~ Yankee Pot Roast: Simple, Sensible, Scrumptious (w/Mushroom Gravy & Roasted Carrots & Potatoes)~
The power of pot roast is very underestimated. Why? Read on. While I was growing up, I remember eating pot roast on many a Sunday after church. I'm here to tell you: I did not like getting up early and going to church on Sunday mornings -- at all. (For the record, I still don't, and, guess what? Praying can be done on your own time, anywhere, at any time of day. For example: Today, I'm going to be praying over this pot roast for my family, friends, Facebook friends and KE readers to remain safe during Hurricane Sandy tonight and tomorrow.) But, on the Sundays that my mom popped a beef roast into the oven before we left for church, knowing this meal would be on the table when we arrived home made it worth the trip. This is very appropriate since pot roast is an American dish born out of the desire for religious freedom!
What is the difference between pot roast and roast beef?
In my mom's kitchen, what we ate for Sunday dinner was (and still is) erroniously referred to as "roast beef". Because she sears a large chuck roast on the outside, then cooks it, covered, in some liquid for a period of about 3 hours (when it emerges fall-apart tender), it is culinarily and technically: Pot roast. This moist-heat cooking method, which can be done in the oven or on the stovetop, is known as braising. It is usually reserved for larger, tougher cuts of beef, like chuck.
Roast beef, which is cooked uncovered (using the dry-heat cooking method known as roasting), emerges from the oven with a soft but firm, need-to-be-sliced texture. This comes from using tenderer cuts of beef from the back of the animal, like: sirloin, tenderloin and top sirloin.
This dates back to colonial New England. When the Pilgims arrived in America from the British Isles (the land of the boiled potato), they brought with them their religious convictions, which demanded a lifestysle of extreme plainness, simplicity and frugality, which transcended to their dinner tables. What they became infamous for eating was referred to as "the boiled dinner". It was nothing more than a soupy mixture of a tough cut of beef or corned beef, root vegetables and sometimes cabbage, all boiled together in one big pot, until nothing more than a spoon was needed to eat it. Sound good? It was not. Thankfully, the New England Boiled Dinner has evolved over two centuries into what, nowadays, is quite a delicious meal!
Savvy Yankee cooks (the term used to describe the descendants of the original settlers to New England), who weren't hell-bent on depriving themselves of all of lifes foodie pleasures, began browning their own lesser cuts of beef in animal fat, seasoning it with salt and herbs, and, adding similar root vegetables to the pot (only closer to the end of the cooking process to ensure the veggies maintained texture). The highly-seasoned liquid remaining in the pot was thickened with a bit of flour and poured over the top of the meal at the end. Yankee Pot Roast was born!
It's time to sear the beef!
A bit about searing: When it comes to making a pot roast, in my kitchen, there is no debate about searing the beef. Do it. Period. Admittedly, it is not my favorite part of the process, but, what you gain in beautiful color, which translates to wonderful flavor, is well worth a few minutes of extra effort (about 15 minutes) + a little spatter and mess.
For the beef: My first choice is a:
4-5 pound chuck roast, trimmed all all excess fat and tied
Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy, plus additional flour for coating the second side of the roast
freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, plus additional sea salt and peppercorn blend
Allow the flour-topped roast to rest, about 5 minutes, to allow flour time to absorb moisture from the meat.
~ Step 2. In an 8-quart, enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, heat:
6 tablespoons of olive oil
over medium-high heat.
~ Step 4. Sear the roast, turning only once until golden brown on both sides, about 4-4 1/2 minutes per side.
~ Step 6. Turn the heat off and transfer the roast to a plate and set aside.
It's time to get the pot roast and the gravy ready for the oven... but first, we must talk about the roasted vegetables!
Three things about my recipe: 1) Most present day versions for pot roast add tomatoes, canned tomatoes or tomato paste to the pot. My recipe does not. Why? Prior to 1814, tomatoes, while they were available, because of the color red, were superstitiously considered evil and poisionous, meaning: Our forefathers would not have been cooking pot roast with "anything tomato". They would have used a bit of vinegar or wine as their acid. So, from that standpoint, my recipe is authentic. 2) Most authentic versions for pot roast do not include mushrooms. My recipe does. Why? Mushrooms were available, but, like the tomato, no one at the time, besides the French and Eastern Europeans were using mushrooms as an ingredient. Culinarily, anyone who had never been influenced by French or Eastern European cuisine, would never have included mushrooms in their pot roast. So, from that standpoint, my recipe is semi-authentic. 3) Most versions for pot roast add root vegetables (of some sort) to the pot and cook the entire meal all at once. My recipe does not. Why? Because I don't have too, and, besides that, vegetables that have been roasted separately are so far superior to those cooked in the pot, you don't want to go there with me. So, from that standpoint, my recipe is not authentic, but it's my recipe. Enjoy your dinner!
1/2 cup port wine or red wine, for deglazing the pot after the beef has been seared
1 pound crimini or white button mushroom caps, chopped
12 ounces yellow or sweet onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend
4-5 pound chuck roast, seasoned and seared as directed above
4 cups beef broth
2 whole bay leaves
~ Step 1. Over medium-high heat, reheat the oil and browned drippings in the the bottom of the pot. Add the port wine. Using a nonstick spatula, deglaze the pan by loosening the browned bits and residue from the bottom of the pot.
~ Step 2. Add the mushrooms and onions. Season with the garlic powder, dried thyme leaves and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Adjust heat to saute, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost about half of their moisture and onions are soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.
Note: If you have seared the beef correctly, there will be less than a tablespoon or two of juices. You can thank me later!
Add the beef broth and the bay leaves. The roast should be covered about half way. Put the lid on the pot. The hard work is over!
~ Step 4. Place the pot on the center rack of preheated 325 oven for 4-5 hours, meaning: about 4 hours for a 4-pound roast, or, about 5 hours for a 5-pound roast. In the meantime:
It's time to prep and roast my E-Z carrots and potatoes!
To each casserole, add:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow or sweet onion
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds carrots that have been peeled and sliced into 1 1/2"-2" lengths.
To the other casserole add:
2 pounds unpeeled small, new red potatoes, that have been cut into halves or quarters.
Toss the ingredients in each casserole until they are evenly coated in olive oil and spices.
When the pot roast comes out of the oven, place it back on the stovetop and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Place both casseroles (of carrots and potaotes) in the oven and roast, uncovered, for 1 hour, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 15 minutes, until:
... the potatoes are tender, blistered and lightly browned!
Remove both casseroles from the oven and set aside.
It's almost time to eat!
~ Step 1. Once you've removed the pot roast from the oven, uncover it and take a look. If it looks anything like this, put the lid back on the pot, set it aside, let it rest in the braising liquid (gravy) for about 60 more minutes, and, proceed with putting the carrots and potatoes into the oven.
~ Step 2. After 60 minutes, remove the roast from the pot. Place it on a serving platter and surround it with the lovely roasted vegetables. Briefly reheat the mushroom gravy, slice and serve the roast with gravy ladled on top of each portion:
Special Equipment List: 8-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven; large nonstick spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes; aluminum foil; ladle
Cook's Note: Because you took the extra time in the very beginning to flour, season and sear your roast, all of that flour has convieniently thickened your gravy for you. I told you that you could thank me later.
PS. Try to resist the urge to process or puree your gravy. Our forefathers didn't do that to their pot roast either!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)