Anthony Hagans knows his way around a pot roast. Every weekend, he cooks up to 60 of them – more during colder weather.
"Pot roasts are very popular this time of year," said Hagans, executive chef of Harris Ranch restaurant in Coalinga. "Its high fat content ... keeps it moist. It's a great piece of beef at a reasonable price."
Just like home cooks, chefs look for bargain beef. And Hagans handles more than most.
A roadside oasis on Interstate 5 about 180 miles south of Sacramento, Harris Ranch is famous for its beef. Its freeway-side feed lot usually corrals about 100,000 steers.
"We have to use all parts of the cattle," Hagans said. "We can't just cook rib-eye steaks and prime rib."
Although those two menu items are the ranch's best-sellers, lots of other beef options come out of Hagans' kitchen. His restaurant serves 1,500 to 1,700 entrees a day – 3,000 to 4,000 a day during holiday weekends. Almost all of those meals are built around beef.
"Stews, pot roast, short ribs; those are all ways to use those other beef products," he said. "Not everybody just eats steak. We use a lot of round, chuck, brisket, skirt steak, flank steak; we have to use up all that product from the cattle. It also helps cut the price."
Beef still ranks as one of America's favorite foods. According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Americans cook fresh beef at home about twice a week, with ground beef accounting for two out of every three beef meals.
Lean cuts such as flank steaks and tri-tips are growing in popularity, said the trade group. The average family will cook a beef roast about five times a year, usually in fall or winter during colder weather.
In a recent study, the association found what most home cooks already know: During lean times, consumers cut back on grocery spending. We're looking for bargains.
But we still bought beef: more than $74 billion worth in 2010.
Beef prices have been creeping higher. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beef prices in May were up 10.2 percent over a year ago; ground beef was up 13.6 percent. That's due in part because of higher feed costs.
That's spurred shoppers to look for bargains elsewhere on the cattle. In a recent survey of shoppers, the beef association found that 52 percent of consumers were buying cheaper cuts of beef as their way to cope with higher prices.
That goes for professional chefs as well as home cooks.
"Short ribs have really become popular over the last two years," Hagans said. "You're seeing them more and more on restaurant menus. Chefs have to watch costs, too."
Short ribs come from the "plate," the front part of a steer's chest and rib cage. It's the same area that produces skirt steak and a lot of ground beef.
"Short ribs have become like pork belly, a cut that chefs love to cook," Hagans said. "They absorb the flavors, so you can try all sorts of different things, like chipotle seasoning; it adds this great smokiness. You can coat them with a rub or hickory salt, and that flavor just comes through.
"Add a bit of brown sugar and some barbecue seasoning – that's a great combination," he continued. "The longer you cook them, the better they taste."
Hagans typically cooks about 240 pounds of short ribs a weekend. "You lose about 50 percent of the weight, because of the bones," he said. "But you don't need to eat much to feel full.
"With short ribs, you have a real treat," he added. "I think of them like candy."
Hagans turns leftover short ribs into sliders.
"Cut the meat off the bones and put it on a cheese roll with some chipotle cheddar cheese and horseradish," he suggested. "That's a great combination."
Another treat is flank steak. "Chefs usually call it London broil," Hagans said. "It's very versatile and people should use it more."
Sinewy and cut from the back end of the cattle's chest area, flank steak easily takes on the flavors of marinades and rubs. So does skirt steak.
"Flank steak absorbs flavors quickly," Hagans said. "It's like skirt steak in that it has enough fat to stay moist and tender, and doesn't take that long to cook.
"Skirt steak really holds rubs well," he added. "It's wonderful for Southwestern dishes like fajitas."
Another cold-weather favorite is beef stew. Hagans chops up sirloin or round into 1 1/2-inch cubes, dusts them with flour, then browns them.
"You can let it cook for hours in wine and stock," he said. "Add potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, root vegetables and any other kind of vegetables you want. The beef soaks up all those good flavors."
For pot roast, Hagans recommends starting with a well-marbled piece of meat.
"You want to see some fat," he said. "Cook it slow. It allows the ingredients to blend together and the roast to develop that rich caramel coloring that goes all the way through."
Besides pot roast, Harris Ranch is well-known for another roast: tri-tip.
"In Coalinga, there are more barbecues than cars," Hagans said. "Everybody has their own favorite way to make tri-tip. But it's a great roast for cold weather, too. Make it in the broiler or the oven."
Tri-tip was a cut that butchers used to toss into ground beef.
"But now, it's extremely popular," Hagans noted. "It's always been popular on the West Coast, but tri-tip is coming popular on the East Coast, too."
Like flank steak, tri-tip works well with marinades or rubs.
"It's so versatile, you can be very creative or very basic," Hagans said. "It really picks up the flavors.
