Last night was slow. The sun set slowly, my tea steeped slowly, and slow music played. It was the perfect evening to just drift off. Doing just that seemed like an ideal plan, but sometimes (always) things don’t quite go according to plan. I don’t know if it was the slight perk of caffeine from my tea or the happy jolt of a call from my Love, but instead of drifting off at 8:30, I had a sudden spark of motivation. I knew it would be short-lived, so I pulled out the crock pot and threw in a few cuts of beef, and then I mixed up a biga to grow overnight. If you’re unfamiliar with biga, it’s basically just a mix of water, flour and yeast, aged for a few hours. It’s typically then used as an ingredient in other bread doughs, not baked alone. This biga’s fate would be ciabatta rolls.
If you, dear reader, have ever made successful ciabatta bread, congratulations! You’re better than most of us. Some Italian doughs like ciabatta are so dreadfully wet and sticky that they seem impossible to work with if you’re used to dry American bread dough. If you’re unfamiliar, your new best friends when it comes to sticky dough are a scraper and wet hands. Wet dough does not stick to wet hands! Also, I like to oil my countertop rather than flour it, just to fight that temptation to add extra flour. If you do add extra flour, it won’t necessarily ruin your bread, it will just turn into less of a crusty, holey ciabatta, and more of a regular dinner roll with a hard crust. Someday, I’ll go into a detailed post about making the perfect Ciabatta rolls; I’ll share every tip and trick I know (sometimes I follow them, sometimes I don’t–creative license is always allowed.), but today I’m just going to focus on the meat. The filling. The stuff that turns a roll into a sandwich. When it comes to the bread you use, I recommend anything that has a tougher crust or something a little more on the dense side. French dip sandwiches are holding a lot of weight, and dipped in even more liquid. Cloud-soft Wonder bread just wouldn’t hold up.
Typically, I’m not a “meat person.” I like it, and obviously I still cook it and eat it… but not often. Meats have long been a frustration to me, and sometimes a mystery. I still find myself opting for a vegetarian dish for dinner simply to avoid having to cook meat. Once in awhile, though, the craving happens and I cave. To keep things as simple as possible, I use a crock pot. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking meat, and for those of us who tend to be intimidated by it, crock pots are a saving grace. You can throw it all in together, and go to sleep or work or do whatever you fancy. You wake up, or come home, with the house smelling like a dream, and only minimal prep work is needed before devouring. Depending on the type of beef you use, you may need to trim fat before cooking, though. In all honesty, I have used nearly every cut of meat you can imagine for this meal. The thought of it might make some steak lovers cry, but I’ve never been particular so it really doesn’t bother me. A good chuck roast is standard, however, and just needs a bit of trimming. If cooked on low heat for eight hours, it should practically fall apart when you stir it up, and your work is done.
Whenever I’m putting all of the raw ingredients into the crock pot, I feel a bit like a witch with her cauldron (I suppose I’m getting into the spirit of the season). You throw all of these things in, and at first they are rather unimpressive. But then you give it some time and the ingredients cook together into something irresistible. It really is like magic. The broth for this is really very simple, you can always make it more exciting by adding things here and there, but I just used what I had in the kitchen. Many french onion soups will contain red wine or a few tablespoons of sherry, which you can add if you feel like it, but mine is plain. Onions, stock, butter, and a few herbs. If you’re feeling very, very simple, you can just toss in some dry onion soup mix. I won’t tell anyone.
In the crockpot:
3 lb chuck roast (or your choice of beef cut)
2 medium onions
1 quart beef broth
1/4 c butter
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t garlic powder (or one clove fresh garlic)
1/2 t dried oregano
salt and pepper to your taste
For the Sandwich:
finely chopped cabbage
3 T butter
1 onion (to caramelize, if desired)
To Cook: Trim excess fat from (thawed) chuck roast, and add to the crockpot. Finely chop or thinly slice the onions and add to the crockpot with all other crockpot ingredients. Let it cook on low for 8 hours, or, if you want sliced meat instead of “pulled” meat, remove roast from crockpot at about the 4 hour mark, slice it, then return it to cook in the crockpot for another two hours. If you opt for the “pulled” method (shown in the pictures), use two forks to separate meat once cooked.
To Assemble: Chop cabbage and slice cheese, set aside. Place butter in a skillet and heat it on medium. While the butter melts, slice onion at desired thickness, and add to skillet once the butter begins to brown. When the onions become translucent and dark, and gain a sweet aroma, remove them from heat. Toast ciabatta buns and use your creative license and appetite to heap on the meat, cheese, cabbage and onions to your fancy. Use a ladle to pour some of the meat’s juice (or jus) into a separate dish for dipping. Serve piping hot. Enjoy!