This Christmas, Consider the Cow
Pick a cut, any cut. Then gussy that beef up!
There are some prescribed, must-have proteins you come to expect for the big meals: a glazed Easter ham, a bronzed Thanksgiving turkey. But during the winter holidays—especially this one, when nothing has been business-as-usual—there’s plenty of wiggle room to try something different. Now’s the time to experiment and have a little fun in the kitchen. Why not go all in with the meat? Like, real meat. Think bone-in porterhouse steaks, hard-seared and thinly sliced like they do in Italy. A juicy tenderloin, coated in a Tex-Mex blend of chiles, coffee grounds, and cocoa powder. Even well-marbled chuck makes for a fabulous rendang perfumed with lemongrass and coconut milk. Rare, medium, or well done, beef is one of the best blank canvases for all kinds of flavors, across multiple cultures. Try something unexpected this year; that’s how classics become classics. And don’t hold back. It’s the holidays, after all. As Julia Child once said, “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
One Christmas morning in the mid-1990s, chef Robert Del Grande spilled coffee grounds all over the cutting board he was about to use to prep some beef filets for the evening’s meal—and decided to just go with it. “He thought back on a conversation he’d once had with a friend about the meaty quality of coffee,” wrote former Saveur editor Margo True in a November 2006 story about Del Grande’s Cafe Annie in Houston. “In a second, he was rolling the filets in the coffee. The ground beans formed a rich, unctuous crust—and the beef became his most copied entree.” Today the place is called the Annie Cafe & Bar, but Del Grande remains its executive chef, and coffee-crusted beef is still on the menu.
- 4 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 2 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo
- 1⁄2 small white onion, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
- 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 Tbsp. light-brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. red-wine vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 2-lb. beef tenderloin roast, tied with butcher’s twine at ½-in. intervals
- 3 Tbsp. very finely ground coffee
- 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
- 1⁄8 tsp. ground cinnamon
- In a large, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the guajillo and ancho chiles, turning occasionally, until fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, cover with warm water, and soak until softened, 20-25 minutes.
- In a blender, purée the softened chiles, 1 cup of their soaking liquid, and the garlic, chipotles, and onion until smooth.
- Make the chile sauce: In a small pot over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until it shimmers, then add the chile mixture, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened but still pourable, about 30 minutes. Add the brown sugar and vinegar, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until further thickened to a loose paste, 12-14 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from heat, and let cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Rub the roast with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, season generously with salt and pepper, then brush all over with 2 tablespoons of the chile sauce (save any remainder for another use).
- In a large bowl, stir together the coffee, cocoa powder, and cinnamon, then roll the roast in the mixture to coat. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.
- 6 Roast the meat for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 225°F. Continue roasting until a thermometer reads 120°F for rare, 12-14 minutes. Let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes, then cut away and discard the twine, and slice against the grain before serving.
TAKE NOTE: Some Basic Tips To Consider When Cooking Red Meat
“Working with beef requires adherence to certain protein cookery pillars,” says Kellie Evans, who worked at Saveur from 2011 to 2015 and contributed this rib roast recipe. “In other words, don’t mess it up.” Here’s a quick refresher:
- Dry meat thoroughly with paper towels if searing or roasting; these are dry heat techniques, you don’t want the meat to steam.
- When pan-frying, make sure the meat is at room temperature, and that the pan is smoking hot.
- Same when roasting—a cold roast will drop the temperature of your oven, resulting in an uneven roast.
- Don’t be shy with seasoning. Salt is your friend. It adds flavor and helps with browning.
- Invest in a quality digital thermometer. Polder makes an in-oven model that lets you monitor the temperature of your meat from a countertop unit. Place it in the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone.
- And the obvious one: Let meat rest under tented foil before carving. It’ll finish cooking as it sits (another 10 to 20 degrees), and the juices will be reabsorbed as it cools.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina
While Italy isn’t exactly known for steak, there is one exception—a big exception: Tuscany’s Bistecca alla Fiorentina. Typically a massive, thick, aged porterhouse weighing at least 2 pounds, the meat is seasoned simply (rosemary, garlic, salt) and served rare with a hard sear. Saveur’s former editor-in-chief, Stacy Adimando, who’s of Italian American descent, tweaked what’s traditionally a shared course into a more manageable main. Published online in May 2019, her recipe calls for smaller, thinner steaks, as well as oil-packed anchovies.
- 2 1¼-lb. bone-in porterhouse steaks, preferably aged
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely minced, plus ½ tsp. oil from the jar
- 1⁄4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 large garlic cloves, grated on a microplane (about 1¼ tsp.)
- 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
- Pat the steaks dry and season generously with salt and pepper. In a medium bowl, stir together the anchovies and their oil, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, and the garlic and rosemary. Brush the steaks with the oil from the anchovy mixture. Set the oil mixture aside to steep.
- In a large cast-iron skillet (or two medium-size ones) over a medium-high flame, heat the remaining ¼ cup olive oil until it begins to smoke. Add the steaks and cook, pressing down the bones with tongs as necessary to keep the meat in contact with the skillet, until a very dark crust forms on the bottom, about 6 minutes. Flip the steaks and cook about 3 minutes more, then lift and turn the steaks to press their fatty sides against the skillet until browned, a total of about 1 minute more. Transfer to a cutting board and immediately brush the steaks all over with the remaining anchovy mixture. Let rest for 6-8 minutes before serving.
- Using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the two sections of meat away from the bone on each of the steaks, and transfer the bones to the serving platter. Slicing against the grain, cut each of the four pieces of meat into ½-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to the serving plate, nestling them along the bones as pictured. Drizzle the meat with any remaining juices from the cutting board and serve.
Beef Rendang (Indonesian Slow-Cooked Beef)
James Oseland first tasted Beef Rendang as a 19-year-old American backpacking through Indonesia in the early 1980s. Thirty-one years later, as editor-in-chief of this magazine, he recalled those first few bites of the thick, slow-cooked stew in an essay for the May 2013 issue: “The glistening meat, fall-apart tender, was coated with a thick sauce of such complexity that I was at first taken aback—and, a moment later, smitten.” A specialty of the Indonesian province of West Sumatra, the dish involves ever-so-slowly cooking beef (water buffalo, traditionally, but cubed chuck works just fine) in a coconut-milk sauce before searing. Oseland, who lived in West Sumatra for a year in the late ’90s, learned to make the dish from a home cook there named Ibu Rohati. “She was so proud,” he recalls. “We had such a joyous time in her deliciously aromatic kitchen that day.”
- 5 medium shallots, chopped (about 1¼ cups)
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp.)
- 1 2-in. piece fresh or frozen-and-thawed galangal, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)
- 1 2-in. piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (about 2 Tbsp.)
- 1 ½-in. piece fresh or frozen-and-thawed turmeric, peeled and finely chopped (about 1½ tsp.)
- 3 candlenuts, toasted and ground (about 1 Tbsp.)
- 2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- Kosher salt
- 2 lb. well-marbled boneless beef chuck, cut into 1½-in. pieces
- 2 stalks fresh lemongrass
- 2 1⁄2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- 6 makrut lime leaves
- 5 fresh curry leaves
- Banana leaves, for serving (optional)
- 4-6 cups steamed, long-grain white rice, for serving (optional)
- Using a large mortar and pestle, grind together the first 7 ingredients, plus a pinch of salt, to yield a mostly smooth paste. In a large bowl, toss the paste with the beef, and set aside to marinate for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, using the dull side of a cleaver or a large chef’s knife, bruise the lemongrass to soften; tie each stalk into a knot.
- In a wok or large pot over medium heat, bring the coconut milk to a simmer, then add the meat and marinade, the lemongrass knots, and the lime and curry leaves. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces to a thick sauce and the beef begins to sizzle and fry, about 1½ hours. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the meat browns, about 30 minutes more. Remove the lime and curry leaves, and lemongrass just before serving, at room temperature, atop banana leaves with steamed white rice on the side, if desired.
Standing Rib Roast
Back in March 2015, Saveur ran a story titled “A Roasty, Toasty, Creamy, Meaty, Crowd-Pleasing Late-Winter Feast.” It delivered on that promise, with this recipe covering the “roasty” and “meaty” parts, while also doing plenty of “crowd-pleasing.” Inspired by then test-kitchen director Kellie Evans’ days working as a film and television caterer—a job that required feeding a lot of hungry people. “Imagine making four full 16-pound roasts at a time in a mobile kitchen!” said Evans, who made this dramatic dish for her family last Christmas.
- 1 8-lb. bone-in beef rib roast
- 8 medium garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (½ stick)
- 1 large shallot, minced (about ½ cup)
- 2 cups ruby port
- 1 cup black currant preserves
- 2 Tbsp. red-wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp. canola oil
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Using a paring knife, make 16 incisions, about ½-inch-deep, all over the roast; insert the garlic halves. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper.
- Make the glaze: In a small pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter; when the foam begins to subside, add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and soft, 4-6 minutes. Add the port, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by a third, 6-8 minutes. Stir in the preserves and vinegar, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook until smooth and syrupy, about 3-5 minutes more. Remove from heat.
- In a large cast-iron skillet over high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers, then add the roast and sear, using tongs or two large forks to turn the meat occasionally, until browned all over, 10-12 minutes. Position the roast bone-side down in the skillet and transfer to the oven. Cook, basting every 15-20 minutes with the glaze, until the meat reaches 120°F, 1 hour and 15 minutes for rare. Carve and serve with the remaining glaze on the side.
Jewish Braised Brisket
“I remember being really happy the day Melissa Hamilton (Saveur’s food editor), and Julia Lee (then test-kitchen director) were making my grandmother’s brisket in the test kitchen,” says former Saveur staffer Kelly Alexander. “The whole staff loved it and chowed down. I was hoping for leftovers, but there were none.” The resulting recipe, and Alexander’s feature about the iconic braise that helped define her identity as a Southern Jew, appeared in our April 2004 issue. And though her grandmother Lil Patcher passed away four years later, the brisket lives on. “Every year on Jewish holidays I still get emails from Saveur subscribers about how it’s become a family staple for them too,” says Alexander, now a food anthropologist at Duke University. “When people make this recipe, they pay my mema the best kind of respect.”
- 2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
- 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 5-lb. beef brisket, preferably a flat cut, trimmed of any large pieces of fat
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 3 1⁄2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 14 ½-oz. can diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 Tbsp.)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the oregano, paprika, pepper, and salt, then rub all over the brisket.
- In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers, then add the brisket and sear until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes per side. Remove from the pot and set aside.
- Pour off and discard the rendered fat from the pot, then return the pot to medium-high heat and add the stock, tomatoes, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Add the brisket and its accumulated juices, and scatter the onions and garlic atop the meat. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and cook for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the onions begin to melt, about 1 hour more. Push some of the onions and garlic into the braising liquid surrounding the brisket. Cover the pot again, and continue cooking until the meat is very tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 2 hours more.
- Transfer the meat to a cutting board and loosely tent with foil. The onions and garlic that remain in the pot should be very soft, and the braising juices rich and saucy. If the juices are watery, return the pot to the stovetop and simmer over medium heat until the juices thicken, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
- To serve, slice the brisket against the grain, transfer to a serving platter, and spoon the vegetables and sauce on top.