Who am I in terms of food? What do I cook and what do I like to eat? These questions bothered me plenty when I first started blogging and still do from time to time. The truth is that I cook all kinds of food from all over the world if I can get my hands on the ingredients. And I certainly like to eat my way through life. To me, the journey is about both discovery and delight. I would call myself a little bit of a scientist, an artist, a cook, an explorer, a glutton and a gourmand.
My last experiment was to test if one of the world’s hottest chilli peppers rubbed off (pun absolutely intended) on a traditional roast beef. The Bhut Jolokia (ghost chilli) or Raja Mirchi grows in North-East India, where it is sold both fresh and smoke-dried. It packs an SHU or Scoville Heat Units (a measurement of heat in chilli peppers) of 10,01.304, which I assure you is scorching to say the least. It was introduced to me by a good friend who makes a delicious dish of pork and bamboo shoots with Raja Mirchi paste. Since it is pungent but also deliciously smoky, I thought this chilli would make a great rub for red meat.
The idea of a nice, slow-cooked beef brisket with a hint of smoke seemed tantalising. So I made a coarse paste of the chillies with oil (prevents spoilage) to use as a rub on the meat. I used a 2 kg brisket and rubbed the entire piece of meat with half a teaspoon of the paste and 2 cloves of grated garlic and left it overnight in the fridge for the flavours to infuse. Before roasting the next day, I kept the meat out for at least a couple of hours to reach room temperature (for even cooking). Salt and brown sugar were massaged onto the meat just before I seared and put it in the oven. Potatoes, onions, carrots, a halved bulb of garlic, thyme and rosemary kept it company on the roasting tray.
Time and temperature are critical to a good roast; 15 minutes for every 500 gm of beef yield a nice medium-rare roast. An additional 10 minutes and 15 minutes to the total cooking time would give you a medium and well done roast respectively. Resting the meat is another must. I covered the entire tray with foil and left it in the oven (after I had shut it off) for an hour. This way, the juices stayed in and kept the meat moist (believe me it works). Searing the meat in a hot pan before roasting also seals in the moisture and gives the meat an appealing, rich brownness.
Remember to season your vegetables generously with salt and pepper and splash on enough olive oil. All this work and attention are finally rewarding when the roast turns out browned but soft and juicy. And the vegetables, especially the garlic pods are caramelised but yielding, savoury and sweet – a perfect cameo for the chilli-spiked hero roast. Don’t forget the pan juices. Drain them into a pan, add a little flour and red wine, bring to a boil till slightly thickened into a warm, savoury gravy to pour over your roast. (Do this while the meat is resting)
- 2 kg beef brisket trimmed but with a thin layer of fat on top (this prevents the beef from drying out)
- 1/2-1 tsp chilli powder or paste made preferably from dried chillies of your choice (depending on the heat of the chilli you're using)
- 2 cloves of garlic grated (for the rub)
- 6-7 medium potatoes peeled and halved
- 4 carrots peeled and cut in to large chunks
- 3 onions peeled and halved
- 1 bulb of garlic halved (unpeeled)
- 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
- 4-5 tbsps olive oil
- 1-2 tbsps flour (for the gravy)
- 1/2 cup red wine (for the gravy)
- Rub the meat with the chilli paste and grated garlic, cover and refrigerate overnight or for 4-5 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C, 20 minutes before roasting. Rub the meat with salt and brown sugar and sear in a hot pan with olive oil allowing it to brown for 2 minutes on each side.
- Arrange the vegetables and herbs in the roasting pan, season well with salt and pepper and douse with olive oil. Place the beef so that it sits on the vegetables. Put the roasting pan in the centre rack, turn down the temperature to 180 degrees C and roast for 30 minutes. Remove after every 15 minutes to baste the meat with the pan juices and return to the oven till done.
- Turn off the oven, remove the pan, gently drain the juices into a saucepan. Tent the pan with foil so that no steam escapes and return to the oven to rest for an hour.
- Meanwhile, bring the jus to a gentle simmer, add the flour stirring to prevent lumps from forming. Pour in the wine and simmer for a further 2 minutes, check the seasoning. Remove from heat and keep warm.
- After an hour place the beef on a platter surrounded by the vegetables. Serve the gravy on the side with some drizzled on the beef.
- Time for marination and resting are not included in prep and total cooking time respectively.