Young wife. Kind husband. Tough roast. Typical Sunday afternoon in Provo, Utah, when we were newly married and I was playing house. When you are young married students the money you spend on a beef roast is no small thing. And the effort and time and sense of self involved in making a Sunday dinner is no emotional pittance either. So when there’s a fail, it smacks. I called my mom back east, long distance charges be damned! What had I done wrong? I had followed the recipe in the cook book I had borrowed from the library, but the roast came out tough. And relatively tasteless. Maybe my tears over the pot roast fail represented more than pot roast. I was, after all, barely nineteen years old. Mom reassured me, just the sound of her voice could do that to me, then she gave me instruction, starting first with the cut of meat.
THE CUT OF BEEF: A proper pot roast, one that will make nice tender strings of meat (my kids call it string beef) starts with CHUCK ROAST. Don’t search for a lean cut of beef, like a round roast or tip roast. You’ll need the marbling that is typical of a good thick chuck roast. And in my opinion you need a fair sized roast to get tenderness. Little roasts tend to dry out. So buy a nice sized one when its on sale and plan on roast beef sandwiches for lunch next week. The roast should be thick, maybe 2-3 inches, and have nice threads of fat throughout. (Think a head of nicely graying hair, or a good highlight job.)
|Fat = Flavor, |
though too much of it is a waste of money
TWO METHODS to cook it:
Method 1: My preferred method is to sear the roast in hot oil. Generously salt and pepper the piece on all sides. (And I mean generous). I keep an old garlic salt shaker in my spice cupboard, into which I keep a mixture of good kosher or sea salt, ground pepper and garlic salt. ½ salt, ¼ pepper. ¼ garlic salt. I use this to season my meats, unless my sister Ann Marie is visiting, cuz she can’t have garlic or onion. Rub this mix into the meat just barely before you sear it on the stove top in hot oil. There will be a lot of splatter and sizzle, so I will sometimes use my large deep heavy bottomed pot so the splatter goes to the side of the pan and not my apron. The color of the meat, where it has been seared, will turn darker. The whole roast should be seared, not just the two flat sides. Roll that thing around in the heat. You do this to seal the roast, so the juices will do their work inside the meat and not in the pan below the roast. A boiled roast is a tough roast. If you can have onion then peal one or two, roll them around in the hot oil till they are golden, and set them beside the roast in the roaster pan. Meanwhile pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Put the roast into a heavy casserole or heavy metal oven proof pot. My mom used to use a cake pan. Cover with foil and put it in that hot oven for around 15 minutes, then turn oven temp down to 325. I do all this before I get ready for church on Sunday morning. Since we have a three hour church block, the roast is going to be nice and tender when we get home four hours later. If we are not eating right away, I turn the roast down to 250 until we are ready. It’s really quite forgiving that way, if you have a big enough roast. Little roasts will need less time for sure. The foil top will keep the moisture in when you are cooking for this length of time,. Onion will also keep it moist and flavorful. Remove roast from pan and chunk it apart. I usually serve with mashed potatoes and boiled or roasted carrots. The roasted onion in this is a treasure to onion lovers. Gravy recipe will follow.
Method 2: This is what my mom did, usually in a hurry on Sunday morning before church, because she had a nest full of hungry birds to feed after church.
Generously salt and pepper the roast. (Get that shaker moving) Dredge the whole roast with flour, turn that thing white. Place in roasting pan or cake pan or casserole dish. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for a few hours. If it’s tough, cook it longer. 3 hours is a good starting place. The flour will act as a sealant, similar to the searing in Method 1.
VEGETABLES: If I want veggies cooked all at once, so my dinner is done in one pot right after church, then I will blanch carrots and spuds in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain them, roll them in butter that I've heated in the pan I seared the meat in. Salt and pepper them and then add them to the roaster, filling the space around the roast. Cover and cook roughly 3 hours. Onion is a great addition to this if you can do onion (some of my family can't), but don't blanch the onion. You are not going to get drippings for gravy if you use this method, and if you're home occasionally baste the veggies or turn them in the pan as they are cooking.
GRAVY: You’re going to get better drippings from a marbled piece of meat. And better drippings from the seared meat rather than the floured method. Remove roast from pan. Pour a couple cups of hot water or canned beef broth into pan. Using a spatula or whisk, stir drippings into water. Taste it, if it’s really bland, add some salt and beef bouillon. Too much bouillon will make your gravy taste like restaurant gravy. But too little and you just have thick colored water. If you have canned beef broth, use that instead of water. Good gravy needs some fat in it, so if there’s not much fat in your drippings, add a couple tablespoons butter. Pour this mixture into a pan and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl mix approx. 1-2 c COLD water and ½-1 c flour . Mix until all lumps are gone. Pour flour mix into boiling water and stir constantly. Simmer for a few minutes. If it’s not thick enough, add more flour water mix. If too thick, add more broth. It’s always better to make a thinner gravy and thicken it as you go. Let gravy simmer 10 minutes or so, stirring so it doesn’t burn on bottom.