Like espresso on venison, peppercorn goes very well with red meat. The key, as always, is balance. And with a very dominating spice, like peppercorns, we need to be careful how it’s applied, when it’s applied, and where it’s applied.
I choose to roast the sirloin for a few reasons. Reason 1, it’s an underrated sirloin cooking technique, that yields so much flavor. Reason 2, it exposes less surface area to seasoning, therefore increasing the necessity for more intense seasoning. Remember, a peppercorn rub is very strong. And reason 3, the slow roast develops flavors within the roast that will not permeate with other quicker techniques (like grilling or pan searing).
The peppercorns are dominant. We’ve established that. That leaves the door wide open to expand the flavor palette. What else works? What works with peppercorns? What works with beef? What do we need to avoid? Remember, this is my post. It is your food, your likes and dislikes. No matter what else you add, the sharpness of pepper will be the first thing your mouth experiences, and the last lingering flavor to fade. Just keep that in the back of your mind as you’re determining what else to add.
Personally, I like to use a pepper melange, which includes black, green, white and pink peppercorns. This adds depth to the pepper itself, and keeps the crust from being overbearing. I like to add toasted coriander and fennel seeds to the mix. It gives it a southern Mediterranean flavor, with almost a hint of Moroccan or Middle East. And last, I like to add 1 dried ancho chile. The pepper adds sweetness without contradicting the peppercorns, and I love cooking with them.
The keys to doing this right are:
- Take the time to toast all your dry spices whole
- Don’t grind them until they are powder. Leave a little grit.
- Let the spice rub sit on the meat over night. Even though it’s not a marinade per se, the dry spices will penetrate the top layer of meat, making it more vulnerable during the cooking process.
The sirloin should be a roast, ideally larger than 5 lbs, trimmed of 90% of its fat, leaving only a little of the fat cap on top, to flavor the meat and protect it from direct heat.
Peppercorn rubbed roast Sirloin
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours
Inactive cook time: 1 day
Yield: 6-8 portions
1 8lb sirloin roast, trimmed of silver skin and fat, except for a little of the top fat cap
1 cup whole peppercorn melange (mix of black, green, white and pink peppercorns)
3 tbsp whole coriander seed
2 tbsp whole fennel seed
1 dried ancho chili
The first step will occur the day before cooking: In a heavy bottomed dry skillet, toast all dry spices, including the chili, until highly fragrant and you heavy a slight crackling sound. Remove from heat immediately and transfer to a bowl to let slightly cool. Using a spice grinder, or more ideally a mortar and pestle, grind all dry spices together until coarsely ground. You don’t want the pieces big enough that they will be unpleasant to eat and will get stuck in your teeth, and you don’t want them ground into powder. You want a fine grind, with a few coarse pieces here and there.
Using a sharp knife, lightly score the fat cap on the meat. To do so, cut a series of intersecting diagonal lines, to form an ‘x’ pattern. This will allow for flavor in work its way in, and to help render the fat out. Lightly coat the meat in vegetable oil on all sides, work in the spice mix on all sides, cover and refrigerate over night.
Next day, about 4 hours prior to serving, heat an over to 500 degrees. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Use a proper elevated roasting pan or wire rack set onto a sheet pan to roast the meat. You want heat to evenly circulate under the meat, instead of the meat sitting in its own juices. Remember, we are roasting. Liberally salt the meat on all sides. Place the meat in the oven, and roast until deeply golden brown. Leaving the meat in the oven, turn heat down to 200 degrees. Roast for about 2 1/2 hrs, or until internal temp in the middle is 120. Remove from oven. Let rest for 20 minutes. This allows the meat to reabsorb the juices within. While the meat is resting, return the oven to 500. After waiting 20 minutes, place the meat back in the hot oven and roast until re-crisp, about 10-15 minutes.
Remove from oven, let rest another 5 minutes, and slice, very thin. Serve right away.
I love this dish with garlicy mashed potatoes, green beans, glazed carrots, green peppercorn sauce, bearnaise sauce, or anything else appropriate to roasted meat.
Serve with a big red wine, or a pinot (which will balance the peppercorns). Or a halfway decent ale, served in a frosted mug.