The other day I was at the supermarket. Their weekly sales flyer touted “top round roast $2.39/lb.” This is a good price for northern NJ, the land perpetually on the cutting edge of inflation. Nevertheless, if you’re an astute shopper and rely on the sales flyer to sniff out the best deals, you know there’s a world of difference between the advertisement and the reality of the supermarket aisle. Trying to actually locate that special sale item is the challenge. Modern man doesn’t have to set out on foot with a makeshift spear to search for a hapless animal, but never let it be said that we’ve stopped hunting for our food.
So I arrive at the meat aisle and yes, you guessed it, there’s no top round roasts in the case. There’s bottom round, rump roast and sirloin tip, but not a single top round in sight. So I approach one of the “butchers” in the meat department and ask him if he has any of the top round that’s on sale. After two series of blank stares and “huhs,” followed by me repeating the phrase “top round,” he meanders over to the round section of the meat case and picks through every round roast I just inspected. At this point he seems to understand that there’s no top round in the case. He then consults with two more co-workers and returns to ask me how much I want. I replied: “a small one, about two pounds.” After some time he returns with a 3 ¾ pound roast, priced at $2.99 lb. as opposed to the sale price of $2.39 lb. I subsequently explain to him that he gave me almost twice the amount I asked for and at the wrong price. He engages yet a third co-worker who then confronts me asking to see the sale price in the flyer. (Shouldn’t the employees of a particular department know the specials for that week?) In any event, I have my thumb on the page of the flyer that I need. I expect I’m going to have to prove to the store what their own advertisement states. I present him the ad, he mumbles something about it usually being $2.99 lb. and finally I am presented with a 2 1/3 lb. roast at the sale price. Whew! Talk about going round and round for my round.
The round is the upper rear leg of the cow. Round cuts are pretty tough since these muscles are used regularly. However, unlike its anterior counterpart, the chuck, the round is relatively bereft of intramuscular fat and hence, is not as succulent or tasty as the chuck. Round cuts include the top round, eye round, bottom round, rump, heel and sirloin tip. All of these cuts can be made into roasts but I prefer the top round or sirloin tip which are the tenderest, (relatively speaking), of the bunch. However, do not expect a roast like a prime rib or top loin. Round roasts will not produce buttery slabs of unctuous meat. To render them palatable they must be sliced very thin. The finely sliced deli roast beef hails from the round.
If you’re not making deli-style roast beef, then the best way of cooking these cuts is by braising, i.e., long and slow cooking in liquid. But again, don’t anticipate results like a falling-off-the-bone pot roast. Ditto for stews made from pieces of cubed round meat or ground beef which can be made from the round. They’re just not as tender and juicy as the chuck.
As stated the top round is somewhat tenderer than its other round brethren. It is sometimes cut into thin steaks known as top round steak. Thicker slabs of top round are known as the curiously named London Broil. At the other extreme, slices of top round can be pounded very thin and then be stuffed and rolled as in the Italian classic braciola.
Let’s conclude by returning to what I think is the best use of round, the aforementioned deli-style roast beef. Start with a top round roast. Hopefully you’ll have better luck finding one than me. Brush the outside with some olive oil and then liberally season it with at least salt and pepper. Other additions include thyme, rosemary, onion powder, garlic powder, hot pepper, etc. In a very hot, heavy bottomed pan, sear the roast on all sides in oil. Then place it in a roasting pan in a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
While the roast is cooking we’ll make a jus from the pan drippings. Sauté some garlic and onion in the pan drippings, (adding more oil if necessary). Deglaze the pan with beef stock, scraping off all those yummy bits on the bottom. A little red wine wouldn’t hurt either. Season with salt, pepper and some herbs like thyme and rosemary. Simmer until it reduces in consistency and thickens. Finish with a tablespoon or so of cold butter and strain.
Cook the roast until the internal temperature is consonant with the degree of doneness you prefer: 125 degrees for rare, 130 for medium-rare, 135-140 for medium and just chew on your old shoes for anything beyond that. Don’t forget carry-over cooking. Depending on the size of your roast, the temperature will rise 10 degrees or more after it is removed from the oven. Compensate by removing it early. Once done, it is vital you allow it to rest so the juices are reabsorbed. Then thinly slice it, (ideally on a home deli-type slicer), and serve with the jus. See ya around.
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