Did you know that you can cook beef in boiling liquid and not cook it to death? In other words, the beef comes out rare — and it's delicious cooked and served that way.
Does this look like boiled beef to you? Well, it is...
In France, one traditional way of cooking lean beef in simmering water or stock is called « bœuf à la ficelle » — beef on a string. It requires a piece of very lean, tender beef that is rolled and tied with string into a neat round roast. And then the roast is hung by a string so that it cooks in simmering liquid without sinking to the bottom of the cooking pot. The idea is that it doesn't stick to the pot or cook in liquid that is too hot because it's too close to the heat source.
A very lean rolled beef roast, French-style
It's just the amount of time the beef roast stays in the simmering liquid — about 15 minutes per pound of meat for rare — that determines the degree of doneness. Of course.
Here's the beef roast after cooking for 20-minutes and resting for 10 minutes.
Yesterday I made the functional equivalent of bœuf à la ficelle, even though I didn't suspend the beef roast in the cooking liquid using a string. I just put a wire rack in the bottom of a pot of simmering stock so that the beef couldn't touch the hot bottom and cook too fast. The wire rack has feet on it, if you see what I mean.
And this wasn't a bœuf à la ficelle French-style. The broth was highly flavored and Asian-style, with soy sauce, ginger, onions, garlic, and hot red peppers, among other ingredients. I adapted a recipe that I saw a woman named Louise Denisot demonstrate on French Cuisine+ TV.
Here's an ingredient list for the cooking liquid:
1 liter beef broth
2 liters water
25 cl rice wine or sherry
25 cl dark (sweet) soy sauce
25 cl light (salty) soy sauce
1 heaping tablespoon of brown sugar
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 "finger" of fresh ginger
2 onions (or 4 shallots)
6 star anise "fruits"
2 cinnamon sticks
the zest of half an orange
3 dried hot red peppers
Cook all those ingredients together in a big pot for at least 30 minutes or as long as two hours, to make sure all the flavors blend. I have left the liquid measures in metric sizes — a liter is a quart, and 25 cl is a cup, so you end up with nearly 4 quarts (3.75 liters) of cooking liquid. All the quantities are approximate and adaptable to your taste.
Bœuf à la ficelle (sort of) with Asian spices and sauces
The important thing is to drop the lean beef roast into the simmering liquid and let it cook for 15 minutes a pound if you want it fairly rare. The roast I had weighed 650 grams, or about 1½ lbs. It cooked for 20 minutes, and then rested under aluminum foil and a kitchen towel for 10 minutes before I sliced and served it.
Stir-fried Swiss chard with soba noodles
If you over-cook this kind of extra lean beef from grass-fed cattle, it will get tough. So be careful. We made stir-fried Swiss chard and soba noodles as a side dish. Cook the noodles in boiling water, stir-fry the chard, combine them, and just flavor them with some of the liquid the beef cooked in. Serve sesame oil, soy sauce, and other condiments at the table.