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January 14, 2009

Winter treasure: Red wine and a chuck Swiss steak

In my salad days, I ate far less salad than I do now.

Beef was the centerpiece of most meals. Reminiscing about those not-so-good old days, I recalled a very hearty but inexpensive dish we enjoyed often. It's a perfect family pleaser for cold winter days and lean economic times.

A large 3- to 4-pound bone-in chuck roast will feed a family of four for about $10 to 12, and probably yield leftovers for another time. Grill it or roast it as the package sometimes suggests and you might be disappointed.

However, with a little extra preparation and several hours in the oven, you'll have a meal fit for the coldest winter day.

There are dozens of ways to serve chuck roast. Two very traditional recipes are my favorites. You can cook it as a traditional pot roast, braised, with an assembly of winter root vegetables, or you can turn it into a celebration of caramelized onions serving it Swiss steak style. I prefer the latter.

To make chuck Swiss steak, you're going to need a 3- to 4-pound bone-in chuck roast , 2 or 3 large Spanish or yellow onions, a 12-ounce can of whole or chopped tomatoes in puree, 3 to 4 cloves of garlic, a few ounces of beef broth, red wine and salt and pepper.

Choose a chuck steak with the highest ratio of meat to bone. All chuck steak has bones and a lot of fat — that's why it tastes so good — but look for one which shows plenty of marbling with little gristle. Gristle will look like thick bands of off-color fat often running parallel to one another. Gristle is tendon and connective tissue and you can cook it until "the cows come home," no offense meant to cows, but you still can't chew it. Keep in mind that markets will always show you the best side of the cut in the package.

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