A friend of mine on Facebook said it pretty clearly, when was the last time, if ever, that you heard of a polar vortex? This is the first time for me but these two little words connote a nasty large band of sub zero temperatures that is currently enveloping a large portion of the country. And although our temps in Colorado today will be in the 40’s my home town, Chicago, is experiencing arctic cold the likes of which have not been seen for years.
Outside my window about 5 inches of snow rests on my deck, the sun struggling but not succeeding to show its face. It’s one of those days that a hot cup of Jo, a good book and a nice thick down comforter beckons. And when it finally comes time to think of sustenance, the only fitting thing that comes to mind is pot roast.
Just about everyone has their own pot roast recipe, so I will share mine. I’ve been making pot roast for years – on the stove, in the slow cooker, in the oven – and I think I finally found the way that bests suits us and also produces the tenderest meat. Pot roast can be tricky. There is nothing more savory and delicious than a good pot roast and there is nothing worse than a tough, dry one. My mother, bless her soul, had the theory that you cooked meat until it begged for mercy. Our special Sunday meal would be a pork and beef roast cooked together in the same roasting pan. Of course it never worked, you’re talking two very different types of meat and two very different cooking times, but we didn’t know any better and we chomped on the dried-out hunks and enjoyed them as if they were filet of beef.
Now that I am older and have a more refined pallet, I could never imagine doing something like that but can appreciate the challenge for taking a tough cut of meat and making it tender. The cooking shows would make you think the process is simple – just throw it in a slow cooker or oven and cook for hours on a low temperature. Been there, done that. With my slow cooker, and I have one of the top-rated ones, if I am not careful I can still dry out the meat, especially if there is not enough liquid in the crock and I cook it too long. So I now opt for enameled cast iron and the oven to do the trick.
I prefer enameled cast iron because of its ability to hold a consistent temperature. It does take a little longer to heat up, but once you get to the desired temperature it maintains it evenly which, I think, is the key to a tender savory pot roast. I’ve basically given up on having a tender pot roast and crusty oven browned potatoes all in one pot – to achieve the latter you tend to dry out the former. So if crusty oven browned potatoes are what you want, I suggest cooking them separately. But for me, nothing is better than having the meat, potatoes, carrots and onions slowly simmering away all in one pot. The end result is fabulous. So here is how I achieve it, my rating and lessons learned.
Rating: A – if you do it correctly. Although it may seem easy, I think achieving a perfect pot roast takes trial and error. Figuring out the perfect temperature and roasting time is important and in my experience one size does not fit all. But make this meal a mission – once your perfect it, it’s more than worth it. I also have the challenge of living in high altitude and because the air is drier cooking times tend to be longer. If you are at sea level times can be shorter. It is something you will need to determine.
Lesson Learned 1: Brown the meat. Take the time, about 4-5 minutes per side and give the roast a good sear. Searing is important in trapping natural juices which is key to any type of tender meat especially the tough cuts.
Lesson Learned 2: Use red wine in your braising liquid. I use a combination of both red wine and beef stock. It produces a much more flavorful gravy and creates a heavenly smell while the pot roast is cooking – and that is part of the joy of pot roast – the smells it produces in the kitchen. Make sure the liquid comes at least half way up the side of the roast for the best braising. Then pile on all the ingredients. Once that is done baste everything with the braising liquid.
Lesson Learned 3: Put the lid on and leave it alone. Resist the temptation to open the lid and constantly check on it. If you must, check on it once half way through the cooking time, but then take the roast and flip it over at that time. That way each side will have the benefit of being submerged in the braising liquid. This is not a necessary step but one I recommend if you have to take a peak at how it looks.
Lesson Learned 4: Relax and let it do its thing. The beauty of this type of meal, similar to my ravioli lasagna, is that most of the work goes into the prep. After that your oven does all of the heavy lifting.
Lesson Learned 5: Use the braising liquid to make homemade gravy. It will be out of this world, I promise.
My recipe is a compilation from many sources so I guess this one is my own. I also serve this with a homemade horseradish sauce and that truly complements all the flavors. Try this – I am sure you will enjoy it as much as we do!
Jan's Pot Roast With Zesty Horseradish Sauce
1 4 pound chuck roast
All purpose flour for dusting and for the roux
3 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
I large onion, peeled
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
3-4 large carrots, peeled
3-4 medium sized potatoes (I use red potatoes, but Yukon Gold potatoes are good as well – peeling them is optional)
1 cup dry red wine (whatever you drink is fine as long as it is a dry and not sweet wine)
1/2 – 1 cup beef broth
2 TBS worcestershire sauce
Thyme – you can use fresh twigs, bundle them and drop in braising liquid or 1/2 tsp. dried for braising liquid and 1/4 tsp. for flour mixture
2 bay leaves
Preheat the oven to 300. (next time I make this, I may even try 275 and add a little extra time). Trim some of the excess fat off of the roast if necessary. Mix flour with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Dredge the roast in the flour mixture. Heat olive oil in a skillet and sear the roast, 4-5 minutes on each side. (I also take my tongs and sear the edges for about 20 seconds on each edge). Peel the onion, carrots and potatoes. Cut the onion into quarters and carrots and potatoes into large chunks.
Combine wine, beef broth and worcestershire sauce. Pour into cast iron pot and add the thyme and bay leaves. (You could even drop a couple of garlic cloves into the braising liquid if you desire). Rest the roast in the braising liquid. Place the carrots and potatoes around the roast and the onions on top. Baste the vegetables with the braising liquid.
Cook in the oven for 3 hours. Mid-way through the cooking process turn the roast over. (this is optional but do it if you are one of those who just has to take a peak at it).
Using a baster, syphon braising liquid out of the pan. Put the cover back over the roast and vegetables to keep them warm. In a large skillet under medium high heat make a roux (equal parts flour and water – I use two TBS. each). Cook for a minute whisking continuously so that the “floury” taste is removed. Add the liquid and continue whisk. Initially the mixture will be very “liquidy” but it will thicken as you continue to cook.
Once the gravy has thickened, carve the meat and serve with the carrots and potatoes and a loaf of crusty bread.
2-3 TBS. of prepared or fresh horseradish
1 cup sour cream
1 TBS. dijon mustard
Combine all ingredients. Let chill for several hours so the flavors can meld. Serve with the pot roast.