Last week, when I dove into comfort food (before hitting my head on the D-word at the bottom of the pool) I prepared Mark Bittman’s recipe for “Basic Pot Roast” from his compendium entitled How to Cook Everything. A well-prepared pot roast is a glorious thing; tender, flavorful and home-y. It has other advantages, as well: a chuck or rump roast can usually be found inexpensively, and if the meat is trimmed and the fat is skimmed, it can be fairly lean protein.
Unfortunately, many pot roasts are not all that well prepared. A dry, tough pot roast is kind of like eating bland, damp beef jerkey. At the other extreme of pot roast nastiness is the Extreme Slow-Cooker version where the meat has been cooked so long that it has become a sort of brown meat paste with all the flavor cooked out. (She said, raising a guilty hand). Both types of bad pot roast tend to be served with over-salty gravy which neither compliments nor disguises the essentially unfortunate state of the main event.
I’m not sure I made Mark Bittman’s pot roast exactly according to his vision, but it was fabulous, and I recommend it highly – made “by the book” or using my variations. It is not as “hands off” and easy as pot roasts left to cook for hours in the oven or slow cooker, but you will be rewarded with something that tastes intentional and rich rather than hasty and utlitarian. We had our with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.
Basic Pot Roast
(Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 3-4 pound piece chuck or rump roast, tied if necessary
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive or peanut oil
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1 cup peeled and chopped carrot
- 1 celery stalk, chopped (Note: I chopped all of the veggies in my food processor, which probably resulted in a finer dice than the recipe called for, but it worked out fabulously when it was time to make the gravy)
- 1/2 cup red wine or water
- 1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable stock or water
- Peel the garlic clove and cut it into tiny slivers; insert the slivers into several spots around the roast, poking holes with a thin-bladed knife. Crumble the bay leaf as finely as you can and mix it with the salt and pepper. (Note: eating the bay leaf will not kill you. We are all still alive and its been a week). Rub the meat all over with this mixture.
- Heat the oil over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or other heavy pan that can later be covered; brown the roast on all sides, raking your time. Adjust the heat so the fat browns but does not burn. Remover the meat to a platter and add the vegetables to the Dutch oven. Cook them over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and somewhat browned, about 10 minutes.
- Add the red wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, until the wine has just about evaporated. Add about half the stock or water, return the roast to the pot, and turn the heat down to very low. (Note: the recipe does not say to cover the pot during cooking, but I did, since he specifies a pot that “can be covered.”)
- Turn the meat every 15 minutes and cook until it is tender – a fork will pierce the meat without pushing too hard and the juices will run clear – about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, but possibly longer if your roast is higher than it is long (very thick roasts may require as long as 4 hours if you keep the heat extremely low). Add a little more stock if the roast appears to be drying out, which is not likely unless the heat is too high. Don’t overcook; when the meat is tender, it is done.
- Remove the meat from the pot and keep it warm. Skim the fat from the surface of the remaining juice. Turn the heat to high and cook, stirring and scraping until the liquid is thick and almost evaporated. Check for seasoning. Slice the meat and serve it with the pan juices. (Note: Bittman gives no instructions for disposal of the vegetables, and since mine were chopped very fine, they sort of became nothing more than tiny lumps in the “juice” at the end. After I skimmed the fat, I thickened the liquid a bit, vegetables and all, then put it into the food processor and pureed it until it was smooth and creamy, and served it as gravy. It was complex with red wine, beef, bay and vegetable flavors, and very yummy).
If you have leftovers, try a sandwich of pot roast and melted provolone on an onion roll.