Beef au Jus

One evening, as the sun sunk in the sky and we found ourselves caught in a particularly tight circle of suburban hell, our blood sugar dropping a level more each time we swooped past yet another fast food hut, my husband gave me the usual “it’s not your last meal” speech.

And this time he added “I think your problem is that you hate sandwiches.”

Crashing and dramatic, I fought the point, something along the lines about how nixing Subway does not translate to hating an entire genre of food.

Except that he’s right. Pull the bahn mi and barbecued pork to the shore as exceptions, along with my grandma’s pickle sandwich on white, for both its gastronomic and nostalgic value, and we’re totally not counting schwarma because it rarely stays inside its pita pocket and it’s just too damn good … it’s true: I kind of don’t like sandwiches.

Part of this might have to do with the lunch places in our little burg here. Who wants to guess what percentage of them serves just soup and sandwich? Build your own sandwich? Predictable soup?

I have a problem with menus that hinge on a ham sandwich—especially when neither the deli meat nor the bread nor the sauce are particularly distinguished.

No, I’ll be really honest. I think it should be illegal to serve a ham sandwich in a restaurant. A dish that anyone can slap together in their kitchen in the middle of the night, in the dark, without training a single brain cell on it, should not be a unit of exchange.

And it’s not just the lack of cooking, nor the filling nature of the sandwich, nor the double-handed pawing involved in eating it, either. (Although whenever I turn a hamburger or a grilled cheese around in my grubby little hands part of me feels like a raccoon sitting at the edge of the compost pile). It’s the deli meat that troubles me.

Even before I read an online comment from a chef friend of mine whose charcuterie program aims to unseat what he calls “year-old deli meat”—is that really true, Mike?—I’ve distrusted those burly meat chunks behind the glass. How long have they been there? Why is that sitting out unwrapped like that?

I know too much about food service and how processors rely on vacuum-packing to extend freshness to know that it’s entirely possible that the time span between when that chunk of meat hits its first cure to when it hits the bread might very likely be close to a full year.

Thinking about this led me to make my own cold roast beef this week. Like I said, usually I don’t plan on sandwiches, but it’s summer now; it’s hot outside and dim and cool in the kitchen when lunch rolls around, we’re all busier, and sometimes we just need to grab a cold sandwich and a glass of sun tea and hit the day.

So I had Bart the butcher cut me a  top round of beef, ruby and nice. I gave it a good preliminary salt-rub, as I’ve been doing lately with almost all of my meats, slicked it with a little olive oil and then chopped up an impressive amount of fresh rosemary and rubbed that all over it. I patted on plenty of coarse black pepper. I peeled a bunch of garlic cloves, cut them each in half, stabbed the meat at regular intervals and buried the garlic inside. I seared it very quickly over high heat in a saute pan, forked the meat to a rack in a baking pan, deglazed the pan with red wine and chicken stock, poured that under the rack (for making the jus, of course) and popped it into a 300 degree oven. About three hours later the internal temperature was 120 degrees (rare). Little did I know that it would zoom quickly to 125 (medium-rare) so when I caught it the lever was inching toward 130 degrees (medium). I wish I would have pulled it at around 122, but it was still very good.

I swished a little stock in the pan to loosen the bits and poured the jus into a couple of shallow bowls; sliced the beef as thinly as possible, toasted the hard rolls to give them a crackling surface, stirred some horseradish into sour cream for a sauce, and made a green salad.

My husband said “Hey! You made sandwiches for supper!”

Cheers all around. Let’s wait to see what he says when I cart it out every day for lunch.

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