Pot roast is a testament to my belief that two people making the same recipe can produce completely different results. I’ve had really, really bad pot roast. Dry, tasteless and tough. On the other hand, I’ve had pot roast so delicious that it makes my mouth water any time I think of it. Like so much of cooking, the secret lies in the technique. My pot roast is *ahem*, really good, and I’ve been asked to share my methods.
I find that most people are ignorant about not just meat quality, but the ‘quality’ of certain cuts of meat. Cuts from the center of the animal are tender and fatty, because the muscle groups don’t receive the same kind of workout say, the front quarters do. This is why a rib roast is roasted ‘dry’. It’s internal fat and muscle structure will produce a tender, succulent cooked product without the need to denature (break down) the protein with a lot of heat and long cooking times. On the other hand, ‘chuck’ comes from the shoulders of the animal, which makes it a tougher cut of meat, with a lot of connective tissue, but also a generous endowment of fat. It’s one of the cheaper cuts, ostensibly because it’s less desirable than say, the tenderloin or the rib. It’s the preferred cut for making hamburger, because the grinding process takes care of the connective tissue, while availing itself of the rich flavor of the chuck. It’s also the best cut for making pot roast. Go right by the rump roast and other ‘cheap’ roast cuts and insist on a nice chuck roast. The reason is that the cooking process for pot roast–a ‘braise’ (cooked in liquid) and a long cooking time, will turn that connective tissue into delicious natural gelatin, break-down the muscle fibers into tender morsels, and distribute the flavor from the fat throughout the pot. Rump roast will get tender under the same cooking regime, but it doesn’t have the natural gifts that chuck roast does, so it will be comparative tasteless (and even a little ‘gamey’). Roasts are generally from 3-5 pounds, but that won’t be your finished weight. A small roast will feed about 3-4 people. I used to get a roast for five dollars, but prices have doubled recently.
If the roast is frozen, let it thaw for a day. If simply refrigerated, let it come to room temperature (about four hours). When the meat is ‘warm’, I start with a spice rub. Now you can make the rub ahead of time and pat it onto every surface of the roast, or you can do what I do, which is a progressive rub. I start with a generous salting, then a equally generous portion of ground black pepper. I pat each into the meat to make sure it doesn’t fall off. Next I sprinkle with onion powder, the garlic powder and finally, sweet, smoked paprika. At this point you are free to customize your spices to your own taste. Bunny doesn’t like thyme, so I exclude it, but I find I like a spice blend called ‘Italian, which contains rosemary, oregano and a host of other typically Italian spices.Now the flour right? Well, a lot of recipes will say to flour the roast, but I don’t. Typically flour is used to coat meat to create a natural gravy, but there is so much liquid in this recipe, and so little flour on the roast, that I find it redundant. I use the drippings to make a gravy on the stove top while the roast is resting.
I’ve known people to throw a frozen roast in a slow cooker. The roast will be cooked, but it sad how much potential flavor was lost. Always brown your beef, whether it’s hamburger or chuck roast. I don’t me ‘gray’ it, I mean sear it in a hot frying pan with some oil to get a mahogany crust all over. This is technically called the Maillard effect, and it produces a chemical reaction with the proteins that yields an incredible flavor. The more ‘brown’, the better the meat will taste. Because there is a lot of smoke involved in doing this right, I do this outdoors in a large cast iron skillet over a propane burner. Put a generous amount of Canola or Olive oil in the pan and when you see wisps of smoke, you are read to sear. A long-handled fork is the proper tool, because there can be a lot of splatter and you will want to keep your distance even as you turn the roast every which way to get every surface nicely browned.The seared roast can be placed back in the refrigerator if you need to interrupt the process. It doesn’t matter if it gets cold.
Making the Bed
Before you get started, pre-heat your oven to 425 F.
The actual pot roast is generally a whole meal in a single pot, so you’ll need a covered roasting pan, into which you’ll create a nest of vegetables and then place the roast right in the middle. The nest consists of a foundation of aromatic vegetables–celery, carrots and onions–the essential elements of what the French call a ‘mirepoix’, which is used as a base for soups and stews. I alternate a celery stick and whole carrot until the bottom is covered, but since we like to eat the roasted carrots (I throw the celery and onions into the compost), I tend to put more carrots. Now place the roast on the carrot and celery and distribute a couple of (or four small) peeled and quartered large onions around the periphery of the roast. [To quarter an onion, cut the top off (the stem side, not the root side), cut in half, peel and then cut each half again. Leave the root attached to keep the onion together…] Throw in several cloves of garlic according to your preference. I put in about half a bulb of garlic. Now put in as many peeled potatoes (either whole or quartered) around the roast as you think you’ll need for your guests. I generally calculate that as two small potatoes per guest, with an extra couple to be safe.
Drawing the Bath
Now you’ll need to introduce the liquid, which will eventually become your gravy. There aren’t many bad ways to do this, in fact, you could just put in four cups of water and the roast would taste pretty good, but this is also an opportunity to create flavor complexity than can turn the merely good into the great. Some people might use a soup mix, which is fine, but my go to braising liquid consists of one cup of good red wine, a half cup of tomato sauce and 2-1/2 cups of beef broth. Mix and pour over the roast and vegetables.
Into the Oven
Cover the roast with aluminum foil and put on the cover to create a nice tight seal. Place in the oven that has been pre-heated to 425 F and set the timer for 90 minutes. This is going to dry out the outer layer of the roast, creating a kind of ‘crust’ that will lend texture to it in contrast with the very tender interior.
After 90 minutes, turn down the heat to 325 F, remove the aluminum foil, baste, re-cover with the lid and replace back into the oven. Set the timer for 2-1/2 hours. You should baste the roast every hour.When cooking is finished. Let set 20 minutes.
Distribute the vegetables you are going to serve, as well as the roast, to various serving dishes. I slice the roast at the last minute, and recommend you do the same.Place a sauce pot on the stove over low-medium heat. Pour the drippings through a sieve to remove the ‘chunks’.In a bowl, place a heaping tablespoon of all-purpose flour and introduce a small quantity of the drippings, stirring until you get a smooth paste. It’s important that the paste be very smooth, free of flour nodules. Keep incorporating the drippings until they are all into the flour mixture and it is smooth. Place the mixture into the sauce pan and add a cup of water. Bring to a low boil. Add more water if the gravy is too thick. Add salt and pepper to taste.When the gravy is done, you are ready to serve. Slice the roast, pronounce a blessing and eat!
(source: Andrew Piereder)