When I think about throwing a dinner party, especially a big one like this polenta supper I'm sharing with you this week, my thoughts immediately go to: What can I make ahead? Last week, I had an easy answer: a shredded, succulent mess of beef braised in red wine and tomatoes, falling apart in its juices. It's a terrific make-ahead dish, since like most braises, this beef gets better overnight, and takes all the stress of a main dish off your hands entirely. Sound good? It gets better.
This braised beef is the easiest thing to make — it's practically a formula to know by heart. We've shared similar recipes in other forms, like these beer-braised short ribs, and this peppered beef shank. But this recipe I am sharing with you today will probably cost you less than those, and be even less hassle. Why? The humble chuck roast.
I often make short ribs for company, but I've been noticing that this once economical cut of meat has soared in price. My local grocery charges $7 to $8 a pound for these things — remember they still have a bone in them. For this party, I finally blinked at the price and said no thanks.
The chuck roast isn't as trendy as ox-tail, or shank, or short rib. It's an old-fashioned cut of meat, thick with marbling, and easy to handle and shred since there are no bones to work around. And it's cheap — much cheaper than short ribs.
To make the beef for the party, I went through the motions of braising meat, the ones I can practically do in my sleep (they're so simple). I seared the meat to get a lot of flavor, then sautéed onions and garlic, simmered in some tomatoes and wine, and put the meat back in. Slap that whole thing in a low oven for 4 hours and you have melting, tender beef that you could cut with a spoon.
The best thing, though (I told you it just keeps getting better) is that it is not only good made ahead, it's even better. The meat gets more tender and juicier. It's easy to reheat; just scrape off the fat and throw it back in the oven where you can forget about it until it's time to eat. In fact, you could even make this whole dish and freeze it, then slap it right back in the oven a couple hours before dinner.
For my dinner party, I made the beef the day before and heated it in the oven gently while prepping the rest of dinner. It was the easiest and most delicious part of the whole meal.
Braised Beef in Tomatoes & Red Wine
Serves 8 to 10
5 pounds chuck roast
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, diced
10 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1 32-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups bold red wine, such as Chianti
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Heat the oven to 325°F. Cut the chuck roast into 3 or 4 large pieces. Brush the pieces with oil and apply salt and pepper generously. Heat your largest, deepest sauté pan over medium-high heat and sear the meat for several minutes on each side, about 12 minutes in all. (If the meat does not all fit in the sauté pan at once, do this in batches.) When the meat is well seared, with a dark brown crust all over, remove to a plate and turn the heat down to low.
Add the onions and garlic, and sprinkle with salt. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes or until they are golden and soft. Add the red pepper flakes, if you desire a little kick.
Stir in the diced tomatoes and sauté over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the red wine. Bring to a simmer, scraping any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, then turn off the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar. Put the chuck roast pieces back in the sauté pan. (If the pan is too small, transfer meat and sauce to a Dutch oven.)
Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 4 hours. (This can also be done in a slow cooker. At this point transfer to a slow cooker and cook on LOW 8 to 10 hours.)
After 4 hours, remove the meat from the oven and cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Use two forks to shred the meat thoroughly. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, scrape off the layer of fat that has hardened on top of the meat. The meat can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, and warmed gently in the oven for about an hour at 300°F.
The meat can be served as it is, in its sauciness, or you can pour off much of the sauce, and blend it into a smooth, thicker sauce. Serve over polenta or pasta with a good red wine.
The meat also freezes beautifully. Freeze meat in sauce, in a well-sealed container for up to 6 months for best taste.
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