Engineering the perfect rouladen

October 25th, 2018in food
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I’d gotten it into my head that I was going to make the perfect rouladen - a Germanic dish consisting of a roll of thinly sliced beef layered with bacon, mustard, onion, and whatever else the heart desires. This is a fairly pedestrian venture in Germany - the right cut of meat is readily available and it’s all pretty straight-forward. (Foreshadowing…)

Attempt #1

Rouladen’s main ingredient is thinly-cut top round, which isn’t something a Seattle-area grocery store just has kicking around. I special-ordered it and was rewarded with some thicker-than-I-desired cuts a few days later (the Whole Foods butcher decided to freeze the meat to make slicing easier).
I lathered them with mustard, onions, pancetta, salt & pepper, and also experimented with adding chopped pickles and carrot sticks.
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Meat mayhem stage 1
I rolled them up and trussed them with butcher’s twine prior to searing them and then letting them braise in stock for about an hour.
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Trussed meat rolls pre-sear
The result wasn’t a disaster but it wasn’t good either. The meat was too thick yet simultaneously overcooked. There was not enough mustard, pancetta wasn’t the right choice (should have just used bacon), and the chopped pickles and carrot sticks didn’t add anything.
Also the whole butcher’s twine trussing operation sucked: it was time-consuming to truss, it made searing more challenging, removing the twine also sucked, and it left unattractive un-seared marks in the finished product.

Attempt #2

Tried a different butcher and less cooking time. Still not significantly better. At least using proper bacon instead of pancetta made it more like the original I remembered growing up.
Also tried using turkey lacers instead of twine and that was somewhat better but that side of the rouladen just didn’t brown well, predictably. I was not satisfied.

Attempt #3 - molecular or bust

I decided to try to use transglutaminase (less charitably known as meat glue) instead of twine for trussing and sous vide instead of braising.
I’d again asked the butcher for thinly sliced top round and they must have been in a “super-thin or GTFO” mood because boy howdy that was some paper-thin stuff. The pieces were also pretty small in size and wouldn’t have made a useful size roll.
So transglutaminase in (gloved) hand I said fuck it all and laminated myself one big sheet of meat out of all the small super-thin cuts. I first shingled them side-by-side (glueing each overlapping portion), shingled a second set along the bottom (again glueing the connecting part), then laminated a second layer of the same design on top of it. I applied the mustard, bacon, diced onion, and salt & pepper, being sure to leave a decent tail portion with nothing on top of the beef so it could function as a glue-able flap. Very carefully I rolled it up tight and wrapped it in two layers of saran wrap.
After letting that set overnight I put it into a ziploc bag and tossed it into a sous vide bath for a few hours. Then I freed it from its various plastic-y layers, dried it off, and seared it in a big pan.
The resulting mongo meat roll was essentially perfect - the ideal texture inside and out, held together beautifully without any onerous twine or resulting twine marks.
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Laminated meat roll of doom
The final assembly involved some grilled cabbage, sauteed mushrooms, and a cream sauce built from de-glazing the searing pan, fortified with ground dried porcinis for extra umami.
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Final assembled dish
I was really happy with the end result. Not only was it the perfect flavor and texture, but laminating up the meat effectively insulated me from whatever frivolities the butcher felt like engaging in with respect to thickness and shape, the transglutaminase was faster and prettier than twine, and the sous vide provided an easier, better, and more dependable outcome than a braise. What’s not to like?
Transglutaminase is super-easy to get off Amazon, by the by. Go experiment!
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