100 years ago, everyone knew how to cook. You had to. There was no McDonald’s. There were restaurants, of course, but 95% of what you ate came from what you prepared at home.
And a brief survey of the people I know that are my age and younger suggests that cooking is a dying art. I have a lot of friends that are excellent chefs, but I also know far too many people that get spooked by anything beyond a BBQ or a box from M+M’s (or, for that matter, a box of M&Ms); but I don’t blame them for this fear. I think it’s just one of those skills (like general carpentry and electrical work) that simply isn’t being transmitted to the next generation anymore.
While I would never claim to be any great chef, I do make a concerted effort to teach myself whatever my parents didn’t teach me (which is actually quite a bit). And yet there is one item that has always stood dauntingly in the way of me claiming full culinary competence, like some kind of edible troll blocking the bridge ahead.
Yeah, that’s right. Big meat. (If you are giggling right now, you are officially as immature as me.)
I know, I know. The cliché is that large cuts of meat area actually some of the easiest things to prepare, since all you really have to do is put them in the oven and start the timer (although this is often said by people that have never actually done it themselves). And yet I was always too afraid to invest the minimum $20 into a big hunk of cow leg (or rump or face or wherever it is that it comes from) only to foul it up and be left with a CSI-level crime scene of charred and bloody flesh that I would have to bury in the back yard.
So when I was at the grocery store the other day and saw that inside round roasts were on sale, I thought that I would face that big edible troll and pick one up.
The smallest one that I could find was just over $10 and just under 5 pounds. Next to the 40-pound whole pork leg in the same bin, the 5-pounder hardly seemed big enough to make a decent meal, but I figured it would be the perfect chance to test myself, so I threw the leaky, bloody hunk in my cart and marched to the checkout with my head held high.
“Look at me!” I wanted to say, my voice lofty (and slightly British for some reason). “I have purchased a large cut of meat. I will be roasting it in my oven to feed my pregnant wife. I will make manly mashed potatoes and marginally less manly asparagus to surround the generous slabs of beef. I am a manly man. I am the major general of meat. I am the very model of a modern major general-”
At that point, I realized that I was humming a Gilbert and Sullivan musical number aloud, and the big meat seemed a touch smaller.
Somewhat chastened by my digression into musical theatre while purchasing my inside round roast, I placed it lovingly in the fridge (where it promptly leaked blood all over the bottom shelf and into the vegetable crisper). I then poured through my cookbooks (The Joy of Cooking, Help! My Apartment has a Kitchen, and a Jamie Oliver “show-off” type book, with lots of glossy pictures and lots of instructions about bacon) in the hopes that I could find a straightforward, simple recipe for making a perfect roast.
No such luck.
Firstly, I couldn’t find anything about inside round roasts in particular, and I was so terrified about fouling it up that I was unwilling to follow any instructions for things not specifically listed as an “inside round roast.” (I still don’t know what the term means, where they hacked it from the cow, or how it differs from an outside round roast, except for a guess that it prefers indoor activities to hiking).
So I did what everyone does these days when faced with an unanswered question: I consulted the internet.
(My wife and I often muse about how we ever survived before IMDB. Do you remember that intense feeling of frustration that you would experience when you saw someone in a movie and you couldn’t for the life of you figure out what he or she was in? It was like someone was tickling the inside of your brain.)
To be continued on Friday. Stay tuned.