Pot Roast: A Quintessential Farm Meal

February 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Pot roast is one of my favorite go-to meals, and I think of it as the essence of the farm cooking (this is, after all, a farm, remember?). It is prepared by braising a cheaper, tougher cut of beef in the combination of water and wine (or wine and stock) in the oven for a couple of hours. The moist heat and the extended cooking time help break down the tough connective tissues and tenderize the meat, which takes on the flavor of wine, onions, and other vegetables and spices you might have added to the pot.

It is great, because:

1) It’s a hearty meal – a farm family, especially the one living in the cold Wisconsin, needs hearty food.

2)It’s a great use for cheaper cuts of beef, so it’s easy on the budget. Cooking a hunk of tougher meat slowly for a few hours will transform the toughest pieces into mouthwatering goodness, let alone conquer hearts.  It’s a great use for chuck roast (a tougher, but wonderfully fatty cut from the shoulder), arm roast (a piece from the front part of the cow with a cross-section of the marrow bone. I haven’t bought meat in a long time, so I am not sure if this cut is commonly available or not), and you can even apply it to a better sirloin roast. You get the idea.

3)It requires ridiculously little work. Hardly any work at all. I’ll show you in a moment.

4)Served with mashed potatoes and the gravy made with pan drippings, starchy potato water (used to boil the potatoes), and cream, it is excruciatingly delicious.

5)In the unlikely event that you have any meat left for the next day, it can be cubed and turned into the filling for pasties. How could you go wrong with this?

It is for those reasons that I feel like it is my absolute duty to show you what a breeze it is to prepare.

So here’s what to do:

If your meat is frozen, thaw it out. I thaw out a lot of my meat (even hamburger) by submerging it in water for a few hours.  I don’t believe it in any way compromises the texture of the meat.

This is a chuck roast from my nice grass-fed black Angus. Notice how fatty it is. The fat will make your roast more tender and moist, but I get good results with leaner cuts as well.

I don’t normally marinate the meat for this dish, but your certainly can. You are on your own with that one though – and – I am not sure why would anyone want to mess with perfection and add extra work and preparation time to their day.

Remember to dry your roast thoroughly with paper towels at this point to assure proper browning. Learned that from the Julie and Julia movie.

Other things you’ll need are a few carrots (you can also throw in a parsnip or two, though that will make everything a bit more bitter), a couple of onions, 3-4 garlic cloves, flour, red wine (about 1 to 1 1/2 C, but I never measure mine), and, what I believe to be an indispensable part of my pantry:

The McCormick  Montreal Steak Seasoning!

It’s an amazing spice, perfect for meat and poultry, whatever the evil ingredients might be that make it so delicious. I use it in almost all of my meat dishes. If you feel like you are above such things, there’s always freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, but if you want the full experience, Montreal Steak Seasoning is your best friend. It is my best friend, anyway. (Note: this is not a paid advertising for Montreal Steak Seasoning. I just love the stuff – there’s just something about it. I hope it’s not monosodium glucamate).

Next, you wanna add some oil (I use sunflower, but you can use canola or peanut or something along those lines) to a dutch oven, and heat it over high heat until it is almost smoking.

Drench your roast with flour nice and good on all sides.

Now brown the meat in the hot oil first over high heat, adjusting the heat to medium to keep it browning at a steady rate without burning (that will happen by the time you turn it second or third time).

While the first side is browning, sprinkle the other side generously with the Montreal Steak Seasoning above.

Turn it over when nice and brown and season the other side.

The goal is to brown and season the meat on all sides.

Like that.

While the meat is browning, chop the onions, cut the carrots into one-inch sections, and leave the garlic cloves whole.

Once the roast has been browned, throw all the vegetables into the pot.

Now add the wine (about 1 C or maybe a tad more)…

…and enough water or stock to not quite cover the meat.

Bring to a simmer. I don’t skim it or anything. Why bother? Life’s too short.

