THE WASHINGTON POST – As with most foods, your idea of pot roast is likely whatever version you grew up eating. For me, that was a chunk of beef surrounded by potatoes and carrots in a black speckled oval roasting pan. There was no searing of the meat to develop flavour, nor was any liquid added to the pan for a proper braise. It was simply covered and baked in a low oven until tender, relying solely on any juices from the beef as the braising liquid.
Now, armed with more culinary knowledge, my ever-expanding cookbook library and Google, I’ve come to learn that the dish I remember and the definition of “pot roast” are not exactly one and the same.
A pot roast is less a specific recipe and more a generic cooking technique. Per Joy of Cooking, “We refer to braising as pot-roasting when large pieces of meat and whole poultry are braised.” As such, there can be chicken pot roasts, and the accompanying root vegetables I once thought requisite are optional.
Since pot roasting falls under the larger umbrella of braising, the same general rules and recommendations apply, but for the purposes of this article, I will focus on large cuts of beef as the meat of choice. Here’s how to make it:
Pick your cut. When making a beef pot roast, tougher cuts that the steer uses regularly are the way to go. These include chuck, brisket and round, where the high amount of collagen breaks down during a lengthy cooking process and transforms into gelatin, resulting in supple, succulent meat and lending a velvety richness to the braising liquid. I recommend chuck because it has a big beefy flavour and good fat content, but brisket and round are also suitable. In purchasing beef for pot roast, these cuts sometimes come tied in butcher’s twine to keep the meat in a uniform shape, but it’s not a big deal if they don’t.
First, sear the meat. Though it’s not technically required, I urge you to sear the beef until deeply browned to start building flavour. A large pot with a tight-fitting lid that can go from the stove top to the oven, such as a Dutch oven, is ideal for this task. If you don’t have one, sear in a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet before transferring the ingredients to a baking or roasting pan for braising.
Add aromatics and braising liquid. Once it’s browned, transfer the meat to a platter and add your aromatics. The recipe below calls for onions, garlic and herbs, but you can play around with different ingredients to come up with your own version of the dish. Stir in some tomato paste for a hint of sweet umami, and then deglaze with stock. Lastly, return the seared meat and any accumulated juices to the pot and add enough liquid to go about halfway up the sides of the meat, so the amount required will vary based on the shape of the beef and the dimensions of your pan. Beef stock is a common – and expected – choice for pot roast. With this recipe, I make a mushroom stock out of dried porcinis to set it apart from the rest and amp up the umami even more.
Cook until “spoon-tender“. Next, top the pot with its lid – or cover tightly with aluminium foil – and braise in a low oven. While “fork tender” is generally the descriptor for the proper doneness of pot roast, I think you should be able to cut it with a spoon, which gives a better picture for just how soft the finished product should be. Many say braises taste better the next day, and a night in the refrigerator does make it easier to remove excess fat. If you’re planning to eat imminently, skim the fat off the top as best you can with a spoon or ladle before serving.
Adjust the sauce if needed. If the braising liquid is too thin for your liking, you can thicken it by setting the beef aside and reducing the liquid on the stove or whisking in a couple tablespoons of equal parts room temperature butter and flour that have been mixed together (aka beurre manie) and simmering for a couple minutes until your desired consistency is reached. A word of caution: Adjust the seasoning of the sauce after thickening to prevent oversalting.
Decide how to serve it. My original notion that potatoes and carrots must be included is, in fact, referred to as a Yankee pot roast. If you want a one-pot meal, you can nestle in some bite-size root vegetables for the last hour or so of cooking to get them tender.
Another option that I experimented with and thoroughly enjoyed was slow-roasting sweet potatoes on a sheet pan lined with parchment for the entirety of braising, which resulted in superbly sweet and creamy flesh. Lastly, mashed potatoes or other vegetables are always welcome to accompany pot roast, and no one can scoff at a pot of fluffy white rice.
PORCINI BEEF POT ROAST
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: four hours 30 minutes
Four to six servings
If you can’t find dried porcini mushrooms, consider other varieties, such as shiitakes and morels.
Make Ahead: The pot roast can be made up to one day before you plan to serve it. To serve, reheat in a 300-degree oven until the desired temperature is reached.
Storage Notes: The pot roast can be refrigerated for up to four days, or frozen, tightly wrapped, for up to two months.
One ounce dried porcini mushrooms
Three cups hot water
One well-marbled boneless chuck roast, preferably tied
Finely ground black pepper
Two tablespoons vegetable oil or another neutral oil
Two medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
Four garlic cloves, roughly chopped
One and a half teaspoons dried thyme or one and a half tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
Two tablespoons tomato paste
Half cup stock
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Meanwhile, soak the porcini in the hot water for 30 minutes. (This is a good time to prep the rest of the ingredients.)
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a fine-mesh sieve (reserve the soaking water). Rinse the mushrooms briefly under cold, running water (they can be gritty), pat dry with a paper towel or clean dish towel and coarsely chop. Strain the mushroom soaking liquid through a mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or paper towels into a bowl.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels and generously season all over with the salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven or other large ovenproof pot with a lid over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the meat and brown on all sides, 15 to 20 minutes total; transfer to a platter.
Add the onions, garlic, thyme and the mushrooms, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions start to soften and become translucent, about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for one minute more. Add the stock and deglaze the pan, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom. Add the seared meat, with any accumulated juices, along with enough of the mushroom soaking liquid to come about halfway up the meat (the amount of liquid you’ll need will vary with the size of the roast as well as the cooking vessel), bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to the oven.
Cook, flipping the roast and checking on tenderness every 45 minutes, until fork- (or spoon-) tender, three hours to three hours 30 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large, rimmed platter, discard the string (if present), and skim the fat from the braising liquid. (If serving the following day, you can cool and refrigerate the pot roast to more easily scrape the fat off the top once it’s chilled.)
Taste the braising liquid and season with additional salt and/or pepper, if desired, then pour it over the pot roast and serve warm.
Nutrition (based on six servings) | Calories: 480; Total Fat: 34g; Saturated Fat: 12g; Cholesterol: 107mg; Sodium: 483mg; Carbohydrates: 10g; Dietary Fibre: 3g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 29g.