Cooking a Chuck Roast: A Tough Cut of Beef Made Tender
First, A Bit Of Science To Get Us Started, Because The More You Know The Easier It Becomes.
Called a Chuck or Chuck roast or even a Chuck steak, it is a cut from the shoulder, which is a part of the beef that really gets a workout.
Expert butchers call theses cuts the sub-primal cuts and are considered the most economical cut of beef. However, less expensive means the cuts tend to be tougher.
Tough or Relatively Inexpensive Does Not Translate to Flavorless However
The shoulder muscles are the most heavily used groups of muscles, and thus, can be the toughest. Muscle is heavier and spread throughout with collagen and fat (connective tissue).
Fat or what many call marbling is not a bad thing when it comes to the flavor, though, and when cooked a certain way the fat dissolves and spreads throughout the meat adding flavor and moisture. Collagen conversely, is a different matter altogether.
Collagen is a very stiff protein, with long strands that wind and twist throughout the cut, and it is one of the most widespread proteins in mammals. The long twisted strands bind and braid together almost like twine to create a strong bond, a bond that can, however, be broken when cooked the proper way.
Cows are typically slaughtered at an older age; with the exception of those slaughtered for veal cutlets at a younger age - than say hogs - and thus the muscles are more developed, meaning there is more collagen.
Cooking Methods to Break the Bonds
At one point, the Chuck roast you are getting ready to slow cook was connected to bone via tendons. Tendons, which are composed of collagen, connect muscle to bone, and they will be present in your Chuck steak.
The good news is that collagen is water soluble, which means it dissolves in water and turns into gelatin when heat is applied for a long period, and we all know gelatin is rarely tough to chew. However, it does take time for this process to occur. Therefore, your cooking method is critical to making a tough cut tender.
Slow, moist heat is the key when cooking muscle meat, so how do you ensure slow and moist heat for hours. Yes, it takes hours at low heat along with ample liquids to break the collagen down and to distribute the fat and subsequent flavors as it dissolves.
What to Cook Your Roast In
Essentially, any pot that can be covered will work. You can cook low and slow on top of the stove or in the oven.
Dutch ovens are ideal for this type of roast because they can be cooked using the burners on your stove or placed in the oven, but again, any sturdy pot with a lid will work. Or even a roasting pan, which will require you to cover the meat with aluminum foil. A roasting pan without a lid is not ideal, but it is workable.
Your objective is to retain as much moisture as possible during the cooking process. A lid or foil will help retain the moisture. Without a lid the moisture rising as steam will evaporate leaving a dry roast behind. Add liquid as needed during this process.
If using a roasting pan, try to use one deep enough and big enough around so that the meat is below the top, and not pushed up against the sides. Meat above the lip of the pan will dry out, remember evaporation, and meat touching the sides will cook hotter and thus become drier, as well. If you have to use a smaller pan, then basting becomes important to ensure the meat has plenty of moisture to dissolve the collagen and fat.
A Culinary Fact
Many of you know that celery, onions, and carrots are called the Trinity. In Cajun and French cooking, they call it Mirepoix and those specializing in Italian cuisine call it the “Holy Trinity” Cajun cooks typically use bell peppers instead of carrots and you can, as well.
Traditionally, pot roasts or Chuck roasts are cooked with carrots, onions, and celery, but mix it up, experiment some to get the best you can out of your roast.
- 5 to 7 pound Chuck Roast
- Two Medium Sweet Yellow Onions, Quarted
- Four stalks Celery, Big Pieces with Leaves on
- 6 Fresh Carrots, Big Cuts
- 2 tablespoons beef bouillon paste, Mix with two cups warm/hot water to make a broth
- Half Cup Red Cooking Wine, Or use Red Table Wine
- 1 cup Flour, Used To Make Roux
- 1/2 cup olive oil, Used for Roux
You Have Options
Add fresh herbs the last 30 minutes of cooking if desired. herbs such as Sweet basil, thyme, and oregano.
Additionally, potatoes of your choice can be added,cut up or whole. Red potatoes do well when the skins are left on.
- Roasts will vary in weight, so a good rule to follow is to cook 30 minutes per pound at 300° F. Typically roasts of this nature are not cooked to rare, medium rare or medium, but they can be, of course. However, keep in mind cooking a roast of this nature too fast and too hot means the collagen will not properly dissolve into a gelatin, or will the fat in most cases, have dissolved, slow and low and lots of moisture is the key to tenderness and flavor.
- Cut up your celery, onions, and carrots or bell peppers (called aromatics) as the case may be. Next you want to “sweat” the vegetables just enough to bring up the sugars and to release their moisture. You do not want to neither “caramelize”, brown nor soften them, but simply add a bit of heat to bring out the flavors. The sugars will rise and add more flavor to your finished product. The release of moisture is where the term sweat or sweating comes about.
- As the vegetables are sweating take your roast and place in your cooking vessel and then add the beef broth you dissolved along with the red cooking wine or table wine.
- Once the vegetables are done, place over the meat and add black pepper to taste and taste you must later on in the cooking process to determine whether you need to add salt because the beef broth used will add sodium, so taste before adding. Add fresh herbs the last 30 minutes of cooking. Cook until the meat is fork tender.
To make gravy drain off the pan drippings into a heat resistant dish and set aside for the moment.
Next heat some olive oil in a pan and then slowly stir in flour to make a Roux. Next, after it’s hot, add the pan drippings. You need to stir continuously until the desired thickness and color is achieved.
The longer the Roux heats the darker it becomes. You may have to add more flour and/or oil to obtain the desired consistency.