A note on scruffing:
One day, Jamie Oliver and I were preparing a meal on a ski trip with friends. We had just boiled up a big pot of potatoes. The French-trained part of my consciousness watched in horror as Jamie tossed the potatoes in a colander, shaking them vigorously.
“Brother,” I said, hoping I could prevent my friend from committing a culinary crime. “What are you doing? You’ll scar the potatoes!”
“I’m scruffing them up a bit,” he said nonchalantly, explaining that by breaking up the smoothness of the potatoes, he was creating all kinds of nooks and crannies for a crust to develop: places where a baste or sauce could cling for extra flavor.
What’s true for potatoes is equally true for meat. Eastern European grandmothers from time immemorial have known that the secret to a great pot roast is to really brown the meat, almost to the point of burning, and then rip it away from the pot when you turn it. The “roughed” meat has more surface area, because the tearing creates little indentations and each torn muscle fiber is one more place for the Maillard reaction to work its sorcery, creating hundreds of flavor compounds in the crust.
In grilling, meat gets scruffed when it sticks to the grate as you try to turn it over -- especially on older grills. The slick, nonstick grates on newer grills, however, often don’t tear the meat in this way. If you’re using such a grill, or if you’re cooking a smoother-muscled cut of meat, such as a boneless skinless chicken breast or a piece of rump, you should score it before you put it on the grill, so there is more surface to grill and scruff up.
I’ll grant you that you won’t get those perfectly symmetrical crisscrossed lines of charring that you’ll see on a fast-food burger or an Outback sirloin, but I will guarantee you that scruffing a cut of meat and building up layer upon layer of flavor is the way to max out flavor in any crust.
In the contest of beauty versus flavor and texture remember: you don’t taste beauty.
- Two 4 1/4- to 4 1/2-pound 2- to 3-bone rib roasts, “prepped like a steak”
- 6 tablespoons Four Seasons Blend
- 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- An herb brush
- 4 cups baste of your choice
- Board Dressing (see below)
- A clean brick, wrapped in foil
Four Seasons Blend:
- 1 cup sea or kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Fat baste
- 1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup rendered fat from the meat being cooked (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons grated garlic (use a Microplane) or garlic mashed to a paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons grated Spanish onion (use a Microplane)
- 2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
- 2 teaspoonsfreshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoonred pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cupwhite wine vinegar
To make the Four Seasons Blend:
Makes approximately 1 cup
Combine the salt, black pepper, garlic salt, and cayenne in a small bowl. Transfer to a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder and pulse to the consistency of sand. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.
To make the Basic Baste:
Makes approximately 4 cups
Combine all the ingredients for the fat baste in a 2-quart saucepan and bring just to a simmer; remove from the heat. For the best flavor, refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for 1 to 2 days (reheat over low heat to melt the butter before using).
Whisk the lemon juice and vinegar into the fat baste before using, or reserve it to add later.
For the rib roast:
Set up the grill with an elevated grate and preheat it to high. (*You can buy a grill with a hand-cranked wheel that allows you to raise and lower the cooking surface. Or you can save yourself a lot of money and buy an extra grate for your grill, using bricks to elevate it above the main grill gate.)
Season the beef all over with the seasoning blend and pepper, then lightly moisten your hands with water and work the seasonings into the meat. Allow to stand for 10 minutes to develop a “meat paste.”
Put the beef on the clean (unoiled) grill grate and cook, without moving it, for 1 minute. Turn, making sure to grab the “eye” portion of each steak with your tongs, and cook for 1 minute. The meat may stick and tear a bit, but this is OK, even desirable -- the sticking and tearing is what I call “meat scruffing.” (For newer grills, where less sticking and tearing occurs, or for increased surface area, score with a knife.) Turn the meat and cook for 3 minutes, then flip and cook for 3 minutes longer.
Put the foil-wrapped brick on the grill grate to be used as a steady point for the beef, lean the meat up against it, and cook for 4 minutes. Turn the roasts and repeat until you’ve cooked them for 4 minutes each on all four edges.
Move the brick to the side and continue cooking the roasts, turning them every 3 to 4 minutes and basting with the herb brush each time the meat is moved, until the internal temperature registers 105°F on an instant-read thermometer, 25 to 30 minutes. (*Optional: Use an Herb Basting Brush to tie a bunch of herb sprigs (rosemary, sage or thyme, or a combination, or other herbs, depending on what you are cooking to a dowel, the handle of a wooden spoon, or a long-handled carving fork. The herb brush flavors the baste, releases oils into the crust as it builds, and eventually becomes a garnish for the Board Dressing.)
Transfer the beef to a platter, brush lightly with the baste, and let rest for at least 5 minutes, and up to 30 minutes.
Remove the brick from the grate and carefully remove the elevated grill grate.
Put the roasts on the hot grill and cook, turning every 3 to 4 minutes and basting lightly every time the beef is moved, until the internal temperature registers 120°F.
Meanwhile, make a basic Board Dressing. Combine 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, and sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. You can improvise here, adding grated shallots or garlic (use a Microplane), finely chopped chiles, chopped scallions, and/or other chopped herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and sage. 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, and sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Mix the herbs into the Board Dressing, then slice the meat, turning each slice in the dressing to coat. Then pour the resulting board juices over the meat and finely chop the tip of the herb brush and mix the herbs into the dressing.
Transfer the roasts to the cutting board and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
To serve, cut the meat off the bones, cut the bones apart, and put the bones back on the grill. Slice the meat 1/4 inch thick, turning each slice in the dressing to coat, and arrange on plates. Pour some of the board juices over each serving, and serve with the bones on a platter alongside.