When House Beautiful featured Gabrielle Hamilton’s Salt-Crusted Beef Tenderloin recipe, I was very interested. This is a statement she gave that immediately had my attention:
“As salt crusts go, this one is the most primitive; it’s just salt dampened with water. You simply brown the meat, bury it in the moist salt, and bake. The salt forms an airtight shell, sealing in the juices and letting the pure and clean flavor of this prime cut of beef remain unobscured.
There are many delicious variations you can explore with crusts. You can bind the salt with other liquids such as egg whites, red wine, white wine, or even brewed tea, and you can add other seasonings — including ashes from the fireplace!”
I started imagining the salty/smokey flavor that fireplace ashes would infuse into the roast. There was not going back! Instead of tenderloin, like Gabrielle used, I did a nice round roast with great lines of fat running through it. I also lowered the temperature further and cooked longer (I like meat to be more medium than rare). It turned out really well, and I’ll be doing it again. Enjoy!
Salt and Ash-Crusted Roast Beef
2 lb. beef roast
1 tablespoon canola oil for rubbing; plus 2 tablespoons in a heavy skillet
2 teaspoons finely and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds sea salt
1/2 – 1 cup fireplace ashes
Approximately 1½ cups cold water
1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat until it starts to smoke.
2. Rub the fillet with 1 tablespoon of oil, then sprinkle and coat evenly with black pepper.
3. Brown the meat thoroughly on every side and also the cut ends so that you form a nice crust around the fillet, both sealing in juices and creating a barrier for the upcoming salt crust. (Heavy browning!)
4. Remove the meat from the pan and let it cool on a wire rack over a sheet pan.
5. Mix the water slowly with the salt and fireplace ashes until it forms a texture resembling wet sand. Spread a thin but solid and even layer of salt on the bottom of a quarter sheet pan or other small baking tray and set the meat on it. Pack the remaining moist salt tidily around the meat, forming a solid casing, like a shell. Where there are cracks, redistribute the salt and fix them. If you need more salt or more water, or less water and more salt, mix up whatever mortar you need to get the beef encased.
6. Place the beef in the oven and let it cook for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes.
7. Crack the salt crust, dust the granules of clinging salt off with a clean, dry dish towel, and set to rest on a tray.
8. Cut and serve immediately with your favorite side dish.