Tuesday, November 5, 2013

This Old Dog Learns a New Trick: The Superior Pot Roast

We love roasts. Pork roasts, beef roasts, weenie roasts, celebrity roasts - we love them all. My personal favorite is the old-fashioned Beef Pot Roast. It's sleeting outside and since Winter looks like she's just around the corner, it seemed like the perfect night for a fork-tender, melt in your mouth Pot Roast.

Like most cooks, I've been making Pot Roasts for years, never varying from the standard "water, flour, veggies, seasonings, all dumped in the crock pot" method. And I've always had good results. But one day, I was faced with a non-standard cut of meat and went in search of the proper way to cook it. And boy oh boy, did I come up with a total winner.

The Basic Method:

  • Take your cut of meat and place it in a hot, dry pan (cast-iron is ideal, if you have one), giving it a quick sear on all sides. (Don't skip this step! Seriously, it makes all the difference.)
  • Place 4 beef bouillon cubes in the bottom of your crock pot. Place the browned meat on top of the cubes like they were little trivets.
  • Cook on Low in crock pot for 6-8 hours. Serve & enjoy!

That's right - 3 steps & 2 ingredients. Does it get any easier than that?

But what about the seasonings? The vegetables? The LIQUID???

I know, I know - but the first time I made this I wanted some Au Jus for French Dip Sandwiches, and I didn't want to taint the juice with any additional flavors. And my oh my, was I glad I did it that way.

Tonight, I complicated the recipe a bit, but it turned out to be THE BEST POT ROAST EVER (yes, EVER - I didn't know that the meat could have so much flavor without any of the added liquids or my standard Worchestershire sauce or anything else - not even salt or pepper!), so I'll share what I actually did.

The Best Pot Roast You'll Ever Eat - Promise!
  • Take one roast (I used a standard "Pot Roast" but tonight, but you can use whatever hunk of meat you have.
  • Heat a large skillet (cast-iron is best, if you've got one) over medium-high heat.
  • Using tongs or a meat fork or whatever you have, give each side of the meat a quick sear - you'll know it's enough when the meat gets a little brown and kind of shiny. Like this:

  • Make 3 or 4 little slits on the least fatty side of the roast (we'll call it the "top") and slide a small, peeled whole clove of garlic into each slit. (This turned out to be one of the major flavor success factors - try it, you'll never skip this step after you do; use two smallish cloves per pound of meat - try and get them near the center. If your roast is thicker, feel free to put some into the sides.)
  • Place 4 Beef Bouillon cubes in the bottom of your crock pot like little trivets to hold up the meat. (If you're trying to reduce your sodium intake, look for sodium-free bouillon cubes.)
  • Place your meat on top of the bouillon cubes, set crock pot on low, and set a timer for 4 hours.
  • What if you don't have a crock pot? Just use any deep, oven-safe cooking vessel (a Dutch Oven is perfect for this!) and know that the average crock pot temperature on low is 200°F and on high is 300°F.
Now you've got a dirty pan. What to do, what to do? I know - we'll deglaze it!
  • Reheat your pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add a small amount of liquid (about 1/4 cup) to the hot pan. (I used sweet white wine, but you can use ANY wine, some liquid broth or even just water).
  • Use a pan-appropriate utensil to scrape up the brown bits and basically scrape the leftover meat bits from the bottom of the pan.
  • Pour from pan and set aside - we'll add it to the crock pot later (yes, LATER).

Meanwhile, for your veggies...
What, you mean we're not going to just toss them into the crock pot with the meat? Nope, not if you want a truly flavorful roast. Today we're going to go the extra mile and make this dish truly special.
Here's how:
  • Take that "still-dirty" pan and add 1 Tbl. Water, 1 tsp. Worchestershire and 1 Tbl. Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Add whatever vegetables you like with your roast. I used 2 whole baking potatoes, washed, skin-on rough chopped; 3 large carrots, cleaned and rough chopped; 1 stalk of celery, washed and cut into about 3 pieces. (I also used 1 whole yellow onion, peeled and cut into about 1" wedges (like quartered, but smaller quarters), but if you like onions, don't add them to the pan yet.)
  • Sprinkle with 1/8 tsp. Beef Bouillon Granules, 1/4 tsp. Harley's Seasoned Salt (Never tried Harley's? You should - it's addicting.), and just a bit of fresh-ground Black Pepper and some good quality Sea Salt (here's a place that sells ONLY 100% natural salts, in case you need a source - spoiler alert: It's me!).
  • Give it a quick "toss" (I personally stir it, because otherwise it ends up all over the kitchen), and add more Olive Oil, if it seems like it needs it.
  • Put over low heat with some kind of cover for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat, add the Onions mentioned previously, stir and place in a cold oven, uncovered. (You can transfer to an oven-save vessel if your pan has a plastic handle or is otherwise not oven-safe.) Set oven for 350° F and let cook for 1 hour, stirring a time or two.

When your veggies have been in the oven for an hour, or at the 4 hour mark on the crock pot if that hasn't happened yet, add the roasted veggies to the crock pot. Try to maneuver everything so that the root veggies are on the bottom, then the meat, most of the onions on the top. (It doesn't have to be perfect.) Also add the liquid you set aside from the pan de-glazing.

What if you still don't have enough liquid? How much IS enough?
The perfect amount of liquid in your crock pot, assuming that most of the veggies are on the bottom and the meat is on top, is enough so that the liquid line - now that the meat is mostly cooked and it's given up all it's going to contribute - about halfway up the hunk of meat. You don't want it fully submerged (that's called stewing, and it leaches the flavor from the meat), but you don't want it out of the liquid entirely.
Tonight, I do NOT have enough liquid, so I'm adding some restaurant-quality Au Jus mix & water to bring the liquid level up to midway up the side of meat.

Continue to cook on low for 2-4 hours, or until you're ready to eat.

I'm watching my carbs, so all I had was the meat. I have NEVER had meat with so much flavor. THIS IS THE WAY TO DO IT - I'm convinced!

Try it and you'll be convinced too.

1 comment:

  1. AUTHOR's COMMENT: I've tried this with various cuts of meat. Far and away, my favorite is Rump Roast. The most important step, by far, is the pre-searing of the meat. The bonus is to roast the vegetables - it adds such a depth of flavor! Yum, yum, YUM!