I have always been fascinated by the pot roast, or more appropriately, by the idea of a pot roast. Growing up, it was a Sunday dinner staple for a number of my friends, but for me it was a marvelous and unknowable mystery.
I remained captivated by the pot roast, for it was on television, in the magazines at the doctor’s office, and fell under the rubric of “things we did not eat.” I was solidly into adulthood before realizing that the pot roast was not an actual cut of meat but referred to the vessel in which the meat was cooked. And because the pot roast is seldom served at dinner parties, the very first pot roast I ate was one that I made.
I do not make it often, but in homage to The Pot, I make it occasionally (i.e. annually). Several years ago, we received a pot that made all our other pots seem dainty. It is our Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron Round French Oven, a pot that has eight mighty words in its official name. It is a nine-quart, 16-pound behemoth, and we feel great pride for our cooking colossus, which is frequently hauled out for parties and holidays, for jambalaya, stuffing and mushroom soup. This pot is so special that it even has a name and a closing couplet: There is little my big pot cannot do. And in affection and in deference, we have named her Big Blue.
Basic Pot Roast
I recently followed a Cook’s Illustrated recipe for pot roast. It turned out beautifully on the first try, and the oven is indeed key. The oven braise produces a texture far superior to that of the stovetop braise. The recipe hails from the Special Collector’s Edition All-Time Best Recipes of the magazine and is titled “How to Cook Pot Roast,” for those of us who did not know. It is a popular recipe, with legions of fans and various versions of it can be found of the Web, courtesy of Google. A variation of it is below.
1 boneless chuck eye roast, about 3 pounds
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1-2 ribs celery, diced
2 gloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup beef broth
Thyme, Bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1-1 ½ cups water
What I did:
Thoroughly seasoned meat with salt and pepper. Browned the roast well in Big Blue, until all sides boasted a deep rich brown crust. Removed from Big Blue and set aside. Added the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, sugar, thyme and bay leaf to The Pot, which self-deglazed as the mirepoix cooked and released water. I added a splash of beef broth to assist in the deglazing process. I also added a tablespoon of tomato paste, a teaspoon of paprika, and some cayenne pepper, because I can’t seem to cook meat without it. The roast went back into Big Blue, as did the remaining broth and water. When the whole happy mess reached a simmer, it went into a 300 degree oven, tightly covered with a large piece of foil, followed by the lid.
(In Big Blue, the lid alone is massive. The foil seemed superfluous – could anything really escape from beneath that lid?— but the recipe called for it and I followed instructions.)
The roast cooked for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. I turned it every 30 minutes as directed. When it was nearly fork tender, I added potatoes with a sprinkle of salt and back into the oven it went for another 30 minutes or so. When the pot roast was finished the whole dish was meltingly soft, save the potatoes, which were exactly the right texture.
A variation of this recipe may be found at: