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Roast Beef

A TWO-DAY RECIPE MAKES A TOUGH CUT AMAZINGLY TENDER

For special occasions, nothing beats beef tenderloin. The Sunday roast, however, is generally more humble. But the cooking goal for both is the same: a tender roast with beefy flavor.

Among the low-cost options, we think the eye-round roast is best. Slice it thin for serving, and it’s fairly tender. But can you make it really tender? And can you amp up its mild flavor?

Butchers dry-age meat in climate-controlled refrigerators for up to a month to improve tenderness and flavor. If you’ve been lucky enough to eat great beef—the kind with a buttery texture and nutty flavor—it likely was aged this way.

Evaporation during the aging process contributes to a stronger meat flavor. But most of the positive effects of dry aging stem from the activity of naturally occurring enzymes in the meat, which are breaking down muscle fibers and creating new flavor compounds. Now, dry-aging a roast for a month at home isn’t practical. But is there a way to accelerate this process? In a word, salt.

Salting an eye-round roast for 24 hours weakens the muscle fibers so the enzymes don’t have to work as hard. And letting the roast hang out in the fridge for a day also maximizes the flavor boost from the salt.
But the real magic occurs in the oven. That’s because the enzymatic reaction speeds up as the roast heats, but then abruptly shuts off when the temperature of the meat reaches 122 degrees. The trick is to stretch the cooking time. In a hot oven, a 4-pound roast will be done in less than an hour. But if you turn the heat way down, you can double, even triple, the cooking time. Good things really do come to cooks who wait.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Choose Wisely from Low-Cost Cuts

Not all bargain cuts have the potential to taste like a million bucks. Eye-round roast possesses good flavor, relative tenderness, and a uniform shape, which means even cooking and good looks when sliced into juicy slabs.

Aging in Record Time

When meat is dry-aged, naturally occurring enzymes are breaking down muscle fibers and making the meat tender. These enzymes also encourage the formation of new amino acid compounds, and that translates to a meatier flavor. Salting the roast for a full 24 hours gives it the most time to penetrate deep into the meat and season the roast evenly (though as few as 18 hours is effective). The salt dissolves some of the proteins, too, making it easier for the enzymes to break them down.

Sear, Then Elevate

A quick sear in a hot skillet develops a flavorful crust on the meat and is an essential first step in this recipe. Rather than placing the roast directly in a roasting pan, elevate the roast on a rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. The rack allows the oven heat to circulate evenly around the meat and prevents the bottom crust from steaming in the oven.

Slow Down to the Finish

Slow-roasting isn’t just about cooking in a cool oven—it’s about carryover cooking, too. The enzymes in the meat that break down its connective tissues, essentially acting as a meat tenderizer, work faster as the temperature of the meat rises—but just until 122 degrees. This means starting the oven at 225 degrees and then shutting off the oven to finish cooking the roast—in this case, once the roast reaches 115 degrees. The roast will take another 30 to 50 minutes to climb from 115 to a final temperature of 130 degrees for medium-rare, yielding exceptionally tender, rosy meat all the way through—not just in the center.

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Salting tenderizes a tough cut, while cooking by temperature not time guarantees rosy results.

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Slow-Roasted Beef

SERVES 6 TO 8

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 18 to 24 hours to salt roast (hands-off)
  • 15 minutes to season and sear roast
  • 1¾ to 3 hours to roast (will vary based on size of roast and desired doneness)
  • 15 minutes to rest meat

Essential Tools

  • 12-inch skillet for searing roast
  • Wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet for roasting beef
  • Instant-read thermometer or meat probe thermometer (A meat-probe thermometer is left in the meat as it cooks, transmitting readings to a digital console, avoiding the need to continually open the oven to check on a roast’s temperature with an instant-read thermometer. It’s the best choice for this recipe.)

Substitutions & Variations

You can use this technique to cook a smaller or larger roast. For a 2½- to 3½-pound roast, reduce the amount of salt to 1 tablespoon and pepper to 1½ teaspoons. For a 4½- to 6-pound roast, cut it in half crosswise before cooking to create two smaller roasts.

We don’t recommend cooking this roast past medium. Open the oven door as little as possible and remove the roast from the oven while taking its temperature. If the roast has not reached the desired temperature in the time specified in step 3, heat the oven to 225 degrees for 5 minutes, shut it off, and continue to cook the roast to the desired temperature. Slice the roast as thin as possible and serve with Horseradish Cream Sauce (recipe follows), if desired.

  • 1 (3½- to 4½-pound) boneless eye-round roast, trimmed
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  1. Season all sides of roast evenly with salt. Wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate 18 to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 225 degrees. Pat roast dry with paper towels; rub with 2 teaspoons oil and season all sides evenly with pepper. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Sear roast until browned on all sides, about 12 minutes. Transfer roast to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Roast until meat registers 115 degrees (for medium-rare), 1¼ to 1¾ hours, or 125 degrees (for medium), 1¾ to 2¼ hours.
  3. Turn oven off; leave roast in oven, without opening door, until meat registers 130 degrees (for medium-rare) or 140 degrees (for medium), 30 to 50 minutes longer. Transfer roast to carving board and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice meat as thin as possible and serve.

HORSERADISH CREAM SAUCE MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP

  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup prepared horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon pepper

Whisk cream in bowl until thickened but not yet holding soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. Gently fold in horseradish, salt, and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before serving.

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