Sunday Pot Roast
I don’t know what traditions you grew up with, but in New England in the last century, Sunday dinner was served at mid afternoon — 4 pm if the Pats were playing at home, 3:00 if they were out west, and earlier in summer as dictated by the Red Sox schedule. The only exception to this rule was Thanksgiving when, owing to the sheer magnitude of the task and the grudgingly accepted need to put the holiday first, bowl games took a back seat to dinner — unless they involved BC.
There was a real art to simultaneously getting the meat, potatoes, veg, gravy and rolls to the table while they were still hot and appealing. As such, some of my earliest memories involve my mother nervously inquiring, “Are we going to OT?” only to be told “I don’t know, dear, looks like it’s gonna’ be a squeaker.” This, of course, escalated the anxiety, rather than assuaged it. My family was not alone in this, and I suspect it was not an exclusively regional phenomenon either.
Now, getting a roast chicken or turkey to the table under those conditions was difficult. When a bird is done, it’s done and must be eaten, unless of course you happen to prefer dried out poultry. Pork too can be tricky, but trichinosis fears being what they were back then, everyone assumed pork roast would be dry, so expectations there were somewhat lower and easier to meet. In fact, it was not until well into my twenties that I actually had a moist and delicious pork loin, but it was courtesy of the magnificent Niçoise Chris Hodgkins, and I have never been able to replicate it in my own kitchen.
Anyhow sports Sunday is why, I think, braised meats were so often the go-to meal for a Sunday afternoon. In corned beef, pot roast or a smoked pork shoulder you have a protein unit that really can’t be overdone, and quite often the vegetables can be cooked right in with the meat, which is always a mercy. In my experience all are nearly foolproof, and doubly so if you have a crockpot.
So with Superbowl Sunday on the horizon, I’ve been thinking about those football dinners, and I got a hankering for pot roast. Now, as I am the only mammal eater in my house, a little goes a long way, but that’s the beauty of pot roast. The leftovers are as good, if not better, than the original meal, and you have ample gravy to make beef pot pies. Just freeze the meat and gravy and pull it out later, which is exactly what I’m going to do next week for the gala Superbowl party and celebration of Patriot redemption set to take place right here in Slattern central.
So without further ado, here it is. You can thank me later. And you will.
Sunday Pot Roast
1 beef pot roast (about 3 pounds)
2 onions, sliced
1/2 C red wine
1-1/2 C beef stock (Pacific makes a good low sodium one)
2 T tomato paste
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 celery stalks, chopped into 2 inch lengths
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black pepper
salt to taste (optional — there’s a fair amount in the stock, paste and Worcestershire, so go easy)
Note: If you don’t have a crockpot, you can use a Dutch oven (in other words a large deep saucepan with a lid) or even a big cast iron skillet covered with tin foil in an emergency. Cook the pot roast on top of the stove on a very low heat for four to five hours. Just keep an eye on it.
- Take the pot roast and dust it all over with flour.
- Coat the bottom of a Dutch oven or skillet with olive oil and heat until very hot but not smoking.
- Brown the pot roast in the oil, turning to cook on all sides.
- Once the meat is browned, transfer it to the crockpot (or set it aside if you’ll be cooking on the stove).
- Reduce the heat and add the onions to the pan and sauté them for a minute or two, them dump them in the crockpot.
- Deglaze the pan with the red wine and scrape up any brown bits. Don’t reduce the wine, just heat it up.
- Add the stock, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce to the pan and cook over low heat for a minute or two.
- While the stock is simmering, throw the garlic, celery, pepper and herbs in with the beef and onions.
- Pour the liquid over the meat and vegetables in the crock and cook at high for 5 hours. (Alternatively you can cook it on low for 10 hours or so, which is good for overnight. The pot roast can sit in the crock until you’re ready to serve it.)
- After an hour or so you can throw some potatoes and carrots (left in big chunks) into the crock if you like. Just watch that they don’t get over cooked and be prepared to extract them if need be.
- When the pot roast is done, remove it from the crock or pan and keep it warm.
- Taste the liquid in the pan or crock. If it needs flavor you can add more beef stock or red wine. (In an emergency, you can add Gravy Master. It’s mostly salt, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t saved more than one meal from irredeemable blandness.) If the flavor is too strong, add water.
- Skim the fat from drippings. A fat skimmer is best. If you don’t have one, you can either chill the drippings and peel the fat off the top or use a spoon to skim it off.
- Mix about 2 tablespoons of flour with water to make a thin paste. Add it to the drippings and stir. Cook over moderately high heat until the juices begin to thicken into a gravy. You can’t really overcook gravy, but you definitely should not undercook it, lest you get a distinct flour-y taste to your gravy