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Pot roast

August 2, 2011

I’m recycling an old Facebook note because it has come to my attention that pot roast is not in everyone’s repertoire, WHICH IT SHOULD BE, and I am unanimous in that.

There are only a few essentials for pot roast:

Wine and broth and veggies.

1) A Dutch oven (which, if it’s enameled and made by Le Creuset, may be called a French oven and is also eligible for use);
2) A cheap piece of meat;
3) Onions;
4) A 350-degree oven;
5) Liquid and salt.

Other stuff is optional. I’m debating about whether celery is essential or optional. Hmmmm.

Here’s the general idea:

For beef pot roast, use a chuck roast. I’ll deal with pork in a minute. Put your Dutch Oven on the stove and heat it up. A little past medium. Let’s say number 6 or 7. Hit it with a little oil. Let’s say a tablespoon maybe. Dry your roast with some paper towels and sprinkle some kosher salt on it. If you don’t have kosher salt, pick some up, because I don’t know how anyone cooks without it and I would totally ruin all my food if I tried to use table salt in the kitchen. I rely on the medium/coarse flakes. Anyway, put a little salt on it and grind some pepper on it.

Getting seared.

Oh, preheat your oven to 350. That’s important.

When the pot is hot, sear all sides of the roast. Each time you put down a new side, listen to the sound it makes … the sound will change when it’s seared and you can turn it to another side. It’s a learning process. If you try to pick it up and turn it too soon, it’ll stick. If it doesn’t want to release from the pan, give it a little more time. Gosh, I hope I’m not steering anyone down the wrong path here … don’t burn it, but do sear it.

OK, once you’ve got all sides seared, turn off the heat and lay the roast flat in the bottom of the pot. It’s time to add liquid. You can add water and salt. You can add chicken broth. You can add beef broth. You can add beef consomme. You can add canned tomatoes in their juice. You’ve got options. Put some liquid in there, BUT NOT TOO MUCH. Read the rest of this and you’ll know how much to put.

Searing the last side of the roast while the onions get happy in the pot.

You also need to put a bunch of onions in the pot. You can put a bunch of other veggies in there too, and I highly recommend that you do, but for heaven’s sake, don’t leave out the onions, unless you want to use a bunch of garlic instead, which I bet would work out OK, but if you don’t put onions and/or garlic in it it won’t taste good. I put at least one small onion in, preferably two plus some whole garlic cloves. I cut the onions in various ways … it really doesn’t matter.

After onions, the next most important thing to put in is celery. It’s best if you put in some celery leaves; they add the very best flavor ever.

This is a pot full of veggies. I was having a vegetable population crisis. I should have used my big pot!

You can also put in some other veggies. Now, Cooks Illustrated will tell you to do this later, because they don’t like their carrots and potatoes all mushy. Me, I’m OK with mushy, plus I might forget to put them in if I wait, so I put them in at this point. Classic pot roast veggies include potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and mushrooms. Cut them to about bite size if you want. Or put them in whole and cut them later; either way works great.

Roast on veggies in liquid in the pot, ready to be covered and put in the oven.

So I usually put in a little liquid, add my veggies and get them down around the roast, then add the rest of my liquid. YOU WANT THE LIQUID TO COME ABOUT HALFWAY UP THE ROAST. You do not want to boil the roast; you want to braise it. If you need to make an enormous amount of food, you can put the veggies down first, then put the roast on top of them so that it’s halfway out of the liquid.

Now, put the lid on your Dutch Oven and put it in the oven. Go do something else for an hour. Check on the roast. How’s the level of liquid? If it’s getting low, add more. Go do something for another hour. Check on the roast and TURN IT OVER. So, to repeat, turn it over after two hours. Add more liquid if it needs it. Go away again and come back after another hour. Check the roast. If it’s so tender you can mash it with a fork, it’s done and you can either take it out or take off the lid and cook it for another 15 minute or so to dry out the top. If it’s not fork tender yet, cook it until it is, which would only be another half hour or so.

All of which is a long way of saying: season and sear the beef, add seasoned liquid and veggies, cover, and bake at 350 for three to three and a half hours, turning the roast once at around the 2 hour mark.

You should end up with a bunch of food, some of which you can freeze for later.

OK, now pork. I use a Boston Butt/pork shoulder roast. Same deal with drying, seasoning, and searing. I usually add two thinly sliced onions, salt and pepper, and chicken broth. Sometimes I add tomatoes. Sometimes I add a little balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I add apple juice. On those unusual occasions when I have a bottle of Coke lying around, I’ll add that. (Pork likes sugar and acid.) But basically, if you sear and braise it the same way as a beef roast, you’re golden. It’s going to be fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender, and if you put enough onions in, it will taste great.

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