Pot Roast is a method more than a recipe. It is a way of cooking rather than a “thing”. It is the application of braising to a chunk of meat and generally root vegetables that would otherwise be tough, hard or of limited flavor.
Because you may want to make this, here is a list of ingredients, but you are free to adjust it up or down and add new items as you please:
Stuff you eat:
- 1 Chuck Roast (bone in if you can find it) size is limited by your cooking vessel
- 4 or 5 yellow onions (don’t use white or any other color)
- 1 bag of carrots
- 1 bag of celery
- 1 to 2 bags of small potatoes
- 32 oz of beef stock
- 1 stick of salted butter
- Cooking oil (with high smoke point, not olive oil, I use generic vegetable oil)
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
Stuff you use:
- Cast Iron Dutch oven (can substitute non iron)
- Cast Iron Skillet (can substitute non iron)
Give it four hours, but you can go longer if needed
Wikipedia states that braising is “a combination-cooking method that uses both wet and dry heats: typically, the food is first seared at a high temperature, then finished in a covered pot at a lower temperature while sitting in some (variable) amount of liquid (which may also add flavor)”. A shorter version is slow cooking seared foods in a flavorful liquid. In reality is is wet cooking BBQ. Real BBQ mind you, i.e. the “low and slow” kind that is designed to allow fat and collagen to liquify and render tough meat tender.
Step 1 The Searing.
Put the dutch oven on the stove at medium high heat and sear the roast, adding a few table spoons of oil to help introduce the meat to the heat. Don’t rush, don’t look and don’t worry. Let it sear for at least five minutes or longer…you are looking for a crust to form, not a certain amount of time. When one side is done, flip it and do the other. When brown on each side, remove from the pot and set aside. Leave the pot on the stove and the heat on.
Step 2 Onions.
While searing prep your onions. Skin and rough chop four or five yellow onions. When the roast comes out of the pot in step one, add your butter and all of the onions and a bit of salt (salt to taste or your diet needs). The salt in the butter and the salt you add will help the onions give up moister and caramelize. You are trying to make the base for “French Onion” soup, so you will be cooking the onions on medium high until caramelized.
|Initial Cook Down|
Caramelizing onions has one “gotcha” and that is that the rate of caramelization accelerates as the cooking time continues, so when they enter the “brown” phase, you have to stay attentive as the amount of time between brown and black is a small fraction of the time from white to brown. Stir constantly from the brown phase until you have the color you are shooting for. How dark you go is a personal preference. You are concentrating the onion flavor and bringing out the sugar.
|Dark Brown Stage, ideal|
Step 3 Carrots.
|Rough Chop with flat face|
While the onions are caramelizing, peal and slice a bag of carrots. They only need to be sliced once across and once lengthwise. You are creating a flat surface to also caramelize the carrots. Put the carrots flat side down in a skillet (cast iron if you have it) with oil to coat over medium high heat. Don’t stir them and let them take on a brown/black color.
Step 4 Celery.
|Half a Bag|
While the onions and carrots are caramelizing, put a small chop on half a bag of celery. This is a flavor additive and the smaller size will ensure that they are cooked down.
Step 5 From Searing to Braising.
|Stock and Celery Added|
When the onions are dark and the celery is prepped, add the roast back into the pot and add the celery, beef stock and pepper to taste. Cover and place into a 325 F oven. Leave the carrots and potatoes out at this point.
Step 6 Additions.
|Two Hours from Done|
|One Hour from Done|
So your roast is cooking and the house smells amazing, but you have left the carrots and potatoes out. Why? Well each of those will be cooked to mush if added at the beginning. We don’t mind if the onions and celery cook down as they are there for flavor, but the carrots and potatoes are there for eating and we want to add them early enough to cook well, but late enough to prevent over cooking.
The trick is to add them at specific times. Add the carrots two hours before your target “eating time” and add the potatoes one hour before your target time. This is for “golf ball” sized potatoes so if yours are bigger, chop them up or add them a bit earlier.
Step 7 Eat.
When done the roast will be flake tender, the broth will be amazing and seasoned with the meat juices, onion and celery and the carrots and potatoes will be fork tender and cooked through with the great flavor of the cooking liquid. Before calling it “done” test the potatoes by using a fork or other method to ensure that they are tender through and through.
So what have you done? You used searing to bring out the complex flavors of the meat (Maillard Reaction) and the sugars in the vegetables (caramelization). You did this prior to the wet phase so you brought those flavors to the dish. You also specifically added your root vegetables later in the cooking process so they would cook perfectly and retain their unique texture (preventing the dish from turning to library paste by over cooking the potatoes). Good job!
What to do now? You can mix it up by adding other flavors (raisins, olives, garlic, tomatoes etc) and you can use spices to make the dish any profile you like (curry or chili powder or you name it). For example, you can add curry and lentils to make an amazing Indian style roast and serve it over rice, you can change the protein to pork shoulder and mix in some peppers in adobo sauce for amazing carnitas. Remember, it is a method and not a dish. Good luck.
Alternatives: You can cook this exact method on the stove top, in an electric skillet with a lid, in a grill or in a fireplace. During the winter I like to make this dish in the fireplace as it is a ready made source of heat for slow cooking.