Now cover your pot (isn’t this a beautiful pot?) and stick it in the 350-degree oven for two hours.

Half-way through the cooking, remove the pot from the oven and turn the meat over…

…so the browned side is facing up. Cover and place it back in the oven for another hour, or until fork tender.

By that point, the sauce will have reduced considerably.

Remove the meat into a separate platter, top with the vegetables it was being cooked with (leave some onions back for the gravy), smearing the garlic cloves, if you can find them, on top of the roast. Cover with foil and keep warm.

What will be left behind in the pot is this.

Now it’s time to make some gravy, baby! Let me initiate you into the ancient mystery of gravy-making, passed for generations from one Middle Ridge farmwife to the other… (Middle Ridge is a grand metropolitan center an unincorporated dot on the map down the road where Jacob grew up. The recipe has originated with his grandma Kate, and passed down to me via Jacob’s mother).

Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of flour into the drippings (don’t even dream of de-greasing anything).

Stir it in nice and good. You may wish to add more at this point. That’s what I did.

Now for the secret ingredient… the salt water used to boil the potatoes (You are serving this with mashed potatoes, right? Then you will have gotten them going half an hour prior to when the meat is done). Pour some of it into the drippings-flour mixture, somewhere between 1 1/2 and 2 C.

Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Don’t burn it!

Now get out some heavy whipping cream, half-and-half, or milk (even the evaporated Carnation milk will do a fine job in a pinch)…

…and pour some in! I use somewhere around 1/4 to 1/3 C. Or 1/2 if you are a huge dairy fan and like your gravy on the thicker, lighter-colored side.

Stir it in and heat through. And that’s what the finished product looks like! Now would be the good time to taste it and add extra salt and pepper, if needed. I find that mine usually doesn’t need it, what with all the Montreal Steak Seasoning used during the browning stage and the salty potato water.

Serve with the mashed potatoes and gravy and the vegetables from the pot on the side.

Pot Roast with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy

For the roast:

  • a 2 to 3 lb chuck, arm, sirloin, or any other cheaper roast
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, left whole
  • 3 to 5 carrots, depending on the size, cut into 1-inch sections
  • McCormick Montreal steak seasoning
  • flour for drenching the roast
  • oil, for browning
  • 1 to 1 1/2 C red wine
  • 1 to 1 1/2 C water or beef stock

For the gravy

  • 2-3 T flour
  • 1 1/2 to 2 C of water reserved from boiling the potatoes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 C heavy whipping cream, half-and-half, milk, or evaporated milk
  • salt and pepper to taste, if needed, but taste your gravy before adding any

For the mashed potatoes:

  • 2 lb Yukon Gold (Russets will also work) potatoes, peeled and washed
  • salt water for boiling (about 5 qts to a couple of T of salt)
  • several T butter
  • 3/4 C (or less) cream/milk/half-and-half/carnation milk

Dry the roast thoroughly with paper towels. Drench it in flour on all sides. Heat oil in a dutch oven until almost smoking. Add the roast to the pot, and brown the meat on all sides, seasoning the sides facing up as you go. Add all of the vegetables, wine, and water or stock to almost cover the meat. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop. Cover, and place in the 350-degree oven for two hours or until fork-tender. Turn and baste the meat once during cooking. Remove from the pot along with the vegetables (be sure to leave some onions behind) and keep warm.

To make the gravy: Off the heat, add flour to the pan drippings and stir it in. Add the potato water and stir until incorporated. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low, and simmer for a few minutes to make sure you can no longer taste the flour. Add cream (or any of the listed substitutes) and heat through. Adjust seasonings, if needed.

To make mashed potatoes: Boil the potatoes in salt water for about 30 min, or until tender and falling apart, drain, reserving enough water to make the gravy (about 2  C), and mash them with some milk and some butter while they are still hot – I like my potatoes on the creamy side, so I use plenty of milk. You can sprinkle them with chopped fresh parsley if you are feeling fancy.

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