How to Cook and Freeze a Large Piece of Meat, and Eat for Weeks
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How to Cook and Freeze a Large Piece of Meat, and Eat for Weeks

Nov 19, 2023


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A large, inexpensive roast is a boon for busy home cooks: Prepare it simply, then let it star in a number of fast weeknight meals. J. Kenji López-Alt explains.

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By J. Kenji López-Alt

On my last bimonthly trip to the supermarket to stock up on staples, I noticed the beef offerings had transitioned from mostly steaks and chops to large, inexpensive roasts like top round, eye rounds and tri-tip. This makes sense, given our slowed shopping cadence. But what's the best way to deal with big, inexpensive cuts of beef?

Fattier, expensive cuts like prime rib or New York strip are celebratory centerpieces that do best when simply roasted with salt and pepper and served straight away. Leaner cuts can also be roasted successfully, provided you go low and slow. I like to place my roast in a cold oven, set it to 225 degrees Fahrenheit, and slow-roast the beef until it hits 125 degrees on a digital thermometer, which yields a rosy-pink doneness that extends from edge-to-edge, as well as enhanced tenderness. (The same enzymes that tenderize a dry-aged steak will work in overtime as you slowly heat them.)

I then finish it with a sear, which is faster, minimizing the amount of dry, overcooked meat around the exterior. (This technique, which I published in Cook's Illustrated in a 2007 article about steaks, is now commonly known as "the reverse sear.") Cooked this way and sliced thin, even a relatively tough, lean cut will come out tender and succulent.

But as good as warm roast beef can be, I’d suggest that leaner, inexpensive cuts actually taste better served cold, the next day — or, in a variety of preparations throughout the week. A cold roast beef sandwich on crusty bread slathered with horseradish sauce — equal parts mayo, sour cream or yogurt and drained prepared horseradish, with plenty of black pepper and a dash of Worcestershire — or adding slices to a Parmesan-packed Caesar salad are easy places to start, but it can get much better. (See below.)

Simply store whatever you don't finish on the first day in the fridge overnight, then slice it thin for future use. (It's better to store leftovers whole and slice them next day — cold beef slices more easily than warm.)

This type of roast is also fantastic to use for quick meals months down the line, provided you freeze it the right way.

Air and bulkiness are the enemies of good freezing. Air exposure can lead to freezer burn — that's when ice evaporates directly from the surface of frozen foods in a process called sublimation — and, believe it or not, thin plastic bags and plastic wrap are air-permeable, which is why it's important to use freezer bags, Cryovac bags or reusable silicone bags, making sure to squeeze all the air out of them before sealing.

What about bulkiness? Unlike vegetables, which have rigid cells that burst when their water-filled interiors turn into jagged ice crystals, meat (and especially fattier meat) fares quite well in the freezer, provided the freezing and thawing processes are relatively fast. The slower a piece of meat freezes, the more large and jagged the ice crystals that form in it will be, and the more moisture (and flavor) it will lose as it thaws.

So, how do you speed the freezing and thawing process? There are two tricks. The first is to pack your meat as thin and as flat as possible. The higher the surface area-to-volume ratio of a given amount of meat, the more efficiently it will freeze and the less damage it will suffer. That means cutting the roast thinly with a sharp slicer, then fanning it and packing it flat in a freezer bag or Cryovac bag (the way smoked salmon or fancy sliced salami comes packaged at the supermarket) before freezing.

The second is to harness the power of aluminum, a fantastic conductor of heat. By placing your freezer bag on an aluminum baking sheet, heat is conducted away faster than if it were simply placed in the freezer on its own. Once frozen, the bag can be removed from the baking sheet and stored in its conveniently flat, stackable form. When I had a side-by-side-style freezer, I kept everything — soup, ground meat, steaks, cooked rice — frozen in flat packs that I filed away vertically like vinyl records.

When you’re ready to defrost, placing those bags on an aluminum baking sheet on the countertop can cut defrosting time in half. A gallon-size freezer bag with a fanned layer of sliced roast beef will defrost in about 25 minutes — just enough time to throw together a vinaigrette and prepare some vegetables.

Make a quick Thai salad: Pound 2 garlic cloves with a tablespoon of brown or palm sugar in a mortar-and-pestle. Add 1 tablespoon fish sauce and the juice of a lime, and crushed Thai dried chiles or red-pepper flakes to taste. Add sliced beef and crunchy vegetables like shredded cabbage, cucumber and onions; herbs like cilantro and mint; and split cherry tomatoes to the bowl and toss. Garnish with crushed peanuts and fried shallots.

Pair with salty, fermented sauces and peppery vegetables: Whisk together 2 teaspoons miso paste, a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of honey, 2 teaspoons of whole-grain mustard and 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Drizzle it over a bowl of thinly sliced beef, cucumber, red onion and peppery greens like watercress, arugula or mizuna.

Brighten with briny capers and olives: Lay some slices carpaccio-style on a large, chilled platter, then drizzle with a vinaigrette made from a tablespoon lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons lightly chopped capers, a teaspoon whole-grain mustard, a tablespoon minced shallot or red onion, and 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. For crunch, garnish with lightly chopped toasted hazelnuts or pine nuts, then toss a handful or arugula or watercress in the bowl you made the dressing in and mound it in the center of the plate. Finish with freshly grated Parmesan.

Or just keep it simple: Drizzle some slices with olive oil, crack some pepper on top, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and eat them with your fingers. (Add a funky blue cheese, like Roquefort or Gorgonzola, or an extra-sharp Cheddar, if you’ve got it.)

Recipe: Slow-Roasted Beef

A tender beef roast with a well-browned exterior is about as easy to pair with wine as a dish can be. You have your pick of just about any medium- to full-bodied red wine, from any place. Your selection is entirely dependent on your own taste. If you are planning to flavor the roast with a sauce, though, that might narrow the choices. Pan juices wouldn't change things, but if you were to add an English-style horseradish sauce, for example, you might prefer a richer, more forceful wine, like a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Same if you eat it with ketchup. I, personally, would avoid pungent or sweet sauces, and pick a decent Bordeaux, or maybe a Chianti Classico, or a good grenache-based Spanish wine. Oh, the possibilities. ERIC ASIMOV

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Send any friend a story 10 gift articles Make a quick Thai salad: Pair with salty, fermented sauces and peppery vegetables: Brighten with briny capers and olives: Or just keep it simple: Slow-Roasted Beef ERIC ASIMOV