Seriously there are no words to describe this tender, flavorful dish but I'm going to try. I didn't grow up eating pot roast but there was one memorable time I had it as a kid that made such an imprint and this dish is the result of that imprint. An aunt of mine had our family over for dinner and I was around 7 years old. All I can remember from that evening was being deliriously happy watching Annie in my aunt's room for the first time and that she made a divine pot roast with white rice, garlic bread and red beans. Oh my that pot roast. Super tender, flavorful root veggies in the gravy. And that gravy. Most pot roast tends to resemble beef stew but not good pot roast. Good pot roast has a gravy complex with the slight bitterness of the initial searing of the meat, that sharp depth from the red wine, the earthy hit from the thyme and the pungent saute of celery, onions and garlic.
This is that pot roast. I had been making the cook's illustrated pot roast recipe for quite a while and even though it was very delicious there was something missing in order to taste like my aunt's version. As I was watching good 'ol Ina Garten on Food Network the other day she made her company pot roast. One look at the gravy as she poured it over the roast and I knew, knew, knew that was the look of my aunt's gravy. A quick read through the recipe and I devised a plan to fuse both recipes together. Poor Mr. Maricucu. I was going to mess with his pot roast and he was a bit nervous. He loves the pot roast I've always made so when I told him to trust me he did, but he was hesitant. I started with the method from the cook's illustrated recipe. Cooking the roast in the flavorful braising liquid, in a 300 degree oven for four hours. Yes, four hours. I know that's a long time but you don't have to babysit this too much. That low and slow cooking will melt the connective tissue in the roast and infuse the gravy with all the flavors of the meat and if you're lucky, the bone in the meat. I also used the base recipe for the braising liquid but doubled the red wine, increased the sugar a bit and added a can of whole tomatoes in juice.
Also, if I'm going to go through the trouble of making a pot roast I automatically double the recipe. This reheats like a dream and believe me, leftovers will not last long. So these two beautiful bone-in chuck roasts are going to be the main players today. They do look like an abstract of a deranged owl, don't they? No? Then forget I said anything.
adapted from Cook's Illustrated and Ina Garten
1 chuck roast, about 3.5lbs - recipe specifies boneless but I use either bone in or boneless.
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion - chopped
1 small carrot - chopped
1 rib of celery - chopped although I chop the leafy tops and then leave the rest of the celery pretty much whole for fishing out later on.
2 garlic cloves - minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth - I use whatever I have on hand. Sometimes just chicken broth, sometimes all beef.
1 sprig of thyme, fresh
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 14oz can of whole tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 tablespoon flour
First, grab those beautiful hunks of meat and liberally sprinkle them with salt and pepper on all sides. Any thick piece of meat needs a good bit of salt and pepper so don't be shy with it. Meanwhile, preheat an oven safe pot on medium high heat. The pot needs to have a lid and must be big enough to hold the meat as well as enough liquid to cover the roasts. Also, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and place the rack in the middle.
Add the vegetable oil to the pot and sear the roast on both sides.
Mmmmm, that wonderful Maillard reaction. This browning is the backbone of the flavor in the gravy. Once both sides are browned take the meat out of the pan and set it aside.
Add the carrots, onion and celery to the pan and saute until soft.
This is the point when others in your home will gravitate to the kitchen following the scent of browned beef and onions.
Once the aromatics are soft, add the garlic and sugar. Saute this only about 30-60 seconds.
Then dump in the wine. Scrape up the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan as the wine comes to a boil.
Next the tomatoes. And contrary to my latin cooks+canned tomato products rule these don't have to be sauteed. That's only because the cooking time for the pot roast is super long.
Then add the thyme, broth and the water.
Slide the meat back into the pot and bring the liquid to a simmer. You'll want the meat to be covered by the liquid so if your roasts are taller, just add a little more water.
Once the liquid is simmering put a lid on the pot and slip the whole thing into the oven. Let the roast cook for about 4 hours or until meat is so tender it's falling apart. This slow and low cooking will melt away the connective tissue, leaving only tender meat behind.
After four hours your pot of deliciousness will look like this. I just want to stick my face in this sauce.
Remove the meat, large stalks of celery and now twigs of thyme from the sauce. Those bones there? Let's just say my dogs were very happy that night. Once I remove the meat I give it a thorough once over, removing any remaining pieces of fat, tendon, etc. that softened but didn't melt away. Being the picky eater as a kid I remember nothing ruining a meal as quickly as a piece of gristle. Shudder.
Back to our sauce. First, I hit it with the immersion blender to smooth it out.
Taste and adjust the salt.
Then I bring it to a boil. This time Mr. Maricucu wanted to have some carrots in the gravy so I threw in some carrots cut about an inch thick. Let the braising liquid boil until the carrots are softened while the liquid itself reduces. Mine took about 15 minutes but just test a carrot to be sure.
The final touch is to slightly thicken the reduced sauce and turn it into a gravy. My favorite part of Ina's recipe is the beurre manie. A mix of equal parts softened butter and flour that you add at the end to thicken a sauce. I used to use cornstarch in a little bit of water for this step but the butter/flour mixture not only thickens, it enriches the sauce.
Mix the flour and butter until it's a paste consistency.
Add the mixture to your reduced braising liquid and stir it in quickly then let it boil for a couple of minutes until you notice the sauce has thickened.
All that's left is to put the meat back into the gravy and serve. Mashed potatoes, white rice or even a good hunk of bread are great for soaking up the flavorful gravy. Although Mr. Maricucu prefers to have his carrots cooked in the gravy I love to make Roasted Carrots with Honey to serve with this pot roast.