Saturday, 7 January 2012

Beef Pot Roast

Braising is best suited for cheap but tough cuts of meat, where the time that slow cooking affords goes into tenderising the meat and mingling of flavours, leading to a very rich dish, and meat that has melt-in-the-mouth texture. Finding braised meat while dining out however is difficult, unless you happen to be in Chinatown, where cheap cuts of meat are favoured for their cost-effectiveness. Braised beef brisket happened to be one of the few things I ordered when I was out with friends for dinner while at university. I still order it today, and it happens often enough that in recent times I found myself looking at the Sainsbury's Basics Beef Pot Roast, wondering if I can braise beef the way the Chinese restaurants do.

There are a couple of techniques that the Chinese use for tenderising meat that I was told about quite some time ago. While searching for recipes to braise the beef, there appears to be some confusion and lack of familiarity on the Internet about using such techniques, and as such, I thought I will try to shed some light on the matter, and use the techniques in my braised beef to see if they will work.

The first techinque involves adding bicarbonate of soda to the beef, leaving it to stand for a while, and then washing it off. This is the more difficult of the two techniques as if the soda is not properly washed off it will adversely affect the final flavour of the food. From what I've read on the Internet so far, the bicarbonate works by making the beef more alkaline (hence the ruined flavour if not washed off), allowing the coiled up proteins in the beef to straighten out, making it more tender.

The other technique involves covering in cornflour. This then acts as an insulating layer when frying so that the direct heat doesn't result in a toughened cut of beef. Since we are limited to the Sainsbury's Basics range, we shall use Basics plain flour instead, along with whatever we want to marinate the beef in (we use Basics black pepper and herb mix here). An extension of this technique, known as 'velveting', involves marinating the meat in cornstarch, egg white, and rice wine along with other seasonings for about 30 minutes.

So while waiting for the beef, prepare anything else that you want to braise together with the beef. I have opted to go 'Yankee-style', as described by Wikipedia, and included a parsnip and carrot. Chop up some onion as well.

Heat a wok, before adding olive oil. Fry the onions until they just start turning brown, and then start browning the beef.

Deglaze the wok using Sainsbury's Basics vinegar, and then transfer contents into a saucepan or pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until tender.

This was only fairly successful. The parts of the beef that were in contact with the bicarbonate of soda and flour were tender, with the rest of the beef making for rather tough eating. While it is reassuring to know that the techniques work, my approach to braising beef might need a bit of tweaking before I can try it on my friends. 

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Beef Pot Roast£6.49/kgby weight+£unknownBetter quality beef?


  1. I'd recommend using a slow cooker, or simmering the beef for longer. I assume you didn't cook it long enough, since it wasn't tender enough for you. Brisket favors very long, slow cooking at a simmer. 8-12 hours will do fine, without any need for baking soda or cornstarch.

    1. Hello there, and thanks for dropping by! I am indeed aware of the usual need to cook certain cuts of beef (particularly the areas of muscle most exercised by the steer, such as the brisket) with long cooking times, preferably using wet cooking methods.

      At the time I was seeing if there were ways of cooking tough cuts other than the ones I already know. I'm aware of others who have successfully used bicarbonate of soda and cornstarch (beef served at certain Chinese restaurants may have a slight alkaline taste, for example), so perhaps I need more practice =)


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