The final coup: Roast beef has a big-bucks image and special occasion status - hard to fit in with today's fractured family life. Don't you need a big family or circle of friends to feed it to? And what do you do with the leftovers?
In two columns, today's and the next Slim Gourmet column, we answer those questions - and urge you to rediscover the joys of lean roast beef on your table.
Calories? The fact is today's beef is bred to be leaner. And some cuts (round and flank steak) have always been low in fat and calories: under 45 calories per ounce. If you choose a top round roast cut from the leg, beef need not be avoided because of calories.
High cost? As the price of poultry and seafood continue to escalate, beef by comparison is no longer the high-priced protein source it once was.
Practical? Even if your "family" is just the two of you (or even just you), roast beef is practical, even - especially - for busy people. A small boneless round roast is easy to cook in the oven or microwave, and yields enough cooked meat for easy-though-exotic future dinners, quick lunches and suppers.
SHOPPING FOR LEAN CUTS
The leanest beef suitable for roasting comes from the leg of beef, known as the "round." Boneless top round and eye of round are the best choices for roasting. Bottom round is cheaper but less tender. If bottom round is chosen for roasting, it should first be treated with meat tenderizer according to label instructions, or marinated overnight in the refrigerator in an acid- liquid like wine, citrus or fruit juice, tomato juice or dilated marinades containing vinegar or lemon juice.
Don't pay extra for "prime." Most beef available today in the supermarket is graded "choice" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Prime beef, available in some specialty markets, costs you more in calories as well as price because it's higher in fat.
Beef should be fat trimmed. It used to be that beef came with a thick overcoat of fat that you had to pay for. Today, many supermarket chains have made a promotable practice of closely trimming their meat.
HOW TO ROAST BEEF
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Arrange the roast on a rack in a roasting pan. A meat thermometer to check inner doneness is must-have equipment for beef lovers! Insert the meat thermometer into the center of the meat (the thickest part); it's the only accurate way to determine when a roast is done. Keep in mind that there's only a few degrees' difference between beef as you like it and overcooked.
Season to taste: Sprinkle with salt, pepper, herbs, garlic, soy sauce, Worcestershire or other seasonings, or spread lightly with prepared mustard. Baste occasionally with white wine, red wine, lemon juice, cider or other unsweetened fruit juice, if desired.
Allow 13 to 15 minutes roasting time per pound for fresh or thawed boneless top round (rare to medium rare). If beef is cooked from the frozen state, you must increase the cooking time by 30 to 50 percent depending on the
size of the roast. Delay inserting the meat thermometer until halfway through the cooking time.
Roast until meat thermometer indicates desired doneness (see below). Do not cover; don't add water or fat. When desired internal temperature is indicated, remove roast from oven and let set about 10 to 15 minutes before carving. This allows juices to set; meat will be moister and easier to carve.
For microwave roast beef, follow your appliance's manual.
Each serving: 3 1/2 ounces cooked, lean only will be 160 calories.
Cookbooks, manuals and thermometers don't always agree on the definition of "rare," "medium" and "well." The proper internal temperature for roast beef is subject to debate. To compound the confusion, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stepped in with a recommendation that for safety's sake beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 140 degrees, "medium" by most people's standards. Consequently, some cookbooks (and possibly some meat thermometers) have redefined that as "medium rare."
Previously, many meat texts had used the following temperatures to define degrees of "doneness": Rare, 120 degrees; Medium rare, 125 to 130 degrees; Medium, 135 to 145 degrees (at 140 degrees still slightly pink in the middle); Medium well done, 150 to 155 degrees (no inner pinkness); Well-done, 160 to 170 degrees (what most beef-lovers would regard as overcooked).