J.D. Salinger: Roast Beef with Dijon Herb Rub

I have never been someone who is good at eating alone. I’m sure there are people who pull it off beautifully: pulling up a stool at a bar, trading witty banter with the wait staff, exuding total contentedness with their own internal world while sipping a martini. But not me. I can only imagine eating alone in the saddest possible way: hunched over in a booth, its plastic coating sticking to the back of my legs, while I shovel a plate of pasta into my mouth and my tears mingle with the condensation on a plastic cup of Mr. Pibb.

It’s not that I don’t like being alone. Some things—museums, books—benefit from a little solitude. But food, to me, is meant to be shared. It’s why I love Thanksgiving, and why J.D. Salinger has always fascinated me. There are days when being a recluse sounds pretty appealing (I’m looking at you, mandatory “networking” events). But how often can you make yourself a lonely salad for dinner?

It wasn’t like that, really; not like Salinger shut himself up in the attic, getting food delivered via dumbwaiter. His family ate meals together, and you could catch him stopping by Howard Johnson’s or Burger King (his fast food of choice). Every Saturday, he even joined the queue for the legendary suppers served by the First Congregational Church in Hartland, Vermont. But you could always pick him out in a crowd. That guy sitting by the pies, writing in a spiral notebook, alone in a sea of people? That was Salinger.

Where he did like some company was at the movies; his daughter, Margaret, called watching Hitchcock films together “our shared world.” But once things got sappy, he was done. “Christ, all you and your mother want to see are sentimental pictures about Thanksgiving and puppy dogs,” he told Margaret. Maybe that’s why he preferred dining alone – because eating together brings out all these emotions in us. I’m sure I’ll be having some serious feelings this Thanksgiving. I wish the same for you – you know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

* * *

Saturday suppers at First Congregational have become famous in their own right, not only because of their regular celebrity guest. To serve all their fans, the staff makes up to 18 20-pound roast beefs every night, not to mention vats of mashed potatoes and more than 15 kinds of pie. Salinger loved these dinners so much that, even when he was close to death, his wife drove to Vermont to pick up a plate to go.

Confession: This was my first roast, and it made me nervous as all get out, like cooking a turkey for the first time. As a longtime pescatarian (Thanksgiving used to be lots of hot-smoked salmon), I spent a pathetic amount of time just staring at this huge chunk of meat on my counter, poking it occasionally, hoping it would cook itself. Walking the tightrope between overcooked and raw is a delicate dance, but having a meat thermometer handy helps enormously – as will remembering the meat will continue to cook as it’s resting. But if you’re still worried, guess what? Over or under, it tastes pretty darn good.

(Adapted from Donna Hay)

4 pounds boneless beef rib-eye, tenderloin, or eye round
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 250°F. Remove beef from fridge and set aside. Place mustard seeds, salt, pepper, thyme and tarragon in a mortar and pestle and pound until lightly crushed. Add 1/4 cup oil and mthe ustard and pound until combined. Set aside.

2. Brush beef with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Heat a large nonstick frying pan over high heat and sear beef 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until brown. Remove from pan.

3. Secure beef with kitchen string and rub with mustard mixture. Place on rack in a roasting pan and cook 1 1/2 hours for medium-rare, or until internal temperature reaches 125°F.

4. After roasting, cover the meat with foil and allow meat to rest in a warm place for at least 10 minutes. Slice thinly and serve.

12 thoughts on “J.D. Salinger: Roast Beef with Dijon Herb Rub

  1. Deborah

    Did you read Joyce Maynard’s memoir about her affair with Salinger while she was an undergrad at Yale? He lived on dry crackers, according to that memoir. And he had one of those pre-VCR movie projectors in his house and watched the same Hitchcock film (“The 39 steps”) over and over and over. He seems so sinister in her memoir! Speaking of roast beef, 30 years ago I used to make something called “Lilian Hellman’s pot roast,” which I think was printed in some magazine because of the “Julia” movie publicity (movie in which Jane Fonda plays Hellman and Jason Robards is Dashiell Hammet, if I remember correctly). Anyway, Lilian Hellman’s pot roast featured dry onion soup mix and, surprisingly, was amazingly delicious!!! Maybe you can do a Hellman story….

    1. I did – he didn’t come off too well in his daughter’s memoir either, which says a lot! But eating dry crackers might explain a lot …

      Ooh, I’m going to do some searching for that story! One of our old family recipes uses onion soup mix to flavor rice, and it was my one of my absolute favorites, so I guess it’s one of those secret ingredients that works wonders!

  2. I love this blog idea ! And your writing 🙂 Your description of you eating alone sounds like me, sometime I psych myself up but then just can’t pull it off confidently. I must try some of these recipes, I always think I’m destined to not be able to cook. Love the wee back stories to authors. Really enjoy this blog x

    1. Thanks so much, Fiona – so glad you found me! I went to a concert by myself once, which really tested the limits of my confidence … but it was surprisingly fun. Maybe eating alone more often should be a resolution next year!

  3. Kay

    Made this for a New Years feast and it turned out wonderful. I had to replace the thyme (boyfriend hates it), but it still was delicious. Great recipe!

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