Old Fashioned Pot Roast…

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.

le-creuset-signature-7.25-qt.-flame-round-french-ovenThere 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:

IMG_2702Lesson 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.

IMG_2711Lesson 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.

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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

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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IMG_2731INGREDIENTS:

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

DIRECTIONS:

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.

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Browned and ready to go into the oven…

IMG_2731

A beautifully braised pot roast…

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Serving suggestion…

Polar Vortex = Pot Roast

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.

Browned Chuck Roast

Browned Chuck Roast

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.

Pot Roast Ingredients

Pot Roast Ingredients

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.

Pot Roast and Vegetables

Pot Roast and Vegetables

Lesson Learned 5: Use the braising liquid to make homemade gravy. It will be out of this world, I promise.

Pot Roast and Gravy

Pot Roast and Gravy

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

  • Servings: 4-6 people
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

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

DIRECTIONS:

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.

HORSERADISH SAUCE:

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.