Was there ever a comfort food that will chase away the blues on a cold, snowy Winter day better than a simple pot roast? Making a pot roast reminds me of home, with great smells in the kitchen and the anticipation of that roasted goodness that only comes from cooking something low and slow.
There are various ways to cook a pot roast. Although I’ve made them several times in a slow cooker, I prefer to use an enameled cast iron pot (I use Le Creuset but there are many different varieties out there). I find that enameled cast iron provides an even, controlled heat and I think that consistently allows for a more tender pot roast.
I also find enameled cast iron to be easy to clean, especially after something has been cooking for a long period of time. The main drawback with enameled cast iron is that it is heavy. I mean after all, it is cast iron. So just be prepared to flex your muscles a little bit and you will be fine. Enameled cast iron can be expensive, but I’ve had some of my pots for over 20 years and although the enamel may be slightly stained, they still work like a charm. In the end, you only get what you pay for…
The beauty of making pot roast is that it is so simple to make and your entire meal winds up being in one pot. The oven does all of the work and you are rewarded for your patience with one of the best comfort food meals of all time. So, here are some lessons learned that will make you a master at making the perfect pot roast:
Lesson Learned 1 – Brown the meat and veggies before putting them in the pot: The cooking method used for making pot roast is called braising. When you braise something you cook it for a long period of time in liquid. In the end, this technique does not provide eye pleasing color although it renders deliciously moist meat and vegetables. Taking a few minutes to brown the meat on all sides and to brown the vegetables will provide something that not only tastes divine but is also eye pleasing. It is worth the time to do it. Remember, you eat with your eyes first.
Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the veggies into big chunks: Regardless of the size of the pot roast, you will be braising the dish for several hours. You don’t want your veggies to fall apart in the process. Make sure you cut them into big chunks. That way the will stand up to the braising time.
Lesson Learned 3 – THE ONLY WAY IS LOW AND SLOW: The only way to wind up with a tender, moist pot roast is to cook it low and slow. Pot roasts are tough cuts of meat (I used a chuck roast in this recipe) and if you don’t take the time to slowly break down the fibers in the meat you will wind up with a tough, uneatable meal. Most recipes that I researched called for cooking a 4-5 pound roast for four hours. I’ve also seen cooking temperatures vary from 275 to 325. I live in high altitude and I’ve learned the hard way that everything takes longer to cook here. I cooked my pot roast for 4 hours at 275 and the last hour I raised the temperature to 300. The pot roast texture turned out perfectly.
The pot roast will tell you when it is done. If you go into the pan and stick your fork in the roast and it does not go in and out easily, the pot roast is not done. I tried this trick after 4 hours of cooking and the fork did not go into the meat easily. After 5 hours the fork went into the meat like the meat was butter. At that point I knew it was done.
I prefer cooking the roast at 275 and cooking it a little longer. I find the lower temperature and the longer braising time does not annihilate the vegetables. Everything turns beautifully.
Lesson Learned 4 – Braise with red wine and beef stock: Once again I’ve seen various suggestions on the type of braising liquid to use with pot roast. I can tell you from experience that nothing beats a combination of red wine and beef stock. This combination not only gives you fabulous drippings from which you can make a homemade gravy, but it also fills the house with the most delightful smells during the cooking process. Part of the comfort of making a pot roast are the smells you get while the roast is braising. Use red wind and beef stock and you won’t regret it.
When you braise a roast you fill the pan with liquid until it reaches half way up the sides of the meat. Don’t cover the meat completely with liquid. If you do, you will poach the roast and not braise it. You don’t want to do that.
All of these tips will help you make the most delicious pot roast you’ve ever tasted. If you’ve never made a pot roast before, try to be a little flexible in your cooking time until you figure out the time and temperature that works for you. I highly recommend you keep your oven temperature at 275. If you live at sea level, a 4-5 pound roast may only take 4 hours to braise. That did not work for me in high altitude. I will include both of these recommendations in the recipe.
Try this one the next time you are in need of some old fashioned comfort food. It truly hits the spot!
Old Fashioned Pot Roast
1 4-5 pound pot roast
1 large sweet onion peeled and cut into quarters
4 carrots peeled and sliced into 2-3 inch pieces
4 parsnips peeled and sliced into 2-3 inch pieces
3-4 red potatoes (depending on size) washed and cut into large pieces
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups beef broth
2-3 Tbs. of olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil)
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
dried (or fresh rosemary) 1 tsp. or 2 sprigs
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Heat a large cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the pot roast. Once the dutch oven has heated, add the oil and make sure the bottom of the pan is completely coated. Sear the roast on all sides for about a minute or two. Remove the roast from the pan and set aside.
Add more oil to the pan if needed. Add the carrots and parsnips to the pan and sear until lightly browned on both sides, about a minute or two. Remove and set aside. Add the potatoes to the pan, flat side down and sear for a couple of minute until tops are lightly browned and slightly crisped. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the wine to the pan. Stir with a whisk to remove all of the bits from the bottoms of the pan. Once that is done add the roast back to the pan. If using dried herbs instead of fresh, add to the beef stock and combine. Pour in the beef stock into the pan making sure that the liquid only goes half way up the sides of the meat. Arrange the carrots, parsnips and potatoes on the side of the roast. Place the onions on top of the roast.
Cover and roast for 4 hours (if high altitude roast at 4 hours at 275 and one more hour at 300). The roast is ready when it is fall apart tender and a fork inserted into the meat goes in and out easily.