, and although a larger piece (say, 3-4 lbs, at least) can be slow-roasted for a nice, medium rare roast beef, I chose to braise it in order to get a more tender piece of meat. I started by rinsing, then patting the meat dry, before rubbing it with EVOO and sprinkling it with smoked salt and black pepper. Then I placed it into a hot pan to sear, first on one side…
…. then the other side…
… then, using tongs, all the edges.
Once the meat is nicely seared all around, I remove it from the pan, which I set back on medium-high heat. In goes a cup of water and the concentrated demi-glace, which I whisk in well, scraping all the fond off the bottom of pan so all the tasty goodness will blend right in. I bring this to a low simmer.
I add my roast back to the pan, stick my unpeeled garlic cloves in the broth (so that the innards will soften up real nice like, but not yet bleed into the sauce), then stick the whole pan into a 350° oven for 2 hours to slow roast.
My plums are the next item. I saw these little lovelies at Whole Foods, many still with the stems on them, and thought I just HAD to incorporate them into my meal somehow. I knew I was aiming for a savory dinner, and I thought some sweet roasted plums might offset the richness I had in store. I washed and dried them, trying to leave the stems intact (just ‘cuz they’re so cute!), then put them in a pyrex dish large enough to hold them. I added my juniper berries, and then poured over them a mixture of 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, my peppercorns, and 4 tablespoons of sugar.
I sprinkle the remaining sugar on top and layer my rosemary sprigs over the plums. This goes into my already hot oven to roast for about 30 minutes, or until the skins have withered slightly.
See how lovely? I pull my plums out carefully, and strain the sweet braising liquid (which has reduced considerably) into another bowl to use later.
To prepare my watercress puree, I destemmed my bunch of leaves and peeled and chopped one of my potatoes. The spuds go into some salted boiling water for 15 minutes…
…. and my watercress gets added for the last 5 minutes or so.
When the potatoes are *very* soft, I remove everything from the pan (reserving the liquid in case I need to thin out my puree later) and move it to a large bowl.
Lolita doesn’t own a blender. Well, not a working blender, at least. And using a hand-blender often means Lolita ends up wearing a good deal of what she had intended to blend. Recently, I starting using this little trick, which I learned in relation to pounding out peppercorns in my mortar and pestle. Those little spherical buggers used to fly all over the kitchen, and they’d crush underfoot when I walked in shoes across the floor (or they stick like a burr in my barefooted flesh). Once I realized I could wrap the bowl in plastic and cut a slit for my pestle to pound through, I solved that problem. Same principle here: the Saran Wrap keeps not only the stuff from flying out, but also helps hold in some heat.
Adding some salt, pepper, my lemon juice and lemon zest to my supergreen watercress puree helps lock in the fresh, snappy, peppery flavor. I cover this until I need it later.
Finally, I peel my remaining two spuds, cutting out any black spots.
Using my handheld mandoline (handoline?), I slice them both into card thin wafers, dropping them into a bowl of salted water to pull some of the starch out.
Using a strainer, I remove all the milk solids I can from a melted stick of butter. Any froth left floating on the top I skim off with a spoon.
See? Clarifying the butter like this will impart a purer flavor to the finished potato product.
I cut a small sliver off the bottom of my potato slices, so that there is a flat edge I can use to plate my dominoes. I then stack them like a tall deck of cards before tipping them as a single column into a buttered ceramic dish large enough to hold them all. I dribble my clarified butter carefully over each slice, encouraging some to slide between the layers. I then salt and pepper lightly, before throwing a few sprigs of oregano into the dish for good measure. Into the already hot oven they go, where they roast and toast for 30 minutes, or until the edges have crisped up nicely.
My roast is perfectly cooked — nice and browned and easily pulled apart with two forks. I remove the meat from the pan and set it aside for a few moments, placing the pan on the stovetop over medium heat.
I’ve carefully washed and dried my mini chanterelles.
And I’ve mixed my cornstarch with the remaining two tablespoons of butter, which I’ve softened (a little too much, but that won’t hurt).
The mushrooms and roux get added to the pan, which I whisk well to incorporate. I also, using a fork, squish the now roasted garlic out of their peels into the sauce. I pick the papers out, and let this mixture come to a low simmer to thicken.
Although I laid my potatoes in a straight line in my dish, in the heat they redistributed themselves into a pretty little coil. They are perfect — crispy edged all around, but buttery and fluffy in the centers. Using a spatula, I very carefully lift each section out to place on my plates.
Resting on a blanket of pureed watercress, my tender beef slices are drizzled with meaty pan gravy, delicate mushrooms, and sensuous plum sauce. The plums themselves buttress terrifically textured buttered tubers, bringing the salty and the sweet together with the rich and the light. Each forkful boasts full flavors and complex pleasures — a perfect plate for a discerning palate. Autumn may have fallen sooner than we’d planned, but Lolita’s kitchen is ready for the task. If I keep making dinners like this one, it will be a wonderful winter indeed.