Monday, October 27, 2008
Not My Mom's Pot Roast
This is easy. My mom didn't really make pot roast. My memories, growing up in an Italian family on the east coast, were of risotto, bracciole, meatballs and the occasional roast beef. Unfortunately, roasts were not her forte. My dad would always ask her to under cook it "You can put it back in if it's not done but if it's overcooked, it's too late." Funny that my dad who never did more than walk through the kitchen was giving her advice! But, to this day, guess what? I remember what he said and I always check cakes, muffins and roasts before they are done. A great tip.
Sorry for the digression. When I was in college, the training was more classic; sauces, souffles, and sauteing. It wasn't until I moved to New England and worked in health care foodservice that I learned about things like casseroles and other comfort food. Prior to that, I hadn't really cooked like that. I think back then, everyone was trying to make things so gourmet (think salmon with dill sauce and chicken dijon), that they forgot about the basics. I have grown to appreciate the simplicity of the pot roast.
This past year, I was lucky enough to purchase, with some friends, a large amount of grass-fed, no antibiotics, locally raised beef from Markegard Farms. I've been very happy with the quality as well as the flavor and notice there's actually less fat (cows that are not fed grains are generally "thinner"). Normally, less fat in a piece of meat that is usually tough may not taste as good. It was not the case here. The pot roast I cooked last week was simply delicious.
It is the cooking process that really makes the difference. A pot roast is braised which simply means it is cooked with a small amount of liquid while being covered (with an option of browning first). As long as you have the time, this cooking method is so simple and easy; it's hard to not have good results.
Here's a list of some of the cuts of meat that I received which would be perfect for braising (the first four are great for pot roast):
-boneless cross rib roast
If you are in a store and not sure which is which, don't be afraid to ask. Most of these cuts are in 1.5-3 lb pieces which should yield enough meat for 4-6 people. Once you have the meat, the next thing to do is prep. My suggestion is to do this first thing in the morning and throw it in the crock pot. You can also use a dutch oven, like a Le Creuset pot, and allow it to simmer either on the stove or in the oven.
Before I provide the recipe, I just wanted to go over the methodology. This way, if you want to use other seasonings or liquid, you will understand the process.
For the seasoning, you can never go wrong with salt and pepper. After that, it's to taste. I've used paprika, thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic, cumin and chile powder. Look to see what's in the spice drawer and be creative. Pat the meat dry before you season. If you do this, you'll get a better sear since there will be less water. The searing process adds a lot of flavor. If you're not searing, it's not a big deal.
If you are going to sear the meat, get a big pan and heat it to at least medium, maybe higher. Add some olive or vegetable oil. Place the meat in the pan and don't move it around. Allow it to brown for 2-3 minutes per side. If you are using a crock pot, remove the meat and place in the crock pot. You can then add some water to the pan to get some of the flavors from the "fond" (that's what the brown bits are called in case you didn't know).
If you are cooking in a dutch oven, you definitely should sear the meat.
Vegetables are a must in my opinion. I like carrots and onions, at a minimum, and I also add celery or turnip. If you want to add peas or potatoes, do this at the end. Actually, if you want to add any vegetable that shouldn't be too mushy, add those at the end. 6 hours of cooking any vegetable may result in great flavor but it's shape will probably be indistinguishable.
4. Adding Liquid
The liquid you use can be anything from water to broth to tomato sauce or even wine or beer. The best thing to do is experiment until you find a good balance of flavors you like. Believe it or not, you only need about 1 cup. I like to use broth bases that I keep in the fridge (it's like having a jar of bouillon). I usually use about 1 tsp of base for every cup of water. If I add anything else, it's just a small amount.
5. Cooking Process-Low and Slow
Once you have added the liquid, let it cook at a low heat for a long time. If you have a crock pot with high and low settings, you can probably cook it on high for about 4-5 hours or on low for 6-8. Check the instructions.
If you are using a dutch oven, bring the pot roast to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook 2-3 hours or until tender. Yes, the downside of a pot roast is that it is not a 30 minute meal. If you plan correctly in the morning, you can have dinner on the table in 10 minutes.
Here is the recipe I used last week. The whole family enjoyed it and went back for seconds. I hope you'll try it.
Not My Mom's Pot Roast
1.5 - 2 lb chuck roast
salt, pepper, garlic powder, rosemary and oregano
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1-2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cup beef broth
2 Tbl tomato paste (I opened a small can and froze the rest)
3-4 anchovies or 1 tsp anchovy paste
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
2-3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2-1 cup of frozen peas, slightly thawed
1. Add all ingredients into a crock pot EXCEPT potatoes and peas. Ideally start this process in the morning.
2. Set to high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours.
3. 30 minutes prior to the end of the cooking time add potatoes to pot and stir. Allow to cook for about 20-30 minutes. Add peas 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
4. Check meat by using a fork to see how tender it is. If it's not falling apart, cook longer.
5. Serve over polenta or noodles with juice from the pot.