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Monday, March 5, 2012

Thomas Keller’s recipe for Santa Maria-style Tri-Tip Roast Beef


Chef Thomas Keller 
         When Trader Joe’s came to our neighborhood, it brought plenty of California with it.  Among the items was something called a Tri-Tip Roast of beef.  I’d never heard of the cut at all but TJ’s meat case is full of the stuff.   Trader Joe’s brands practically everything in the store with its own label.  So you’ll find several pre-marinated versions of the Tri-Tip all attributed to the retailer.  I know I should appreciate the time-saving this gives the harried cook who rushes into the store at the end of the day and has to get dinner on the table the moment he or she gets home. But if, like me, you want to control sodium intake and everything else that goes into processed foods, Trader Joe’s offers a virgin version of the beef.  However I still had no idea what the cut was or, for that matter, how to cook it.  Then I ran across a recipe for Tri-Tip from none other than the great Thomas Keller.
         Let’s get the question of what a tri-tip is so we can move on to our recipe and Thomas Keller. It’s a 1 ½ to 2 ½ lb. triangular piece of meat that sits at the bottom of the sirloin.  Because it is extremely low in fat, it generally ended up in the hamburger pile or chopped into cubes for soup making.   Today it is prized for its rich flavor. However, having a lower fat content means it can dry out faster than fattier cuts.  But use a good rub or marinade, and it’s hard to go wrong.  And almost certainly it will win you over on price if nothing else.  Or perhaps you will be tempted to try it because Chef Keller uses it.     
Per Se overlooks Central Park
         Thomas Keller is surely one of the most famous of all American chefs.  “The French Laundry” in Yountville, CA would put him in that category all by itself.  But Chef Keller’s other offerings sealed his place in the culinary firmament.  His Per Se, down the street from us at Columbus Circle, is considered one of the city’s absolute top restaurants and has been since the day it opened in 2004.   Per Se also has the distinction of being at the very top of the city’s restaurant price lists.  Its seven course prix fixe is offered at $295.00.  Without wine.  Lunch is a virtual bargain: $175.00 prix fixe but that’s for only 5 courses.  Without wine.  So what, you may wonder, is Chef Keller doing with a roast of beef that sells at Trader Joe’s for $6.49 a lb?
        The recipe comes from Keller’s  “Ad Hoc at Home” (Artisan/Workman 2009), and it contains many of the items served at  Chef Keller’s second restaurant in Yountville, "Ad Hoc".  I have three of the Chef’s cookbooks, “The Laundry” and “Bouchon”, and while all three are filled with glorious food, gorgeously photographed, the recipes in the first two books are just pipe dreams for most home cooks.  “Ad Hoc At Home” succeeds in making its recipes far more approachable. 


An early postcard of the Dune Club
in Naragansett, RI where Thomas Keller
got his start.
       Before I get to the actual recipe, I want to repeat a story that Jane Kramer wrote about Thomas Keller in the New Yorker in 2005. It seems that, at age 20, wanting to spend the America’s Cup season in Newport, Rhode Island, Keller needed to find a job.  One day on the beach in Naragansett, RI, he met his mentor.  A chef at the Dune Club, Roland Henin hired Keller to work in his kitchen.  Later Keller would say that what he admired most about Chef Henin had nothing to do with cooking:  The Chef was “6 foot 4, French, in his thirties and had a great-looking girlfriend and his own Jeep”.  What exactly Keller learned that summer was hard to imagine.  As Ms. Kramer points out the membership of the Dune Club “usually sat down to dinner three sheets to the wind and unlikely to taste the difference between a homemade demi-glace and a can of College Inn.”  Apparently Chef Keller applied himself vigorously and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ad Hoc, as you can see, is no Per Se.
         The recipe for Santa Maria Tri-Tip takes its name from the town of Santa Maria, just north of Santa Barbara CA.  That town was famous for using this cut of beef at barbecues.  This recipe browns the meat on the stovetop and finishes it off in the oven. But when summer comes, it will be worth trying on the grill. First, it is rubbed all over with two kinds of paprika and freshly ground pepper, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and left to overnight in the refrigerator.  The next day, you take it out of the refrigerator a half hour before cooking.  The Meyer lemons and the rosemary give the dish a surprising amount flavor, so do the requested basting on the stovetop.  After browning, your Tri Tip roasts in a low oven for 40 minutes.  The recipe says for 40 to 60 minutes but I found it was ready in 40 and my Tri Tip topped the scales at 2 ½ lbs.  Let it rest a good long time then carve against the grain.  This is a great way to enjoy roast beef mid-week.  And to be able to say, “I had dinner with Thomas Keller the other night…”

Recipe for Santa Maria-Style Tri-Tip from Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc At Home”


One 2 1/2 pound tri-tip roast, about 3 inches thick at its thickest point
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon piment d'Espelette (smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Kosher salt
Canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 rosemary sprig
1 garlic clove, smashed, skin left on
5 very thin lemon slices, preferably Meyer lemon, seeds removed

One day ahead, combine the black pepper, Espelette, and paprika and rub all over the meat. Wrap the meat tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Thirty minutes before cooking, remove the meat from the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Set a roasting rack in a roasting pan.

Pat the meat dry with paper towels and sprinkle on all sides with salt. Heat some oil in a large frying pan over high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the meat and sear, without moving it, for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to brown the bottom. Turn the meat over, add the butter, rosemary, garlic, and lemon slices, and brown the second side of the meat, another two minutes or so. As it browns, spoon the butter mixture over the top of the meat from time to time. Transfer the meat to the rack and arrange the lemon, rosemary, and garlic on top.

Put the roasting pan in the oven and roast for 40 to 60 minutes, depending on the thickness of the roast, until the temperature in the center of the meat is 135 degrees (or 125 degrees if you are me). Let the meat rest on the rack in a warm spot (such as the back of the stove) for about 30 minutes for medium rare, allowing the juices to redistribute.

Cut the roast into thin slices, carving against the grain. Garnish with the lemon, rosemary and garlic.