Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Pot Roast

My mom made the best pot roast. She used the simple recipe from her battered 1953-edition of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook: coat a chuck roast with flour, brown in drippings made from its own rendered fat, add potatoes, carrots, onion, and celery, either water or stock, and simmer for 2.5 hours until done, after which time the gravy can be thickened or not. The end. The recipe is literally a single paragraph in the "meat" section.

I loved it so much, I requested it for dinner several times a month. And I loved it so much, I'd never attempted to cook it myself, knowing that I'd never achieve that degree of tenderness or the rich flavor of the gravy (which I'm pretty sure was enriched with a package of McCormick's Brown Gravy). Recently, however, I thought I'd give it a go. The BH&G recipe is deceptively simple and it would be so disappointing if it didn't turn out like Mom's. Instead, I decided to adapt a recipe of Ina Garten's. Because how can one go wrong with a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa?

The result was...meh. I'm going to blame the meat.

Fat-obsessed dieters have created a world of unfortunately lean meats. The chuck roast I picked up at Wegman's had been ferociously trimmed; had I wanted to use the BH&G recipe, it would have been impossible to sear it in its own fat, since there was none. And because of this leanness, the meat lacked the unctuous tenderness of Mom's pot roast. Then there's the wine issue. After several attempts at braising meats in wine, I've decided that I don't like the resulting flavor. Nor the pinkish grey color. The sauce that resulted from the braise was a dark puce, and I wished I had a bottle of my mother's magic ingredient, Kitchen Bouquet, in order to make it darker and richer-looking.

The whole experience left me wanting. Next time, I will endeavor to find the fattiest chuck roast possible, skip the wine, and...pick up a packet of McCormick Brown Gravy.

Pot Roast with Root Vegetables (adapted from Ina Garten)

1 (4 to 5-pound) chuck roast
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
1 cup baby carrots
2 onions, quartered
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2" chunks
2 cups celery root, cut into 2" chunks
1 lb baby potatoes
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 each sprig fresh rosemary and thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups red wine
1 cup chicken or beef stock

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat beef dry with a paper towel. Season it liberally with salt and pepper and then dredge the roast in flour. In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Sear the roast, turning every 4 or 5 minutes, until it is nicely browned on all sides. Remove meat to a plate.

Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot. Add the vegetables and garlic and cook for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Bring to a boil and add the chicken stock, herbs, and bay leaves. Place roast back into the pot and return to the boil. Cover pot and place in the oven, cooking for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat is fork tender. Check periodically and add more stock if it seems to be evaporating.

Remove roast to a cutting board. Place pot on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium. Skim fat from sauce. Make a beurre manié by stirring together 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir it bit by bit into the sauce until thickened to your liking. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.

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