"It's just the right size for a family, too," he added. "One tri-tip can feed four to five people and cooks in under 45 minutes. That's a great beef dinner at a good price."
Easy Braised Short Ribs
This recipe comes from the Food Network's Anne Burrell.
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours 35 minutes
6 bone-in short ribs (about 5 3/4 pounds)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 cups tomato paste
2 to 3 cups hearty red wine
2 cups water
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves
Season each short rib generously with salt. Coat a pot large enough to accommodate all the meat and vegetables with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook in batches, if necessary.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. While the short ribs are browning, purée all the vegetables and garlic in the food processor until it forms a coarse paste.
When the short ribs are very brown on all sides, remove them from the pan. Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh oil and add the puréed vegetables. Season the vegetables generously with salt and brown until they are very dark and brown bits have formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
Scrape the bits and let them reform. Scrape them again and add the tomato paste. Brown the tomato paste for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat if things start to burn. Cook until the mixture is reduced by half.
Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups water or until the water has just about covered the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more water, if needed. Turn the ribs over halfway through the cooking time.
Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let things get nice and brown, and to let the sauce reduce. Remove thyme bundle and bay leaves. When done, the meat should be very tender but not falling apart. Serve with the braising liquid.
Per serving: 721 cal.; 66 g pro.; 15 g carb.; 36 g fat (15 sat., 17 monounsat., 2 polyunsat., 2 other); 192 mg chol.; 392 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 47 percent calories from fat
Peppered Beef Tip Roast
Recipe courtesy of Harris Ranch
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: will vary depending on desired doneness
Serves 8 to 10
3 1/2- to 5-pound beef round tip roast
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon vegetable or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 large clove garlic, crushed
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine seasoning ingredients; press evenly into surface of beef roast. Place roast, fat side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer so bulb is centered in thickest part of roast and not resting in fat. Do not add water. Do not cover.
Roast in oven to desired doneness. Remove roast when meat thermometer registers 135 degrees for rare, 140 degrees for medium rare, 155 degrees for medium or 165 degrees for well done.
Let roast stand 15 to 20 minutes. During standing time, the temperature will continue to rise (about 5 degrees) and reach desired doneness. Carve roast into thin slices.
Per serving based on 10: 373 cal.; 41 g pro.; 1 g carb.; 22 g fat (9 sat., 11 mono., 2 poly.); 131 mg chol.; 119 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 54 percent calories from fat
Harris Ranch Restaurant Marinade
Recipe courtesy of Harris Ranch
Use to tenderize beef roasts or ribs.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup soy sauce
2 cups water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Combine above ingredients and refrigerate.
Per 1/4 cup: 21 cal.; 0 g pro.; 5 g carb.; 0 g fat; 0 mg chol.; 138 mg sod.; 0 g fiber; 4 g sugar
Recipe courtesy of Harris Ranch
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 52 minutes
One 28-ounce can Italian-style tomatoes
One 14.5-ounce can beef broth
2 pounds boneless beef round
1 onion, sliced
3 sprigs parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon each thyme leaves and salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 carrots, sliced
1 pound broccoli, cut into flowerettes
Cut beef into 1-inch cubes. Heat tomatoes and beef broth in Dutch oven to boiling. Add beef and remaining ingredients, except carrots and broccoli.
Heat to boiling; reduce heat and cover. Simmer until beef is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.
Add more water if necessary during cooking. Stir in carrots; simmer 7 minutes. Add broccoli; simmer 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Per serving using low sodium beef broth: 241 cal.; 27 g pro.; 15 g carb.; 8 g fat (3 sat., 4 monounsat., 1 polyunsat.); 73 mg chol.; 610 mg sod.; 4 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 32 percent calories from fat
Southwestern-Style Beef Pot Roast
Recipe courtesy of Harris Ranch
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Serves 6 to 8
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
3 to 4 pound boneless beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
One 14.5-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, cut up, undrained
2 pounds medium red potatoes, cut into quarters
1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
One 4-ounce can chopped green chilies, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Combine seasonings and press evenly into surface of beef. In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add pot roast; brown evenly. Pour off drippings. Add onion and tomatoes.
Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beef is tender.
Add potatoes to pan; cover and continue cooking about 35 minutes or until beef and potatoes are tender. Remove beef and potatoes to serving platter; keep warm.
Strain cooking liquid; skim off fat. In same pan, return cooking liquid. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add cornstarch mixture and green chilies; cook and stir 1 minute or until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Stir in parsley. Serve roast with potatoes and sauce.
Per serving based on 8 servings: 392 cal.; 45 g pro.; 25 g carb.; 12 g fat (4 sat., 5 monounsat., 2 polyunsat., 1 other); 126 mg chol.; 523 mg sod.; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 28 percent calories from fat
© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.