In my travels around this great country I always try and search out the classic recipes from particular regions, states and cities. Some are well known nationally where others are true local classics. I happened to be appearing in Buffalo, New York a few years back and on the prodding from many a foodie I was urged to try a classic Buffalonian “Beef on Weck.” After it was explained to me what it actually was, I have to confess, I was less than interested. A roast beef sandwich? How good can it possibly be?
I pulled in to “Bob the Butcher” on a rainy Sunday afternoon and ordered myself the classic sammie. First thing that that hit me was a shocker, all of the beef, for all of the sandwiches, are hand carved, HAND CARVED! No electric slicers, no precut mystery meat with “hand carved” stamped on the box. Nope, one young man festooned in classic white butcher garb with a large beautifully slow roasted hunka cow was hand slicing beautiful thin slices of rosy red beef - to order. Plied high on the classic weck roll, a heaping spoonful of prepared horseradish was finished off as he deftly speared the salt and caraway crusted top of the weck and dipped it, cut side down in a steaming vessel of slowly cooked beef jus and pressed it firmly onto the sandwich. The juices from the saturated roll, mingled with the eye searing intensity of the fresh horseradish that cascaded over the thin slices of rosy tender beef, it gushed with meaty love.
That’s it, four ingredients. Four seemingly simple ingredients that when properly prepared and combined created what I felt as I took my first bite, was a sandwich epiphany. A sandwich that at that specific location and that specific moment in time, had no equals. It was perfect, it was that perfect first kiss, that perfect feeling of falling head over heels in love all wrapped up in butcher paper, dripping in beefy love - all for me.
Whew, that’s some kind of statement. I have to agree it does seem a bit much but I have to say, I still believe it, I mean my God, I can still taste it! When I go back will it be as good? Probably not, but it will still be good, great even, but like all great experiences they are snapshots in time, frozen in my memory and for that I’m satisfied.
Up until recently it was pretty much impossible to recreate what restaurants like the wonderful, Bob the Butcher and others offered, the ovens used to slow roast beef to those exacting specifications are thousands of dollars and for all practical purposes unattainable for the home cook. That being said with the advent of sous vide and sous vide cooking and the ridiculously low prices for the equipment like VacMasters’ SV1 circulator and their variety of vacuum packaging machines you can easily reproduce this American classic in your restaurant as well as in your own home.
When I say easily, I mean, it truly is easy. All of the hard work is taken over by the equipment but you still have to commit, commit to the time it takes to create something really special. Each of the four ingredients for the classic, Beef on Weck are just as important as the other and if one isn’t up to snuff well the whole sandwich fails but when it does come together, well it’s truly special, it’s your first kiss, all over again.
• 3-5 pounds’ beef top round roast. or similar, trimmed of any excess fat and gristle
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• reserved rendered beef fat or vegetable oil
• 2 cups rich roasted beef stock sous vide, or as needed
• 1 recipe fresh prepared horseradish, or favorite brand
• as needed weck rolls, split across the equator
For the beef:
1. Set the VacMaster SV1 to 55°C/131°F
3. Place the bag in the water bath of the SV1 and cook for 18 to 24 hours.
4. Carefully remove the bag from the water bath and gently remove the roast from the bag, reserving the cooking liquid.
5. Dry the roast thoroughly using paper towels and liberally season on all sides with the salt and pepper.
6. In well ventilated area heat a large cast iron skillet or similar over high until it begins to smoke.
7. Add a few tablespoons of reserved beef fat or vegetable oil and immediately add the roast searing a minute or so per side to brown completely.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and place the roast on a cutting board tented with foil until needed
For the beef jus:
1. Pour out any remaining fat and remove any excess salt and pepper from the pan and return the pan to high heat.
2. Pour the reserved beef cooking juices into the hot pan.
3. The juices will immediately begin to bubble and foam, using a wooden spoon stir the mixture and cook until the juices evaporate and the solids begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, being careful not to burn the mixture.
4. Immediately deglaze the pan by adding the rich roasted beef stock stirring and scrapping up the browned bits (fond) from the bottom of the pan and bring the mixture to a boil for just a minute or so then reduce the heat a bit and add the herbs stirring the mixture to avoid burning.
5. Taste the beef jus and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper as you see fit.
6. Remove the jus from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve, reserve the jus to a shallow bowl and keep warm.
To assemble, beef on weck:
1. Using a very sharp carving knife, thinly slice the roast across the grain.
2. Place a heaping helping of the beef mounded on the bottom half of the split weck rolls
3. Add as much horseradish as you can stand
4. Dip the cut side of the weck in the jus, saturating the roll.
5. Top with the roll and press down a bit compacting the sandwich
6. Serve immediately with along with some of the beef jus on the side for dipping if desired.