Round, round, eye of round, eye got a round
One of the keys to enjoying an Instant Pot is understanding what it can and can’t do. It has a wide variety of uses and functions, but there are just as many dishes you can’t make in an Instant Pot. You can’t fry chicken, for example.
In a broad generalization, when it comes to roast, an Instant Pot is great for pot roasts, not necessarily the right choice for oven roasts. But there’s an exception, which we’ll get to in a moment.
If you aren’t the cook in your family, you probably aren’t reading this in the first place, but since I love Explaining Things, I’ll note that some cuts of meat are generally used for pot roasts and others are used for oven roasts. A pot roast is where you take an inexpensive cut of meat (often with a lot of connective tissue) and cook it long and slow in a moist heat environment, such as a dutch oven or roasting pan with a lid on it. There are often veggies and liquid in the container with the meat. The meat becomes fall-apart tender, and the connective tissue melts into gelatin, which helps thicken the cooking liquid and adds body to any gravy or sauce you make from it.
An oven roast, by comparison, is cooked in dry heat conditions — such as an open roasting pan, without a lid — and it’s naturally tender and flavorful enough that you can cook it to your desired degree of doneness, such as medium rare or medium.
Generally, the cuts for oven roast are much more expensive than the cuts used for pot roast. Eye of round is sort of on the border between the two. It’s not especially tender or well-marbled, so it’s often cooked as a pot roast. If I happen to get it on a really good sale, I will sometimes use it for jerky, because it’s so lean and because it’s easy to cut long strips with the grain, which is what you want for jerky.
But eye of round can also be flavorful when cooked to doneness. Some years back, America’s Test Kitchen had a recipe for cooking eye of round as an oven roast. They had two secrets. One is dry-brining the beef. The roast is covered on all sides with a generous coating of kosher salt, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and then refrigerated for 18–24 hours. It looks like a lot of salt, but it penetrates into the beef and helps to tenderize it. The other part of the recipe involves very slow cooking. The roast is cooked at a low temperature — preferably, with a remote probe thermometer so you can monitor the temperature without opening the oven door. When the roast gets to 115 or 125 degrees (depending on whether you want medium-rare or medium), you turn the oven off but leave the door closed, and the roast continues to coast upward for another 45 minutes until it gets to the target temperature.
I have tried this recipe and it works beautifully. Eye of round is never going to be as tender as prime rib, but it’s got great flavor — and you should slice it very thinly, across the grain, to help with the tenderness.
I saw an eye of round on sale at Walmart on Sunday, and picked it up. I vaguely remembered seeing a recipe for cooking eye of round to doneness in the Instant Pot. Like the ATK recipe, it takes advantage of carryover cooking. You use the Instant Pot’s saute function to brown the roast on all sides. You take the roast out, and put the required amount of water in the bottom of the cooker. The roast sits on a trivet above the water. As an alternative, if you want gravy, you can use beef broth and onions, and just set the roast on top of the onions instead of using the trivet.
The roast is cooked for four or five minutes at high pressure (a later poster did not like the red color of the meat in the original post, and so she added a minute to her cooking time) but then, as with the ATK recipe, you leave it in the cooker, undisturbed and without removing the lid, for an hour. Make sure not to turn the cooker off; once the temperature in the cooker drops below 120 degrees, the “keep warm” function thermostat will trip, and that will help with the carryover cooking.
If you want gravy, after you have removed the cooked roast, you use an immersion blender to pulverize the onions, and add any other thickeners or flavorings you desire. Many Instant Pot recipes, as I’ve mentioned before, use Wondra flour, which is specially processed to dissolve easily for thickening soups, stews and sauces. You can use the IP’s saute function to cook the sauce down a little bit. I decided I was going to go with the original ATK’s suggestion of horseradish sauce instead of gravy. However, I didn’t want to waste those browned bits or beef drippings. So I added a little Better Than Bouillon to the steaming water, and then used the water to make instant rice after the roast was done. I just put the pot back into saute mode and added the rice once the cooking liquid had come to a boil
I used ATK’s dry-brining technique. I salted the roast not long after getting home from the grocery store on Sunday, and then realized that meant it would actually be a little over 24 hours until I got the chance to cook the roast on Monday evening. But I figured the few extra hours would not hurt too much.
I have to say, I’m very pleased. I went for the four-minute cook time; some of you might like the results from a five-minute cook time a little better. Remember to slice the beef as thinly as you can, against the grain.
Treated this way, eye of round tastes, and can be served, like a much-more-expensive oven roast. It’s worth a try — in your Instant Pot, if you have one, or in the oven, using the America’s Test Kitchen recipe above.