If you were to look through any old New England cookbook from the last hundred years, you would most likely find a recipe for savory Yankee pot roast. A good pot roast is absolutely essential to winter survival, just about as necessary as a good pair of snow tires, or a warm pair of slippers. This classic combination of tender beef, seasoned vegetables, and rich gravy is comfort food at its best. Today, the day before Valentine’s Day, we are having a blizzard and I found that I just needed to make a pot roast. The snow is piling up outside, and since I can’t go anywhere, it’s a perfect day to stay inside and enjoy the cozy warmth of my kitchen and the aroma coming from the oven.
“Pot roast,” is a term for browned meat cooked with vegetables in a covered pot. It began appearing in cook books in the late 19th century, but this method of slow cooking in liquid, what we now know as braising, is much older than that. Tough cuts of meat all benefit from this form of cooking, because the long slow cooking breaks down the connective tissue, which converts to gelatin over time to produce both tender meat and a silky sauce. Since these tougher cuts come from the “working” parts of the animal, they have more flavor, so a good braise will give you delicious meat cooked down to pull-apart perfection.
The process for making a pot roast begins with browning the meat. This is a necessary step because it creates wonderful flavor. Once the meat is browned, it is then simmered in a stock consisting of beef broth and red wine, and seasoned with onions and herbs. Some cooks add the vegetables in the final hour of cooking, but I like to layer my vegetables in the pot first and place the roast on top of them, so the flavor seeps down through all the layers making them deeply flavorful. A variety of vegetables may be used such as onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery and potatoes. Whatever’s on hand is what works best.
Whenever I make a pot roast we always eat it broken into large chunks or slices (if that’s possible), with the vegetables and gravy. Hopefully there will be some left over for a second meal, when I shred what’s left, reheat it in some gravy and we have it on a “hard roll” as a hot sandwich. I don’t know which meal I like better; the first or the second, because it’s so good either way. If there are potatoes (and onions) left over, I combine them and reheat them as “home fries”. These may be served for breakfast with eggs, or with that hot sandwich for dinner.
The recipe that I’m sharing with you today calls for carrots, onions, and potatoes, but they can be swapped out for any of your favorite vegetables. Most recipes also call for red wine, and usually I use it, but didn’t have any on hand when I made this, so my gravy was made from beef broth only. For best results, use a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or cast iron skillet to sear the meat on the stovetop; then continue the braising in the oven.
YANKEE POT ROAST
Yield: 4 – 6 servings
- 1 2-to-3-pound beef chuck roast
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 – 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1-2 large yellow onions, cut into thick wedges
- 2 -3 cloves garlic, left whole
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/2 tsp. dry
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 tsp. dry
- 1 cup medium-body red wine ( such as Merlot)
- 2 cups beef stock
- 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 3 celery ribs, cut into 2-inch pieces, optional
- 1 whole bay leaf
1. Preheat the oven to 350*F and position an oven rack in the lower half of the oven. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season liberally on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the beef to the pot and sear evenly on all sides, using tongs to turn the roast, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Lower the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, and chopped herbs, and cook, stirring often, until the onions are beginning to brown a little about 5 – 6 minutes.
4. Deglaze the pot: add the wine and 1 cup of beef stock, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the tomato paste and stir into the stock. Place the potatoes, carrots and celery into the Dutch oven.
Then lay the roast on top of the vegetables. Add the remaining cup of beef stock to the pan. Bring to a simmer.
5. Once it’s simmering, remove the pot from the heat. Cover and transfer the pot to the oven and cook until the beef is quite tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
6. To serve, slice against the grain, or use two forks to pull the beef into chunks. Discard the bay leaf. Arrange the beef and vegetables on a platter. Serve the sauce/gravy separately to spoon over the meat and vegetables. Alternatively you may want to make mashed potatoes instead of cooking the potatoes with the meat. Buttered egg noodles also go very well with this dish in place of potatoes.
7. To make a quick beef gravy: Remove the meat and vegetables to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Skim the fat from the surface of the gravy; then bring to a simmer on the stovetop. In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup water per cup of gravy to form a slurry. Add the slurry to the gravy, whisking continuously until thickened. Continue mixing as you bring the gravy to a simmer; it will thicken noticeably. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
SOURCE: Encyclopedia of American Cooking