Ah, the ubiquitous pot roast, the bane of American children everywhere. Leathery meat, thin, drippy sauce, soggy vegetables—a nasty meal I’ve met many times in my life. Luckily, my mom asked me to make a pot roast for the family a few weeks ago when I was home, or I never would have learned how wonderful a pot roast can be if done right. Thanks for putting me to work, Ma!
I decided I was going to put my extensive (read: expensive) culinary training to use to make the reviled pot roast not only edible, but also amazing. Instead of throwing the meat in a pot and covering it with bland liquid, I decided to season it nicely and brown it in a nice hot pot, and the vegetables received the same treatment. Instead of boring old water or beef bouillon, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and a carton of beef broth was my braising liquid.
The family was quite pleased with my new and improved version of the pot roast, but I knew the recipe still needed some tweaking, so I decided to give it another go this past Saturday. I took to heart everyone’s minor complaints with this new version: better meat (me), more bite-size pieces of meat (grandma), more wine (my sister, Paige), and a thicker sauce (mom).
The first stop on the road to recipe redemption was Gene’s Sausage Shop, one of Doug and me’s favorite specialty shops in Lincoln Square near my house. We came upon a gorgeously marbled grass-fed pot roast in the deli case, and we knew it had our name on it. At $17 it was a few bucks more than what I would have paid at our local grocery store for a 3.5 lb roast, but the quality of the meat was well worth it. Problem No. 1 solved.
The other fixes were just as easy: I chopped the meat into more manageable chunks and dredged them lightly in flour before browning to help thicken the braising liquid and subsequently my final sauce. I covered the beef and veggies more than half way with a yummy cabernet and then topped it off with veal stock. Of course, if you haven’t spent three days in the kitchen making Thomas Keller’s veal stock from The French Laundry Cookbook like a crazy person (i.e., me), any high-quality beef stock will do, like Swanson or College Hill brands.
These simple changes made a decent pot roast into an amazing pot roast—I think the best I’ve ever had, and the boys I shared it with heartily agreed. I solemnly swear to never defame the pot roast again. Promise.
Best Ever Pot Roast
Grass-fed beef takes a classic pot roast from ordinary to extraordinary. Feel free to cook the roast in one piece instead of smaller chunks. Click here to download a copy of this recipe.
3-4 lb. grass-fed pot roast (boneless chuck roast) cut into 2-3 inch pieces
Kosher salt and black pepper
Flour, for dredging
3 Tbs. butter
2 sweet onions, diced
1 lb. carrots, chopped into large pieces
1 750-ml bottle cabernet sauvignon
1 qt. beef or veal stock
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
3-5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 parsley stems
3 dried bay leaves
Special equipment: cheesecloth
Dredge beef. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Pour a few cups of flour into a large shallow dish. Season the pot roast well with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, then dredge the pieces in the flour, shaking off any excess. Set aside.
Brown meat and vegetables. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over high heat. When the oil shimmers, brown the beef in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Move the browned meat to a plate. Add the butter to pan. When the butter melts, add the onions and the carrots and sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften and brown.
Make a sachet. While the vegetables sweat, make a bouquet garni (the fancy French word for an herb bundle) by putting the rosemary, thyme, parsley stems and bay leaves into a piece of cheesecloth. Secure with string or by making a knot.
Add liquid. Return the meat to the pan. Add enough red wine to cover a little more than half of the meat. Then add enough veal or beef stock to almost cover the meat completely—the top of it should stick out a bit.
Braise the roast. Cover the pot with tin foil before putting the lid on. Put the pot in the center of the preheated oven, and bake for 3 hours, or until the meat is incredibly tender. Remove the lid and tin foil, and bake for another 30 minutes to reduce the liquid in the pan. Remove from the oven. If you want a thicker sauce, simply simmer (not boil) the pot roast on the stovetop until the liquid thickens to your desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes and buttered peas and shallots.