The meat case of any decent supermarket or butcher's shop contains a bewildering range of beef cuts. Learning the characteristics of each one, and which cooking methods are appropriate for it, is an important step in the education of any novice cook. For example, large, lean cuts such as bottom round roasts are very appealing to the eye, but are relatively tough. This rules out some cooking methods, such as grilling, but fine meals can be made from the bottom round.
Getting Round To It
All round cuts come from the upper portion of the steer's hind leg. Like hams cut from a hog's hind leg, the round consists of large muscles that make big, attractive slices after they're cooked. These leg muscles receive a lot of use during the animal's life and, like other well-used muscle groups, are relatively tough, but also have a good, beefy flavor. For example, most sections of the round, including bottom round, are too chewy to be grilled as steaks, but make excellent roasts, pot roasts and stewing beef.
The Bottom Round
The bottom round is located on the outside of the animal's thigh. Meat cutters remove the lower portion of the leg or shank for other purposes and then cut along the natural seams to remove the relatively tender top round and sirloin tip. The bottom round is always boneless and usually trimmed of cartilage, visible surface fat and the tough sheath of connective tissue covering part of the muscle. The remaining whole bottom round is sometimes referred to as a "gooseneck" roast, because it contains a long, narrow strip of muscle at one end. That's usually removed for retail purposes, and the remaining large portion cut into two or three roasts for sale.
As Roasted Beef
The bottom round is a relatively tough and chewy cut, so it's not your best choice for thick slabs of roast beef on a dinner plate. However, its leanness, dense texture and relative lack of gristle make it a superlative roast for sandwiches. Like brisket, thin slicing compensates for the meat's toughness. Roasting the bottom round at a low temperature, from 275 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, is the key to keeping it juicy and relatively tender. For the thinnest, most perfect slices, refrigerate the roast before you carve it.
Braising and Stewing
For table use, the tough bottom round is better when prepared as a pot roast through a technique called braising. Brown the beef at a high temperature on your stove top and then season it liberally with salt and pepper. Put it in a casserole dish or Dutch oven with onions, garlic and enough broth or wine to come halfway up the sides. Slow cook it in your oven at 325 F until it's falling-apart tender, then strain the cooking liquid and thicken it to make your sauce. Alternatively, dice the round into cubes first to make stewed beef. Either way, add your choice of vegetables after the first hour of cooking.
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